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What is a credit monitoring service?

These services can alert you of changes to your credit report and scan the web for leaks of your personal data, often for a monthly fee

Summary

It’s important to monitor your credit report and scores, particularly as data leaks rise and identity theft tactics proliferate. While there are many services that offer comprehensive protection for a fee, it may not always be worth the investment.

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As data leaks rise and methods for thieves to steal and misuse your personal information proliferate, it’s critical to monitor your credit.

There are several subscription-based services out there that can keep you alerted to changes in your credit report or notify you if your personal information has shown up on the dark web. The most comprehensive services charge monthly fees that can vary based on your level of coverage, but there also are free credit monitoring services that some consumers may find adequate.

If you’re considering signing up for credit monitoring, it’s important to understand what services are available, what level of protection they offer and whether or not you should shell out money in exchange for peace of mind.

What is credit monitoring, and how does it work?

Credit monitoring services are designed to watch your credit report for changes such as hard inquiries, new accounts opened and balances and payments on your credit accounts, generally for a monthly fee. They typically allow you to check your credit score as well.

Credit monitoring can also track changes to your personal information, including a new address or name change, as well as any new public records that are added to your credit report.

These services typically scan the dark web to find out if your personal information or other sensitive data is exposed and identify potential fraud. This information can help you react quickly if someone has stolen your identity.

How much does credit monitoring cost?

Credit monitoring services vary in price, ranging from approximately $9 to $40 per month. There are free credit monitoring services out there, though these tend to be less comprehensive. The most feature-packed credit monitoring services offer three-bureau credit monitoring, extensive fraud notifications, public and dark web scanning, monthly credit score and report updates, simulated score changes, identity theft insurance and more.

For example, TransUnion’s IdentityForce UltraSecure+Credit offers three-bureau credit monitoring, bank and credit card transaction alerts, a Social Security number tracker, dark web monitoring, identity theft insurance up to $1 million and more, all for a monthly fee of $29.95.

Another paid service with strong protection is IdentityGuard. Its top tier, which costs $29.99 per month, offers three-bureau credit monitoring and scores, along with monitoring of the dark web, high-risk transactions, your payment cards, your 401K and other investment accounts and even the presence of criminals and sex offenders in your area. Like IdentityForce, it offers up to $1 million in identity theft insurance.

Meanwhile, Experian’s free credit monitoring service offers monthly reporting on changes to your Experian credit report, FICO score tracking, real-time notifications of suspicious activity on your credit report and a spending tracker.

Another free option is CreditWise from Capital One, which includes credit score access, monitoring of your TransUnion and Experian credit reports and Social Security number tracking.

Pros and cons of credit monitoring

Credit monitoring services can be beneficial, especially for those who are at risk of identity theft or are concerned about a possible data breach. However, you should weigh the pros and cons of using a paid or free service.

Pros

  • Credit monitoring services monitor your credit reports and scores and alert you when changes are made, so you don’t have to constantly check it yourself.
  • You can react quickly if someone has stolen your identity.
  • With a family plan, you can protect your children from identity theft.

Cons

  • Credit monitoring services cannot guarantee fraud prevention, as they cannot stop someone from applying for credit or opening new accounts in your name.
  • Additionally, credit monitoring cannot stop data breaches, prevent credit cards from being skimmed or warn you if someone files a tax return in your name and collects your refund.
  • These services may come with hidden fees or cancellation requirements.

Is credit monitoring worth paying for?

Whether or not you choose to pay for credit monitoring or take advantage of a free service depends on the level of service you desire.

Paid credit monitoring services may offer the ability to keep track of all three of your credit reports and scores through a single account, as well as higher amounts of identity theft coverage. They may also offer greater protection for families.

Free credit monitoring services usually don’t give you access to all three of your credit reports, and they may only offer individual plans.

Note that there are ways to monitor your credit without spending a dime. Many major credit cards offer free access to your credit score in your online account. And you can access your credit report from the three credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — for free on a weekly basis through 2023 at AnnualCreditReport.com.

Enabling a credit or security freeze, which makes it difficult for someone to open new accounts in your name, at the three major credit reporting agencies is a great way to stop these agencies from releasing your credit report. Plus, there is no fee to freeze or unfreeze your credit.

Additionally, a fraud alert requires a lender to take certain measures to verify your identity before opening new credit accounts. You only have to notify one of the three credit bureaus in order to place a fraud alert on all of your credit reports.

Bottom line

Credit monitoring can be a helpful tool to help you stay on top of your credit and your financial security, but it’s not a cure-all for fraud. And it may not always be worth paying for, unless you want comprehensive coverage that you can’t get for free.

Some services may offer you adequate protection at no cost. They can be very effective when combined with free credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com, free credit scores in your credit card accounts and other no-fee services such as credit freezes and fraud alerts.

No matter which type of service you choose, it’s important to be aware of what’s on your credit report and regularly check your credit score.

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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