Starting September 21, 2018, credit freezes will now be free for all Americans.

Most U.S. consumers have a credit report, whether they know it or not AND whether they use it or not. These reports are generated by the three major credit reporting agencies, or CRAs, based on activity associated with buying and borrowing. When you first start out, you might have “no credit” and therefore not have a credit report, but multiple lender requests into your credit background can generate a report in your name.

A credit report shouldn’t be confused with a credit score; a report is a comprehensive look at your attempts to make large purchases, borrow funds, open lines of credit and more, while your credit score is based on numerous factors, including information from your credit report. It’s more of a look at what kind of credit risk you might be.

For many years, credit reports were a good way to keep tabs on your financial identity; if someone had stolen your identity and tried to open new accounts or lines of credit, you might find that information on there. At the same time, people who were already victims of identity theft have been urged to put “freezes” or “alerts” on their credit reports to keep thieves from opening more accounts in their names.

Freezes mean that the CRA cannot release your credit report to a lender, which is supposed to prevent a new account from being opened. The problem for many consumers is that freezing your account incurred a small fee, one that ranged from $2 to $10 depending on the agency. “Thawing” your account if you wanted to open a legitimate credit line also could result in a fee, as did refreezing once the process is finished.

Now, Congress has been called upon to take action in light of the recent Equifax data breach. This single event exposed more than 148 million consumers’ complete identities to hackers. As a result, Equifax offered free credit freezes for a limited time, but lawmakers came up with another solution. Thanks in part to grassroots advocacy efforts, the House has passed a bill that will waive the credit freeze fee for all consumers from all three credit reporting agencies.

This bill, which has been signed into law by the White House, will not go into effect until September 21st, so in the meantime, consumers need to remain vigilant about protecting themselves:

  1. If you haven’t already done so, Equifax is still offering free credit freezes until the law goes into effect. Signing up for a freeze is simple and instructions are on their website.
  2. Regardless of whether you have freezes in place, monitoring your credit reports routinely is important for protecting yourself from identity theft crimes. You are entitled to one free credit report each year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. You can find out more at annualcreditreport.com.
  3. Checking over account statements and using strong passwords on all of your accounts can help minimize the risk and the long-term effects of identity theft.

Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

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