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Is Credit Monitoring Worth the Cost?
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Keeping your personal information under wraps is harder than ever. There are hundreds of data breaches each year, and you don’t always have control over which companies have your information on file.
Since identity theft is a growing problem, you may consider signing up for a credit monitoring service to watch for signs of fraud on your credit reports. These services actively track changes in your credit reports and inform you of suspicious activity. In this guide, we’ll explore whether credit monitoring is worth the cost and other free alternatives.
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What is credit monitoring?
Credit monitoring can encompass a range of services and features.
A basic credit monitoring service may track one or more of your credit reports from Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. If it detects new and potentially suspicious activity, it will send you an alert.
Making your normal monthly payments generally won’t lead to an alert, but a new hard inquiry could. A hard credit inquiry is the result of a creditor reviewing your credit report before making a lending decision, and it could indicate that someone applied for a new account in your name.
If you didn’t apply for a new account, you could contact the creditor and ask why it reviewed your credit report. If you discover an attempt to open a new account, you may be able to close it before the fraudster can use it.
Other suspicious activities that could indicate whether someone is fraudulently using your identity include:
- New accounts or collections appearing on your reports
- A change in your personal information (such as your name or address)
- A late payment on an account you haven’t recently used
Some credit monitoring services provide additional features, although there may be an added cost depending on the benefits you choose.
For example, some credit monitoring programs include identity recovery services that can help you manage your personal information and accounts after your identity is compromised. You may also receive insurance that can reimburse you for expenses related to identity theft or credit fraud.
Some services even go beyond monitoring your three credit reports and look for your personal information on the dark web, court records and databases. These more comprehensive programs are sometimes called identity monitoring services, rather than credit monitoring services.
Is it ever worth it to pay for credit monitoring?
A wide range of companies offers credit monitoring, including the three national credit bureaus, FICO, personal finance websites and identity theft protection companies. The cost of credit monitoring can vary depending on the provider and the level of service.
Some of the programs that let you check your credit scores for free also include free credit report monitoring. The free options may even include daily monitoring and identity theft insurance and support. However, they generally only monitor one or two of your credit reports.
If you’re looking for basic credit monitoring, signing up for two or three free programs that, when combined, monitor your credit reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion may be sufficient.
The paid credit monitoring services won’t necessarily monitor your reports any better than a free service can. Paying a subscription may only be worth it if you want to have one program that monitors all three of your reports. Or if you want more comprehensive identity monitoring, resolution assistance or insurance, a paid option could be a better bet. If you have good reason to suspect that your information has been compromised, paying for credit monitoring may be worth the cost.
Paid credit monitoring or identity monitoring services often cost around $10 to $30 per month — and some have a free or discounted trial period. Many programs offer a discount on couples or family plans and you may be able to save money by paying an annual rather than a monthly fee.
Free ways to monitor and protect your credit
While it can require a little extra work, the free approach is certainly an option for consumers. Here are two steps you can take to help track and secure your credit reports for free.
Get free credit monitoring of all 3 bureaus
Create accounts with two or three programs that will provide combined coverage of all three credit bureaus. For example, LendingTree’s free credit monitoring program will alert you to changes in your TransUnion credit report (you can even get push notifications via the LendingTree app). Then, sign up for other free programs that monitor your Equifax and Experian reports and you’ll have all your bases covered.
Freeze your credit reports
In addition to signing up for credit monitoring, freezing your credit reports could prevent someone else from opening an account in your name. By federal law, it is free to freeze your credit, which will also keep potential creditors from seeing your credit file. It also requires the credit bureaus to extend fraud alerts (which are also free) on your credit reports to one year rather than 90 days. You may want to add an alert if you think you’ve been a victim of identity theft.
When you freeze your credit, you can create or be given a PIN that you’ll need to thaw your report. You can quickly unfreeze your report indefinitely, or unfreeze it for a specific period of time, such as a couple of days while you apply for an auto loan. According to a 2022 LendingTree study, only about 17% of consumers have an active fraud alert and/or credit freeze on their reports.
You can freeze and thaw your credit files for free online by visiting the Experian, Equifax and TransUnion websites. As with credit monitoring, it’s best to get full coverage by freezing your reports with all three bureaus.
Frequently asked questions
No, checking your credit reports will not impact your score. In fact, it’s a good way to ensure that the information on your report is accurate and up-to-date. You can request free copies of your credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com.
Since each credit bureau operates independently from the others, the information contained on one report may be different than the information on another. For example, some lenders only report credit activity to one credit bureau and not the others, so it’s quite common for your reports to vary slightly from each other.
A credit freeze will remain active on your report until you remove it. When you’re ready to unfreeze (or thaw) your credit, simply visit the websites for each credit bureau, access the account you used to initially freeze your credit and request that the freeze be lifted. Typically, the change only takes minutes.
You can also choose to temporarily unfreeze your credit if you need to apply for a new loan or credit card.