The Best Credit Report Services
More than just monitoring
Even if your credit is already good, the best credit report service will help you make it even better — and also monitor your identity to ensure nothing is happening to make it any worse. We worked with three financial experts and spent 19 hours testing top services to find which had the most robust monitoring and the slickest toolkits to help improve our credit scores.
Standout features include a simulator that shows how simple actions can affect your scores; an at-a-glance understanding of your credit report; and a robust blog and online community of financially conscious people.
If you’re brand new to credit reports, a good place to start is AnnualCreditReport.com. You’re legally guaranteed a report from each of the Big Three credit bureaus every year, and AnnualCreditReport.com is the place you get them from. Keep in mind, these are just the reports — row after row of years, months, and dates that can be tricky to understand if you don’t know what you’re looking for. That said, it’s the best option if you just want to get a sense of where you’re at credit-wise before shelling out any cash for a service.
For those on a specific credit mission, you should know that these services fall into two categories: those that are focused on improving your financial health and those that are focused on protecting your identity (often the first sign of identity theft will appear on your credit report).
MyFICO sits pretty firmly in the first camp (although it does include extensive monitoring of your personally identifying information). All of myFICO’s signature features are geared toward helping you improve your credit score, from the slickest simulator tool of all we tested, to a killer app that tracks your every credit move, to a rich suite of educational tools. It’ll cost you $30 a month, but if you’re looking to make great strides in improving your credit score, or just want to see how high it can go, myFICO is your best bet.
Our other top pick, Identity Guard, is an identity theft protection service first. If you’re happy with your credit score and just want to keep tabs on your reports, Identity Guard is $10/month cheaper than myFico — and what it lacks in credit improvement features it makes up for in peace of mind: frequent reassurance that your credit and identity are being closely monitored for fraud. Identity Guard also stands out for its thorough explanation of how its credit monitoring system works and what you should do if you want to dispute information in your credit reports.
How We Found the Best Credit Report Services
“Most of the time, people use credit report sites when they have a major life event coming up, like wanting to get a loan to buy a home or a car, or to make home renovations,” Meka West, founder and CEO of Penny Smart Girl, explains. This is because lenders often consult credit reports and credit scores before determining what rate to offer you. Checking your credit report now — and making improvements to your score based on what that report tells you — can save you a lot of money later.
There are free credit report sites (including AnnualCreditReport.com) and there are paid services, and the best will provide you the information from your credit report, as well as help you understand that information and take steps toward improving your credit. To find it, we started with 22 credit report companies and spent 19 hours testing them out.
First, we cut services that didn’t offer info from each of the Big Three Credit Bureaus.
“Monitoring only one of your three credit reports is like
locking one of the three doors to your house,” says John Ulzheimer, a credit expert who has worked for both Equifax Credit Information Services and FICO. Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion use different information to compile their reports, and it’s important that each is accurate — you don’t know which bureau a landlord or lender is going to reference.
The best credit report sites provide access to all three bureaus’ information. (And yes, that means each of the Big Three was cut here since they only report on themselves.)
Credit.com, Credit Karma, CreditReport.com, CreditScore.com, Credit Sesame, Equifax, Experian, FreeCreditReport.com, FreeCreditScore.com, ProtectMyID, TransUnion, TrueCredit
We also wanted to see credit scores from the Big Three.
“There are two reasons why each bureau has a different credit score,” says Jeff Rose, certified financial planner, founder of Good Financial Cents, and author of the best-selling book Soldier of Finance. “First, they may be working off of slightly different information. Not every creditor reports to all the bureaus and, even though they are good at picking up that information, they do not always have all the same info. Second, each bureau weights credit activities slightly differently. So if you missed three payments on a bill six months ago, one bureau might penalize you a little more harshly than another.”
Case in point: in our tests, two bureaus gave us Very Good scores while the third scored as a few points lower, ranking us only Good. You need to know this information because you won’t know which score a lender may be looking at — or what may need improvement.
