With internet safety more of a concern than ever, you should take every precaution to keep your identity safe. Consider signing up for a credit monitoring service to monitor your credit reports and scores and catch errors as early as possible.
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Maintaining a good credit history and credit score matters because they can help you qualify for loans or credit cards (and land lower interest rates). In some cases, your credit score may also impact your ability to rent an apartment, a potential job offer or the amount you pay for insurance.
Since a good credit score influences much of your finances, it’s in your best interest to monitor your score regularly — either manually or through a credit monitoring service. Credit monitoring services can help you track changes to your credit reports, find credit reporting errors and spot potential identity theft. Without these services, it may take you longer to detect fraudulent behavior and later find yourself thousands of dollars in debt from numerous unauthorized charges.
If you’re new to using credit monitoring services, these tips can help you understand how they work and which companies provide the best services in the industry.
Credit Karma: Best free service
How it works:
Credit Karma offers free credit monitoring with no credit card required to sign up. You get weekly credit monitoring updates for your Equifax and TransUnion credit reports through an easy-to-use dashboard that gives you a comprehensive view of your credit.
To sign up, you only need to create a Credit Karma account. You can access your account online or on the Credit Karma mobile app.
As a customer, you get credit monitoring of your Equifax and TransUnion credit reports with VantageScore 3.0 credit score access.
It’s free to use Credit Karma.
Why it’s good:
Credit Karma updates credit report information weekly, and you can get recommendations on ways to improve your credit. The service will alert you of any potentially fraudulent activities in your account, such as reported payments or new accounts. If you performed those actions, you can dismiss the alert. If you didn’t, you take the necessary steps to resolve that error.
You can also see your Equifax and TransUnion VantageScores. While VantageScores don’t exactly align with FICO credit scores, they can give you an idea of how well you’re doing with managing credit. And since the service is free, it’s a budget-friendly option for keeping tabs on your credit score and reports.
Experian IdentityWorks: Best for families
How it works:
Experian IdentityWorks enables you to monitor credit histories for your entire family in one place. Depending on how much you’re willing to pay, you can enroll in credit monitoring for yourself, your spouse or partner and up to 10 children. If you’d also like to monitor your credit reports with Equifax and TransUnion, you can enroll in IdentityWorks Premium.
With Experian IdentityWorks, you can get identity theft and credit monitoring of your Experian credit file, with the option to monitor reports from all three credit bureaus. You’ll also have daily access to your FICO Score 8, provided by Experian, as well as access to the bureau’s credit score simulator so that you can predict how different financial decisions may affect your score.
The Plus and Premium plans will provide alerts on not only your credit report, but also any suspicious activity concerning your account on the Internet. Perhaps one of the biggest advantages of the paid plans is that they provide identity theft insurance of up to $1 million.
|One adult||One adult (and up to 10 children)||Two adults (and up to 10 children)|
|IdentityWorks Plus||Free 30-day trial, then $9.99/mo||$14.99/mo||$19.99/mo|
|IdentityWorks Premium||Free 30-day trial, then $19.99/mo||$24.99/mo||$29.99/mo|
Why it’s good:
Experian IdentityWorks offers a comprehensive approach to credit monitoring if you want to protect yourself, your partner and your children. This service proactively monitors your credit profile for instances of identity theft, scans the dark web for your personal information, monitors your social network sharing and alerts you to things like new court records in your name, payday loans taken out in your name and changes of address registered with the U.S. Postal Service.
Identity Guard: Best overall credit monitoring service
How it works:
Identity Guard offers the widest range of credit monitoring services with plans for nearly any budget. Its credit monitoring extends to credit reports from all three credit bureaus, and it updates your credit score monthly.
Identity Guard offers comprehensive credit monitoring (including dark web monitoring) for both individuals and families.
|Family (5 adults and unlimited children)||$14.99/mo||$29.99/mo||$39.99/mo|
Note: Members receive a 16 percent discount when they pay for their membership annually versus monthly.
Why it’s good:
Identity Guard is a good choice for paid credit monitoring if you want complete coverage of your financial life. A basic plan includes dark web monitoring and safe web browsing tools. At the premium level, you get those features along with credit monitoring of all three credit bureaus, address change monitoring and a monthly Equifax credit score. Identity Guard constantly monitors your accounts for changes or suspicious activity. If fraud occurs, you’re covered by a $1 million identity theft insurance policy.
FICO Advanced: Best for complete credit score coverage
How it works:
FICO Advanced combines credit monitoring with in-depth credit score access for a complete picture of your financial health. This credit monitoring service tracks changes to your credit reports from all three bureaus and sends you alerts when it detects a change. You can also see what’s affecting your score positively or negatively and estimate how changes to your financial situation may impact your score.
