So you’ve frozen your credit. Congratulations! You’ve made it much harder for criminals to open credit accounts under your name. The trouble is, this also means you can't do many things that require access to your credit report.

Want to switch cell-phone carriers? Need to rent a larger apartment for your growing family? Both could be impossible if prospective landlords or vendors can't see what's in your credit history.  

More on Credit and the Equifax Breach

That's not all: Other parties that need access to your credit history include car dealers, insurance companies, cable providers, and utilities. Even prospective employers may want to see your credit report to gauge how reliable you are in maintaining your finances. 

Before you move forward with a big purchase, a move, or applying for a new job, you’ll want to consider thawing your credit to give these interested parties temporary access to your credit report.

However, after the new free credit freeze became law in September there have been a few important changes to the process of thawing your credit that you should know about.

Changes at Equifax

Before the new law was enacted, Equifax would give you a PIN number to initiate a credit freeze. Now, you need to open a new online account with Equifax in order to manage your credit, even if you've already been issued a PIN number by the company. To create the account you’ll have to provide information such as your name, Social Security number, and home address.

“We wanted to create an online experience that enables consumers to securely and conveniently manage security freezes and fraud alerts,” says Nancy Bistritz-Balkan, Equifax’s vice president of consumer education & advocacy. A username and password will be necessary to thaw or lift your credit freeze online, she says.

However, if you want to manage your Equifax report by phone or by mail, Bistritz-Balkan says you’ll still need a PIN number. Your old Equifax PIN will still be valid in these instances. If you've lost your number, a new one can be requested by downloading, filling out, and mailing this form to Equifax. Any previously frozen credit reports will remain frozen until a consumer changes the report’s status.

“Credit freezes are consumers’ best protection against new account fraud, and consumers should take advantage of free freezes, lifts, and removals at the three major credit bureaus to help reduce the risk of identity theft,” says Maureen Mahoney, policy analyst for Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. 

To place, temporarily lift, or permanently remove a security freeze from Experian and TransUnion, the other two major credit reporting agencies, you’ll still need a PIN number.

PIN vs. Password: Which Is Safer?

When it comes to securing your information, a password has the potential to be more secure than a PIN number, because a password is a code that uses letters, symbols, and numbers, rather than just numbers. However, a password is only safe if you create a strong one and don’t use it for accessing multiple sites, says Al Pascual, vice president and head of fraud and security at Javelin Strategy, a California-based independent digital financial advisory firm.

“People very rarely follow password hygiene because they have too many digital accounts and find it impractical to remember a wide variety of strong passwords,” says Pascual, who recommends that consumers use a password manager with two-factor identification to help keep strong passwords safe.

Not All Thaws Are Equal

If you’re planning lots of financial moves without a clear timetable, such as applying for a mortgage, you can simply thaw your credit report indefinitely.

Contact each of the three major credit bureaus either by going online, calling them on the phone, or by mail. Once you impose the thaw, make sure you monitor your credit report. Creditors now have access to your data, but criminals also have the opportunity to open accounts in your name if your information has been compromised. You may want to enroll in a credit-monitoring program, but be aware that these often carry additional costs.

Once you've taken care of your business, you can freeze your credit once again. 

If you only need to give one creditor access for a specific amount of time, you can impose a temporary thaw. The easiest way to do this is online. The credit-reporting agencies have a feature that lets you select a window for when a thaw goes into effect and when it will automatically refreeze.

In addition, you may not have to thaw your report at all three credit bureaus. If you're just going to do one thing, like ordering a new phone or buying a new car, you should check with the service provider or auto dealer to find out which credit-monitoring agency it uses, then grant access to that agency.

Time Is of the Essence

If you want to manage your report and have changes take effect quickly, the credit bureaus say that going online is the quickest method, taking effect almost instantly. Calling on the phone or requesting a freeze via snail mail will take longer. But even changes made online can sometimes lag.

“The new law mandates that credit freezes can be lifted in less than one hour, but I recommend allowing a bit more lead time,” says industry analyst Ted Rossman. “For example, if you’re planning on car shopping soon, I’d lift the freeze about three business days before applying for an auto loan. That gives you a grace period in case you hit an unexpected delay.”