At this point, you might be trying to remember the difference between credit reports and credit scores. Meka West gave us a great summary: “The credit report gives you a full picture of your financial activity, history, and how you’ve managed your financial choices so far. The credit score is your grade of how well you’ve managed that history.” The two big names in credit scores are The Fair Isaac Corporation, now known as FICO, and VantageScore, which was developed by the Big Three Bureaus.
We evaluated the remaining candidates on their monitoring and education.
Credit Report Services vs. Identity Theft Protection There's a lot of overlap between the two. In fact, some of our top picks actually market themselves primarily as the latter. That's because so much of your identity is attached to your credit: often if your personally identifying information is stolen, the first signs of trouble will be reflected in your credit report, be it a bogus account or notice of debt collection. Read more in our review of best identity theft protection services.
After eliminating 14 of our initial 22 candidates, we looked more closely at what our remaining seven options had to offer. We evaluated these companies on two big metrics: monitoring tools and education resources.
When it comes to monitoring, a good service needs to to have one eye on your credit and one eye on your identity; that is, it tracks new additions to your credit report and changes to your credit score, and also tracks activity on your credit cards and bank accounts to alert you of fraud. The best services also attempt to prevent identity theft by tracking Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, passport numbers, and more.
From an education standpoint, the best service also needs to provide tools and resources to help you improve your credit, protect yourself from a potential identity theft threat, and understand how credit fits into your larger financial picture.
We ranked our last seven candidates on their different types of monitoring tools (including credit queries and fraud alerts) and different types of educational tools (including credit calculators, helpful blog posts, and online communities). Four of them — PrivacyGuard, CreditCheckTotal, TrustedID, and FreeScoresAndMore — didn’t provide enough monitoring and educational tools to stand out. CreditCheckTotal, for example, has just a glossary, which you can only access via the sitemap — because everyone knows that when you want more information, you need to scroll down to the tiny print at the bottom of the page and click “sitemap.”
TrustedID and FreeScoresAndMore came close to the top, so we checked a few other aspects of their service. When we found out that both had social media dead zones, with Twitter and Facebook profiles that hadn’t been updated in years, we knew that they weren’t going to provide the top-level service we were looking for. (@trustedID even looks like it was a victim of identity theft after it stopped updating in 2013 — not a good sign for a company tasked with protecting your identity!)
Our Picks for the Best Credit Report Service
myFICO By-the-minute credit score updates and tools that show how small tweaks will affect your credit make this a powerful resource.
If you’re looking for a credit report service because you want to get your credit as high as it can go, myFICO is your best bet. It’s directly associated with FICO, the most widely used credit score system — other credit report companies will also include your FICO score, but getting your scores from myFICO is getting them straight from the source. MyFICO is a subscription site, so you’ll be paying $30 every month to access its features — $10 more a month than our other top pick. But get ready to spend a lot of time playing around with the tools and resources and thinking about what you’ll do next to boost your score.
For anyone looking to actively improve their credit, myFICO’s Score Simulator shows how simple actions — like paying just a bit more on your credit cards — can make a big difference. The Score Simulator also lets you see how your score might change if you consolidate your credit card balances, apply for new credit, take out a mortgage, and more. It even shows you how your credit score will change if you do nothing (except paying your bills and making credit payments on time). If you’re hoping for a better interest rate a few months down the road, use the Score Simulator to see what you can do in just one month to improve that score. This tool alone is a standout — no other service we tested came close to providing this level of financial understanding.
The credit report section of myFICO is set up a little differently than some of our other contenders. Instead of tasking you with reading through all three credit reports yourself it gives you a top-level overview, highlighting the most important information. You can go through each aspect of your credit report more carefully by clicking through the table of contents.
That’s right: you don’t get to see your actual credit report through myFICO, but what it provides is in many ways easier to understand and navigate than a credit report, which can be an overwhelming amount of data without very much context. (Think rows of tiny red and green boxes combined with abbreviations like “UNIVERSAL CD CBNA.”) Instead, myFICO explains your credit history: what’s good, what’s bad, and what each of the Big Three thinks of you. If you want to see the actual reports yourself, you can get them each year for free through AnnualCreditReport.com.