FICO Advanced offers credit monitoring of reports from all three reporting bureaus, credit alerts and access to 28 FICO credit scores. The service also includes the FICO Score Simulator, which projects how specific decisions may impact your credit score, and a $1 million identity theft insurance.
FICO Advanced will cost you $29.95 per month.
Why it’s good:
FICO credit scores are the most widely used scores by lenders. FICO Advanced offers far-reaching access to those scores, along with credit monitoring of reports from all three credit bureaus. For $29.95 per month, you get credit monitoring and 24/7 identity monitoring. Plus, you have access to 28 FICO credit scores, including mortgage, auto and credit versions.
This could be the best credit monitoring service if you’re focused on improving your FICO score and don’t mind paying a monthly fee.
What is a credit monitoring service?
Think of a credit monitoring service as a personal watchdog for changes to your credit file.
“Credit monitoring is a service that will detect and track any changes in your borrowing behavior,” said Matt Woodley, founder of CreditInformative.com, in a previous interview.
These services can help protect you against potential identity theft if someone opens or attempts to open credit accounts in your name. They can also offer a holistic view of your credit.
“Credit monitoring services can help you rebuild your credit and safeguard your score,” said Howard Dvorkin, CPA and chairman of Debt.com.
They can’t fix your score, he said, but they can help you monitor changes and understand what steps you can take to improve your credit.
How credit monitoring services work
Credit monitoring services work in tandem with credit reporting services. Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are the three primary credit reporting bureaus. They collect relevant credit information and use it to generate your credit reports. That information includes:
- Payment history
- Account balances
- Available credit
- Account age
- Inquiries for new credit
- Public records
“Generally, credit monitoring services track any changes involving key credit activities,” said Richard Best, finance expert at DontPayFull, in a previous interview.
That includes late payments, changes to your credit limit, new accounts or account closures, and collections.
When it detects a change to your credit report, you receive an alert notifying you of the nature of the change. Depending on the service you’re using, those alerts may come in real time or on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
If someone opens a new credit card account in your name, for example, you’ll get a notification from the credit monitoring service.
With timely notifications, you can take steps to stop the identity thief. These steps include contacting the credit card company, placing a fraud alert on your file or freezing your credit.
Pros and cons of credit monitoring services
Pros of credit monitoring services
- Provide convenient access to credit scores and changes to your credit
- Helpful for detecting fraud and managing credit health
- Enable members to take quick action to stop identity theft
- Gather information to make financial decisions
Cons of credit monitoring services
- Won’t prevent errors from showing up on your credit report
- Isn’t a foolproof form of identity theft protection
- May only alert you to identity theft after the fact
- Another recurring subscription to pay
How much does credit monitoring cost?
Some credit monitoring services are free, while others charge a monthly or annual fee. For example, you may pay anywhere from $10 to $30 to have a company monitor your credit for you. Depending on which provider and plan you choose, you may be able to take advantage of a 30-day free trial. Before you commit to a paid plan, it’s best to try the service out before paying for a subscription.
For most services, bundling coverage for a family is cheaper than individual memberships for each person. And many services that charge fees offer a discount when you pay annually instead of monthly.
The biggest differences between free and paid credit monitoring services usually lie in what features or coverages are included.
If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, signing up for a credit monitoring service may be a good idea to avoid all the hassle you’ve already gone through to recover your identity. On the other hand, if you’re on a tight budget, free credit monitoring may be more attractive.
Free monitoring services vs. fee-based
If you’re debating whether to pay for credit monitoring, it’s important to consider what you’re getting for your money.
“A paid credit monitoring service usually has more perks than free options,” Dvorkin said. “Paid credit monitoring services can offer things like fraud insurance, credit score building plans and help with improving your score.”
A free credit monitoring service may only offer alerts and an overview of your credit report each month. But you’re not locked into paying anything for those benefits.
Best said that determining whether a free or paid service yields more value may come down to how much maintaining a good grip on your credit matters to you. As with any type of service, he said, you usually get what you pay for.
“While you may be able to subscribe for as little as $5 per month, you aren’t likely to receive the level of service that could substantially benefit you,” said Best. “If credit monitoring is truly important [to you], you’d be better off subscribing to a level of service that provides comprehensive coverage of your credit and more frequent reporting.”
Credit monitoring services can help you protect your credit and catch mistakes as soon as possible. Regardless of your budget, you’ll be able to find a credit monitoring service to help protect you and your family.
In choosing the best credit monitoring services for 2023, we considered several factors, including:
- Credit monitoring coverage
- Features and benefits
- Accessibility and user experience
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