free credit freezes for everyoneIn the aftermath of the Equifax breach, much ado was made about the fact that placing a freeze on your credit with any of the major credit bureaus can be a costly endeavor. Equifax made credit freezes free for everyone temporarily as a response, but for many people, including some lawmakers, that wasn’t good enough. Now, not even a full year after the devastating data breach that impacted more than 146 million Americans by exposing their most sensitive personal details, Congress has taken action and passed legislation that requires the credit bureaus to make credit freezes completely free — period. You might have a few questions on your mind reading this news, and we’re here to help with the answers.

What legislation was passed?

On Tuesday, May 22, the House passed a bipartisan bill from the Senate which largely focuses on rolling back some of the banking regulations put in place by the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Within the new legislation, which was signed into law by the president on May 24, is a provision that requires all credit bureaus to provide consumers with free credit freezes. Much of the focus for this legislation has been on the repeal of certain Dodd-Frank banking regulations, as some opponents are concerned that it will leave the financial system in the U.S. vulnerable to future collapse, while those in favor praise what they view as the removal of too-harsh regulations that have harmed smaller banks. As you may recall, the Dodd-Frank legislation was signed into law by former President Obama during the country’s recovery from the 2008 financial crisis. Whatever individuals’ feelings on the banking regulations aspects of this bill may be, there are few who would deny that solid regulation of credit freezes is a welcome addition to federal law — and long overdue.

So, how will this new law impact consumers?

According to this new bill, all actions relating to credit freezes will be free for everyone. This means that placing, temporarily lifting and permanently removing credit freezes will not cost you a dime, no matter where you live. Previously, it varied from state to state, and while some states barred the credit bureaus from charging for credit freeze actions, others allowed the charge of a fee between $2 to $10 every time a consumer wanted to place, lift or remove a credit freeze. Given that there are three credit bureaus, and the fact that you must temporarily lift a freeze every time you want to obtain new credit, those costs can add up. Victims of identity theft are currently the only people entitled to free credit freezes regardless of where they live.

In addition to requiring free credit freezes for everyone, the new law also mandates that all requests must be fulfilled within one business day if made over the phone and within three business days if made by mail. The plan is for these regulations to go into effect approximately four months from now, so if you’re planning to wait until you don’t have to pay to place a credit freeze, mark your calendar for around the end of September. This time delay will give the credit bureaus time to make necessary adjustments and preparations to comply.

If you paid for credit freezes in the past, can you get your money back?

Unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely, as no mention has been made about any retroactive aspects of this new law. If you’ve paid for credit freezes in the past, that money is long gone. However, it’s certainly a victory for U.S. consumers everywhere that there is now a federal mandate ensuring free access to placing and lifting credit freezes. The more control consumers have over their credit and finances, the better suited they will be to protect and advocate for themselves when disasters like the Equifax breach strike.

You can stay on top of the latest in financial news and learn how to protect and manage your credit by following our personal finance blog.