MyFICO also sent the most comprehensive series of alerts and updates. You can elect to receive updates via email, text message, and mobile app notifications on anything from good news (your credit score has improved!) to bad news (your identity may have been compromised!).
This is actually the one area where myFICO can improve. We received three potential identity theft alerts on information that was several years out of date — in November 2013, for example, one of our emails and passwords was collected on a black market site. Another alert warned us that someone might have accessed a credit card that had expired in 2013. Although myFICO did provide us a detailed list of instructions to protect ourselves, it’s a little hard to change a password that was stolen three years ago or cancel an expired credit card.
None of the other contenders we tested flagged these “potential identity theft” issues, and although we appreciate myFICO’s attempt to thoroughly scan black market websites, waking up to three texts that all turned out to be false alarms wasn’t a fun user experience.
You know what is fun? The myFICO app. You can log in and watch your FICO Score 8 increase — and trust us, myFICO will let you know the minute it gets higher. We got credit score improvements after making a big payment on one of our credit cards, which is exactly the kind of positive reinforcement that can motivate people to pay down debt. The app also includes an identity theft alert section and an option to review your FICO Score 3B (all three bureaus’ scores) and Identity Analysis report.
It would be nice if the app let you connect directly to the myFICO forum — as of this writing, it doesn’t — because the forum is one of our favorite myFICO features. You can log on and discuss ways to improve your credit or boost your personal finance skills. The forum even has an entire section devoted to money and relationships.
Sometimes the best way to improve your life is to surround yourself with other people working toward the same goal. If you want to improve your credit, the myFICO forum is a great place to start. While you’re in the Community section, check out myFICO’s blog and educational resources, which also earned our Best Overall ranking. All of our top picks included educational articles, but myFICO’s casual-but-informative blog was the one that made us want to keep reading. Are you ready to take its “How well do you know your significant other’s credit behavior” quiz?
Lastly, we should call out myFICO’s transaction alert services and balance-change services, which are nice options to have, even if they are likely redundant with the services your bank can provide. The transaction alert is pretty self-explanatory; you can choose to receive notifications via text, email, and/or app whenever one of your accounts registers a transaction over a certain amount — just to make sure those purchases are actually yours.
The balance-change service is more interesting. Let’s say you put $500 on your credit card every month. (Let’s also say you pay off that $500 every month because you’re a responsible credit user.) MyFICO will alert you any time your monthly credit spending goes over $500 — because that extra spending might come from an identity thief. Some may think getting an alert for this is overkill (or even annoying), but it goes to show that myFICO has thought of pretty much everything.
Best For Peace of Mind
Identity Guard® If you're looking to just keep tabs on your credit, Identity Guard is a cheaper option that oozes reassurance.
If you’re the kind of person who always makes sure the oven is turned off before you go to sleep (even if you didn’t use the oven that day), you’re going to love Identity Guard. Like myFICO, Identity Guard is a subscription site — starting at $5 for the first month and $20 for each subsequent month. It’s also a solid, easy-to-navigate credit report and identity monitoring service that takes you step-by-step through every aspect of its system and tells you when you’ve reached maximum protection.
After you enter your Social Security number, for example, Identity Guard gives you these soothing words: “You don’t need to do anything to increase your protection level for your SSN.” Identity Guard’s dashboard shows you a central overview of all your active protection and flags any area that still needs setup. (MyFICO does this too, but its overview was pushed off to the side and partially below the fold, which was why we initially didn’t realize we hadn’t completed the steps involved in transaction monitoring.)
Identity Guard also sent us a peace-of-mind email after we finished setting up our credit monitoring: “There is nothing you need to do at this time. No action is required of you.”
Let’s say something does happen and you need to take action. Maybe you find a mistake on your credit report and want to correct it. All of our contenders give you the option of reporting errors on your credit report, but Identity Guard provided the most comprehensive explanation of how the dispute process works: The bureaus have 30 days to respond to your dispute, and they’re required to remove anything they can’t prove is accurate. If they do prove the information is correct (that is, if your dispute fails), you can ask them which institution helped verify that info. In case the credit-dispute process feels overwhelming, Identity Guard also includes an entire section titled, “Don’t Give Up.”
