New Law Will Let Consumers ‘Freeze’ Credit Files Without Charge

Anna Laitin, director of financial policy with Consumers Union, said the group generally recommended freezes rather than locks, since rules for freezes are established by law but those for locks, a service designed by the credit bureaus, may change. “Consumers will know what they’re getting with a freeze,” she said.

John Ulzheimer, an author and a consumer credit expert, said another benefit of the new law was that fraud alerts — a step below a freeze, in which the credit bureau has to verify your identity before releasing information — would remain in place for a year. Currently, alerts expire after 90 days, unless they are renewed.

Here are some questions and answers about credit freezes:

When will free credit freezes be available?

The consumer credit rules in the new law take effect 120 days after the law was enacted, so most likely sometime in September.

Equifax’s freezes were already free through June 30, as part of the company’s response to last year’s data breach. On Thursday, a spokesman, Wyatt Jefferies, said in an email, “Equifax is extending free credit freezes until the law takes effect.”

TransUnion and Experian didn’t immediately respond to inquiries about when they will end freeze fees.

How do I place a freeze on my credit file?

You can do it by phone or by filling out a form on the website of each of the three credit bureaus. You’ll receive a personal identification number that you must use to lift the freeze if you want to apply for a loan or a credit card.

Does the new law offer freeze protection to children?

Yes. The law allows parents or guardians of children under 16 to freeze a child’s credit file. If a child doesn’t have a credit file — which is often the case — the law directs the bureaus to create one, and then freeze it. (Currently, options for freezing a child’s credit vary by state and credit bureau.)

Eva Velasquez, president and chief executive at the Identity Theft Resource Center, advised parents who freeze a child’s credit file to carefully safeguard the PIN, and plan ahead for removing the freeze when the time comes.

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