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Free Credit Freezes – at last 

Consumers are now able to freeze their credit report for free. Kimberly Lankford,

Kiplinger’s Personal Finance explains how you are able to get your free freeze.

“The law providing free credit freezes took effect on Sept. 21. The three big credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – can no longer charge a fee to place or lift a credit freeze. In the past, the cost varied by state. Some states required free credit freezes for their residents, but others allowed the credit bureaus to charge $5 to $10 every time someone wanted to freeze their credit record or lift the freeze (when applying for a loan, for instance).

A credit freeze prevents new creditors from reviewing your credit report, making it harder for identity thieves to take out credit in your name. For it to be effective, you’ll need to contact each of the credit bureaus separately to initiate a freeze. To see what steps you need to take, search for “security freeze” on the websites Equifax.com, Experian.com and TransUnion.com.

Once you request a freeze either online or by phone, the new law requires the credit bureaus to implement it within one day. And if you ask for the freeze to be lifted, the credit bureaus have one hour to do it. “That is the law’s maximum time, but for most people setting the freeze online or by phone, it will be pretty close to instantaneous,” says Francis Creighton, the president of the Consumer Data Industry Association, a trade organization for credit bureaus and other consumer reporting agencies.

The freeze remains in effect until you take steps to remove it – either temporarily or permanently.

“Understanding the correct terminology is important,” says Eva Velasquez, CEO and president of the Identity Theft Resource Center. “A thaw of one’s credit allows them to temporarily remove the freeze for a specified period of time.” For example, if you will be applying for credit, you can request a thaw for a day, or a week or another time period, she says. And after that period has elapsed, the credit will freeze again without you having to take any action. Lifting a credit freeze removes it until you actively request the freeze from the credit bureau again. It’s free whether you lift or thaw a freeze.

The new law also lengthens the duration of a fraud alert that you can place on your credit file from 90 days to one year. A fraud alert signals to businesses that you may have been a victim of identity theft and that they should verify your identity before opening any new accounts. You need only place a fraud alert with one credit bureau, which will notify the others.

Editor’s Note: Kimberly Lankford is a contributing editor to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine, www.Kiplinger.com.

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