While Identity Guard has all the features you need to monitor your credit report and protect your identity, it’s missing a few of the extras that myFICO provided. Its phone app is pretty bare-bones (you can check your credit scores and make note of any alerts, but that’s it), and its educational section is equally basic. We couldn’t give it our Best Overall ranking, but we can say it’s a great service — and the best, by far, at providing peace of mind out of the services we tested. We should note though: we reviewed Identity Guard for its credit report services, not it’s identity theft monitoring. If that’s what you’re looking for, check out our review on best identity theft protection services.
Best Free Credit Report Service
AnnualCreditReport.com Yearly free access to all three of your credit reports.
AnnualCreditReport.com is the kind of website that still uses the words “dot com” in its name. The design is outdated; it was difficult to navigate; and getting our free credit reports was a slow and frustrating process.
However, AnnualCreditReport.com is the only source for your free credit reports, and it’s authorized by federal law. It says so right on the site.
AnnualCreditReport.com is jointly run by the Big Three Bureaus in order to comply with FACTA, the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003. FACTA requires that there be a website through which a person can access all three of their credit reports for free, and that’s why we have AnnualCreditReport.com.
That’s also why we still opted to recommend AnnualCreditReport.com even though it didn’t fully pass all our criteria (it only provides credit reports, not credit scores).
There are a lot of good reasons to use AnnualCreditReport.com as your credit report service, starting with the whole “Authorized by Federal Law” thing. Yes, you miss out on a lot of features that other services provide, including apps, forums, and step-by-step guides to filing credit disputes. You also miss out on identity theft protection and immediate alerts when something on your credit report has changed. But you do get one free annual credit report each from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion per year — and if you stagger these reports over a 12-month period, you can check your credit report every four months.
Be aware that your free credit report is exactly what it sounds like: a long, sometimes confusing report. “The credit report you get for free annually is nothing more than data. There are no scores and there is no advice or analysis,” Ulzheimer reminds us.
For some people, that’s enough. For people who want to improve their bad credit but don’t have a lot of extra cash, this might be the best option. Jeff Rose explains: “If you have bad credit, you can save the money for monitoring and just pull your credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. Use all the information on your reports to go and fix all the stuff that is dragging your score down. Once you get all that cleaned up, you can move into the monitoring stage and watch as your score rises over time.”
AnnualCreditReport.com is a little more time-consuming than a paid credit report service. You’re going to need to remember when to request your next credit report; you’re going to need to review the information yourself; and you’re going to need to do your own work to figure out how to improve your credit. AnnualCreditReport.com helps you out by providing useful guides on what to look for in your credit report and how to report identity theft. Once you’re done reading those guides, you have an entire internet of resources to help you on your DIY credit-improvement journey. We suggest starting with myFICO’s blog.
Other Credit Report Services to Consider
IdentityForce didn’t do anything better than our other contenders did — which isn’t to say it’s a bad service; just that it doesn’t offer as many features as the other services we tested. It provides credit reports and credit scores from the Big Three Bureaus, and includes a basic Credit Score Simulator to help you learn how to improve your credit. Like myFICO, it includes a transaction-alert feature so you know right away if someone besides you is making large purchases from your accounts. At $24 a month (or about $240 a year), IdentityForce is slightly more than Identity Guard and slightly less than myFICO — so worth considering, even though it didn’t earn one of our top rankings. IdentityForce was also the only credit report site we tested that immediately provided us with a list of sex offenders in our area, if that’s something that you like to know.
Did You Know?
Good credit is a long game.
Time is your friend when it comes to credit. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires credit reports to remove negative information after a certain period of time, under the theory that you shouldn’t continue to be penalized for mistakes made years ago. Late payments, for example, disappear after seven years. Your credit score is also likely to go up over time as you “age” your accounts and prove you can use credit responsibly.
There's a 20 percent chance your credit report has errors.
In 2012, the FTC completed a study that revealed one in five people had an error corrected on at least one of their credit reports, so don’t be surprised if you see something that doesn’t look right.
