Credit card identity theft is on the rise. These services can help you monitor your credit and catch mistakes as early as possible.
Credit monitoring services can help you track changes to your credit reports, find credit reporting errors and spot potential identity theft.
Maintaining a good credit history and score matters for helping you qualify for loans or credit cards and land the best interest rates.
If you’re new to using credit monitoring services, these tips can help you understand how it works and which companies are the best.
See related: Business credit monitoring services
The best credit monitoring services of 2021
Best free service: Credit Karma
How it works:
Credit Karma offers free credit monitoring with no credit card required to sign up. You get credit monitoring for your Equifax and TransUnion credit reports through an easy-to-use dashboard that give you a comprehensive view of your credit on the go.
Credit monitoring of your Equifax and TransUnion credit report with VantageScore 3.0 credit score access
Why it’s good:
Credit Karma updates credit report information weekly and you can get recommendations on ways to improve your credit. You can also see your Equifax and TransUnion VantageScores. While VantageScores don’t exactly align with FICO credit scores, this can give you an idea of how well you’re doing with managing credit. And since it’s free, it’s a budget-friendly option for keeping tabs on your credit score and reports.
Best credit monitoring service for families: Experian IdentityWorks
How it works:
Experian IdentityWorks enables you to monitor credit history for your entire family in one place. You can enroll in credit monitoring for yourself, your spouse or partner, and up to 10 children to get credit monitoring for your Experian credit files. If you’d also like to monitor your credit reports with Equifax and TransUnion, you can enroll in IdentityWorks Premium.
Identity theft and credit monitoring of your Experian credit file, with the option to monitor all three credit bureaus
Free for 30 days, then $19.99 per month ($9.99 for one person) or $29.99 per month for Premium ($19.99 for one person)
Why it’s good:
Experian IdentityWorks offers a comprehensive approach to credit monitoring if you want to protect yourself, your spouse and your children. This service proactively monitors your credit profile for instances of identity theft, scans the dark web for uses of 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.
Best overall credit monitoring service: Identity Guard
How it works:
Identity Guard offers the widest range of credit monitoring services with plans for nearly any budget. Credit monitoring extends your reports from all three credit bureaus and you get monthly credit score updates.
Comprehensive credit monitoring, including dark web monitoring, for individuals and families
Plans from $14.99 to $39.99 per month, though limited-time discounts may be available
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 three-bureau credit monitoring, address change monitoring and a monthly TransUnion credit score. Your accounts are monitored constantly for changes or suspicious activity, and if fraud occurs, you’re covered by a $1 million identity theft insurance policy.
Best credit monitoring service for complete credit score coverage: FICO Advanced
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 a change is detected. You can also see what’s affecting your score positively or negatively and estimate how changes to your financial situation may impact your score.
Three-bureau credit monitoring, credit alerts and access to 28 FICO credit scores
$29.95 per month
Why it’s good:
FICO credit scores are the most widely used by lenders. FICO Advanced offers far-reaching access to those scores, along with credit monitoring from all three credit bureaus. For $29.95 per month, you get credit monitoring, 24/7 identity monitoring and access to 28 FICO credit scores, including mortgage, auto and credit versions. You’re also covered by $1 million in identity theft insurance. This could be the best credit monitoring service if you’re focused on improving your FICO score and you don’t mind paying a monthly fee.
What is a credit monitoring service?
A good way to think of credit monitoring services is 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.
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. That includes late payments, changes to your credit limit, new accounts or account closures and collections.
When a change to your credit report is detected, 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 be sent on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
Woodley said alerts can be particularly helpful in avoiding identity theft. If someone opens a new credit card account in your name, for example, you’ll get a notification from the credit monitoring service.
Pros and cons of credit monitoring services
Understanding the pros and cons of credit monitoring services can help you determine whether using one is worth your time – and in some cases, money.
On the pro side, credit monitoring services can offer convenience. But more than that, they can be a helpful tool for detecting fraud and managing credit health.
“The biggest advantage of using credit monitoring services is that it can help in identity theft protection,” Woodley said. “It may not seem like a big deal, but if it happens, it can ruin your credit.”
Reviewing your credit reports one by one can be time-consuming. By the time you spot a change to your credit report, someone may have already racked up thousands of dollars in debt in your name. Credit monitoring services make it easier to take quick action to stop identity theft.
Credit monitoring services can also help you gather all the information you need to make the right decisions about your finances, said Nathalie Noisette, founder of Credit Conversion.
“You can tell if you need to stop using a particular credit card, really look at your payment habits and tell whether you’re trying to acquire too much debt too fast,” she said.
But credit monitoring services aren’t perfect. For example, Noisette pointed out that credit monitoring won’t prevent errors from showing up on your credit reports. If a lender incorrectly reports a late payment on one of your accounts, you’d have to dispute that item with the credit bureaus.
Credit monitoring also isn’t a foolproof form of identity theft protection.
“For example, it won’t alert you when someone is using your identity to apply for a job or get a new cell phone,” Woodley said.
And it may only alert you to identity theft after the fact, rather than helping you take preventive action, he noted.
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 $15 to $30 to have a company monitor your credit for you.
The biggest differences between free and paid credit monitoring services usually lie in what features or coverage are included.
If you’ve been a victim of identity theft in the past, you may feel justified in paying for credit monitoring services. 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 the 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 offer only alerts and an overview of your credit report each month. But you’re not locked in to 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,” Best said. “If credit monitoring is truly important, you’d be better off subscribing to a level of service that provides comprehensive coverage of your credit and more frequent reporting.”
See related: How often is your credit score updated?
The bottom line
Credit monitoring services can help you protect your credit and catch mistakes as soon as possible. With credit card identity theft on the rise, that’s never been more important. 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 2021, we considered several factors, including:
- Credit monitoring coverage
- Features and benefits
- Accessibility and user experience
The credit monitoring services included here represent the best combination of those factors.