Credit

YOU CAN NOW FREEZE – and UNFREEZE – YOUR CREDIT REPORT FOR FREE

As of September 21, credit bureaus can no longer charge you to freeze your credit reports or to lift a freeze. Here’s what you need to know to get your free freeze.

By Kimberly Lankford

Q: I remember reading a while back that everyone starting this fall will be able to freeze their credit report for free. Is this change effective now, and what do I need to do to get my free freeze?

A: The law providing free credit freezes took effect on September 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 to freeze your credit report varied by state. Some states required free credit freezes for their residents, but others let the credit bureaus 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, go to the Equifax freeze page, the Experian freeze page and the TransUnion freeze page.

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.

Some states have additional consumer protections. In Utah, for example, the credit bureaus must initiate or lift the freeze within 15 minutes of the request for a freeze on a mobile app, says Rep. Jim Dunnigan, who sponsored the credit freeze legislation in the Utah House of Representatives (Utah’s law took effect in May). You can find out about additional consumer protections in your state from its division of consumer protection or the state attorney general’s office.

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 (or unfreezing) of one’s credit allows them to temporarily remove the freeze for a specified period of time. For example, if a consumer knows they will be applying for credit, they can request a thaw for a day, or a week or another specified time period. And after that time period has elapsed, the credit will freeze again—no additional action is necessary on the part of the consumer.” Lifting a credit freeze, on the other hand, removes the freeze until the consumer actively requests 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.

 

© 2018 The Kiplinger Washington Editors

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PREPARE FOR WINTER DRIVING

California Casualty, provider of the NEA® Auto & Home Insurance Program and an IEA Member Benefits partner for 30 years; and NEA Member Benefits provide this story:

 

It happens every year: the summer heat fades, the leaves fall and what was easy, warm-weather driving suddenly changes. As temperatures drop, it’s time to remember how to avoid slide-offs and crashes on wet, icy roads. You and your family can take precautions now before encountering winter road conditions.

 

The first rule of thumb is to slow down and not be in a hurry. Public safety groups continually remind drivers that slick roads mean slower stopping times and the need for increased distances between vehicles. They also add that four-wheel drive does not mean four-wheel stopping.

 

But there’s a lot more to remember about changing road conditions than just speed. The National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) offers this pre-winter advice:

 

  • Make sure your vehicle has good tire tread, a strong battery and fresh windshield wipers and fluid
  • Have emergency items like a flashlight, jumper cables, material for traction (kitty litter or sand), a shovel, ice scraper and spare water, blankets and food
  • Plan and know your route
  • Practice cold weather driving so you’ll know how your vehicle responds
  • Keeping a full tank of fuel
  • Always use seat belts and child safety seats

 

When inclement weather hits:

  • Never drive impaired
  • Slow down and increase distances between cars
  • Avoid fatigue and drowsy driving
  • Watch for pedestrians

 

If you should become stranded in a storm, these actions can save your life:

  • Call for help immediately
  • Stay in your vehicle to protect against the elements and other vehicles that might slide and hit you or your car
  • Crack the windows slightly and clear snow from the exhaust pipe to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Run the engine for short periods of time for warmth and to recharge the battery

 

It’s also important that your vehicle’s exhaust system is inspected before winter’s chill. Each year, dozens of people suffer carbon monoxide poisoning in their vehicles due to exhaust system leaks, especially when windows are rolled up and heaters are turned on.

 

Despite the best-made plans, accidents do happen. Before you head out on the roads, make sure you know what to do if you’re involved in a crash. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has a downloadable auto accident checklist at: http://www.insureuonline.org/auto_accident_checklist.pdf.

 

California Casualty also reminds you that good auto insurance protection is no accident. Find out what discounts you qualify for as an NEA member by calling a California Casualty advisor today for a policy comparison or review at 1.800.800.9410 or visit www.neamb.com/autohome.

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LET NEA MEMBER BENEFITS HELP AS HOLIDAYS APPROACH

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