When we did our hands-on testing, we learned that one of our credit reports included an outdated address. (Technically, we only learned about the address issue when myFICO asked us to call Customer Care to confirm our identity and then told us one of our credit reports stated we had a different address than the one we gave the company. Another reason why myFICO earned our Best Overall ranking.)
If your credit report has errors, a good credit report service will provide instructions to help you start a dispute process. All of our top contenders included this resource, although the level of “instruction” varied significantly. Identity Guard gave us paragraphs of text on what to expect, and AnnualCreditReport.com connected us to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for more information. MyFICO and IdentityForce just gave us links to the Big Three Bureaus’ dispute sites — but that’s often enough to get the process started.
Your credit report service can help you improve your credit.
MyFICO makes it very easy to see how simple actions, like paying off debt, can improve your credit — but even if you choose a difference service, you can use the information it gives to improve your credit.
“If you are not familiar with the main factors that cause changes in your credit score, credit report services will provide you with all the information you need to get your score in great shape,” Rose explains.
Look for the section where your credit report service lists positive and negative factors affecting your credit score. It sounds simple to say, “Do more of the positive stuff and less of the negative stuff,” but that’s really all there is to it. If your score is getting dinged for late payments or for having a high debt balance, start paying off more of your debt — and make sure to submit every payment on time. If you don’t have enough open credit accounts, consider applying for a new credit card and paying off the balance every month.
Remember that even if you do nothing (except make on-time payments!) your credit score is likely to improve over time, because the age of your credit will increase and any derogatory marks such as foreclosures will fall off your credit report. So do what you can to improve your score right now, and then have patience. Better scores will come to those who wait.
Watch out for “credit repair” companies.
If you’re looking to repair your credit in a hurry, you might be tempted to sign up with one of the numerous credit repair companies out there. Be very, very careful before paying someone to repair your credit. There are a lot of credit repair companies ready to take your money without providing any actual help — that’d be what we call a “scam” — and in many cases they’re doing the same things you can do for free, such as reporting incorrect information to the credit bureaus. The FTC reports that in some cases credit repair companies provide false information to the bureaus or use identity theft to get you a “new credit identity,” and you’ll both be in trouble if the credit repair company gets caught.
A good credit report service shows you exactly how to improve your credit, whether by disputing information or by making larger payments on your outstanding debt. If you sign up for a credit report company and don’t like the credit scores it gives you, be very careful before signing up with a credit repair company. Not all of them are out to get you, but this is an area that requires a lot of research and due diligence.
The Bottom Line
If you’re going to apply for a job, buy a home, or do anything that includes the words “interest rate,” get to know your credit. Free reports through AnnualCreditReport.com are a great way to get started. Not loving what you see? The best credit report services will give you the tools and analysis to improve your score while also monitoring anything that looks like a potential threat.
myFICO Standout tools, a thriving community, and credit scores straight from the source.
Make sure your report is accurate. US News reports that the most commonly disputed information includes personal data (like the wrong address), credit account info (like an incorrect credit limit), and fraudulent activity (like an account opened by an identity thief). Look everything over very carefully, and don’t be afraid to dispute inaccuracies with the Big Three Bureaus.
Figure out what you need to do to improve your credit. This is where a credit report service can come in handy, because it’ll give you information on how your credit score was calculated and you can use that knowledge to improve your credit. Even if all you have is your free credit reports, you can still get a good sense of where you might need to improve. If your report shows a lot of late payments, for example, you know what you need to fix first.
Be patient. After the initial excitement of clicking around your credit report service has worn off, you might wonder why you need to keep paying for the monthly subscription. Remember that good credit is a long game. You’ll do the work of making your payments and aging your credit, and your credit report service will do the work of monitoring your progress and protecting your identity. Be patient, and watch that credit score grow.
More Credit Report Reviews
We’ve been looking into credit report services for a few years now, and you can check out some of our other reviews. They aren’t consistent with our latest round of research (yet!) so be on the lookout for updates in the upcoming weeks: