How to Apply for a New Credit Card When Your Credit is FrozenThe standard advice to consumers in the U.S. these days is to place a freeze on their credit reports with all three of the major credit bureaus. Doing so helps protect against misuse by identity thieves and other criminals, because it prevents any new accounts from being opened using your information. However, what happens if you decide down the road that you’d like to apply for a new credit card, open a loan or perform some other action that may require access to your credit reports by a third party? Do you need to lift the freeze from all three credit reports, or can you get away with just one? How far in advance do you need to lift the freeze to ensure that your application process will be smooth sailing? Our guide will tell you exactly what to do when your credit is frozen to ensure a smooth application process, as well as help you determine when to put your credit reports back on ice.

Is it possible to apply for a credit card when your credit is frozen?

The process of freezing your credit isn’t exactly like flipping a switch, and the same is true in reverse. We go in-depth in our guide to freezing your credit, but essentially, you can make the request either online or by calling each credit bureau. Unlike a fraud alert, this isn’t a one-and-done deal; you must contact each bureau individually in order to place a credit freeze. Likewise, when you want to lift the freeze or “thaw” your credit, you’ll have to contact each bureau in turn. Depending on where you live, it can also cost between $5 to $10 per bureau, which can add up. Given all of this, you might be tempted to either apply for a credit card or other new credit without bothering to lift the freeze. However, that’s guaranteed to end in heartache, as you are likely to be denied on grounds that the creditor can’t access your credit reports to assess your creditworthiness.

Can you simply thaw out your credit with a single bureau?

For the most part, creditors will use one of the three bureaus to run a credit check when evaluating your creditworthiness. Because of that, people often ask us which credit bureau a credit card issuer or lender uses so they can elect to only unfreeze that credit report, rather than all three. It’s not a dumb idea, in theory, but in practice it can backfire. That’s because even though it’s true that many creditors prefer to use one credit bureau to check an applicant’s’ creditworthiness, it’s not guaranteed that they will do so every time. You might do some research, including calling them outright to ask, and determine that a credit card issuer typically uses TransUnion for its credit checks, but on the off-chance that they end up checking your Equifax or Experian credit reports instead, you will want to ensure they aren’t blocked from doing so. This could lead to your application being flagged for denial.

When should you lift the freeze (and when should it be replaced)?

It can take some time to get your credit reports unfrozen, as you have to contact each of the bureaus, unless you are using one of the “credit lock” services offered by the credit bureaus which allow you to do so at the flip of a switch. We’ve evaluated these services and talk about the pros and cons here. Regardless of whether you’re doing a traditional freeze or using an online service, it’s wise to give at least one to two weeks for your credit thaw to fully register before you apply for new credit. This lessens the chance that you’ll get turned down on a technicality of unavailable credit information. The good news is, it takes less time to freeze your credit reports. Once your request has been made and any fees paid, usually the freeze goes into effect within 48 hours, so as soon as you’ve received a decision on your application, you should be good to replace the freeze. If you are certain about your timeline, you can even set specific dates for the temporary lifting of your freeze to ensure that your protection goes back in place.

While freezing your credit isn’t a fool-proof method of preventing all identity theft, it’s certainly a smart idea and not something to avoid because you might apply for a new credit card or a loan in the future. Planning ahead for a temporary thaw when your credit is frozen is the best way to have your cake and eat it, too. Learn more about managing your credit and finances by following our personal finance blog.