The Best Credit Report Service
- February 8, 2018 - To stay up-to-date, we re-tested our four top picks and updated our review with new features and pricing structures. In light of the Data Breach Prevention and Compensation Act introduced in the US Senate on January 10, 2018, created in response to the 2017 Equifax breach, we’ve also expanded our credit protection tips found at the end of this review.
- January 25, 2018 - In this update, we’ve condensed our review and provided up-to-date information regarding bill H.R. 5282. While we are still confident in our top picks, keep an eye out for further testing in the coming months.
- February 3, 2017 - In January of 2017, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fined Equifax and TransUnion $23M for false advertising. While this doesn’t impact our top picks, the settlement does impact consumers, most notably any who paid for scores from either bureau (and are now due $17M in restitution). We’ve updated our reporting and added a breakdown of the Comprehensive Consumer Credit Reporting Reform Act, which calls for even further reform. We also updated pricing: Identity Guard and IdentityForce dropped their subscriptions to $15 and $20 per month respectively. We also looked at Quizzle. It was cut for not offering info from all three bureaus.
The Best Credit Report Service
Our favorite service for improving your credit is myFICO, a platform with unparalleled resources to help you understand the factors that contribute to your credit. An intuitive score simulator tool, comprehensive forums, and detailed analysis of your credit reports provide actionable insights that make it easy to learn how to bring your score up. It’s more expensive than our other services, but the monthly subscription can help you save significant amounts of money over time with an improved credit score.
IdentityForce is first and foremost an identity theft protection service, but that level of protection comes with detailed monitoring that will ensure you’re never left in the dark. That includes mobile alerts, monitoring of your social media accounts, and interactive tools to help you evaluate your risk of identity theft. Its features aren’t as flashy as those from myFICO, but it provides all the essential functions needed to keep tabs on your financial health and personal information (plus, it's $15 cheaper).
With a library of educational resources — including a step-by-step guide to filing disputes and sample letters for reporting identity theft — Identity Guard will happily hold your hand through the complexities of the credit world. Like IdentityForce, Identity Guard is primarily an identity theft protection company, but its services for credit reporting are just as robust as its protection. A monthly subscription comes with mobile alerts, a credit simulator, access to each of your three reports, and guided support that will leave you feeling confident moving forward in your financial future.
If you already have a solid grasp on your credit, we recommend AnnualCreditReport.com, the only free, federally-approved provider of your credit reports. You’re legally entitled to one report from each of the Big Three Credit Bureaus every year, but be warned: The information included in that report is just information, row after row of payment history that can be tricky to understand if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
How We Found the Best Credit Report Service
First, we looked for reports from each of the Big Three Credit Bureaus.
The “Big Three Credit Bureaus” — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — are the largest agencies used for credit reporting. Since most agencies access the same information (things like your credit card history, existing loans, and public records), you might expect each report to tell the same story. But bureaus use information differently to compile their reports: Some may prioritize the length of your revolving debt history over the timeliness of your payments, while others may focus more on the latter. This can result in significant score differences between bureaus and possibly the difference between approval and rejection for a loan. Since you don’t know which bureau a landlord or lender is going to reference, it’s important that all of your reports be up-to-date and accurate. After all, there could be a lot of money on the line.
We said goodbye to any service that didn’t report on each of the Big Three. And yes, that means each of the Big Three was cut, since they only report on themselves.
Credit.com, Credit Karma, CreditReport.com, CreditScore.com, Credit Sesame, Equifax, Experian, FreeCreditReport.com, FreeCreditScore.com, ProtectMyID, Quizzle, TransUnion, TrueCredit
We also looked for scores from the Big Three.
Unlike a credit report, which is a detailed history of your financial activity, a credit score serves as a grade of how well you’ve managed that history. It’s one of the easiest ways for lenders to evaluate your creditworthiness at a glance. These scores generally come from scoring models designed by The Fair Isaac Corporation, also known as FICO, or VantageScore, which was developed by the Big Three Bureaus.
What's a good credit score?The most common scoring models used to determine credit scores, FICO and VantageScore, operate on a scale of 300-850, with higher scores indicating a lower level of financial risk. 700 or above is generally considered a good score, while anything above 800 is excellent. Most people score between 600 and 750.
Like reports, your credit score will vary bureau to bureau depending on what information they collect. According to Jeff Rose, certified financial planner, founder of Good Financial Cents, and author of the best-selling book Soldier of Finance, “Each bureau weighs 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.”
In our tests, the scores we received varied as much as 32 points between bureaus, which translated to the difference between a “Very Good” evaluation from Equifax and just “Good” from TransUnion. As with your report, it’s impossible to know which score a lender is looking at, so we cut any service that didn’t provide scores from all three bureaus.
We favored services with comprehensive monitoring and educational tools.
When it comes to monitoring, a good service needs to have one eye on your credit and one eye on your identity: It oversees new additions to your credit report and changes to your credit score while also tracking activity on your credit cards, bank accounts, Social Security number, and other personal information to alert you of fraud or identity theft.
The best service does more than just give you peace of mind. It also provides tools and resources to help you learn more about your credit, how to improve your score, and how to protect yourself from potential identity theft so that you’re better prepared to make smart decisions in the future.
Credit Report Services vs. Identity Theft ProtectionThere’s a lot of overlap between the two. In fact, two of our top picks market themselves as the latter. This is because so much of your identity is tied to your credit; often the first signs of stolen personal information appear on your credit report, whether it’s a bogus account or notice of debt collection. Read more in our review of the best identity theft protection services.
We ranked our final seven candidates on their monitoring and educational resources. Two of them — PrivacyGuard and CreditCheckTotal — provide hardly any tools. CreditCheckTotal, for example, offers just a glossary, which, while relatively helpful, can only be accessed through a small site map button at the bottom of the page. Privacy Guard speaks about the importance of educational resources but only provides barebones explanations in its FAQ section.
TrustedID and FreeScoresAndMore fare slightly better than Privacy Guard and CreditCheckTotal in terms of resources, but after diving deeper into their customer service we found that both have social media dead zones: Twitter and Facebook profiles that haven’t been updated in years. True, this may not reflect the quality of their credit services, but it doesn’t reflect well on the companies’ customer service, either. TrustedID’s Twitter even looks as if it was a victim of hacking after it stopped posting official updates in 2013; for a company tasked with protecting your identity, this gave us more than enough reason to cut it.
That left us with three top services: myFICO, Identity Guard, and IdentityForce. We signed up for the monthly plan options for each service to test their monitoring and reporting capabilities — as well as the ease and intuitiveness of their user experiences — to find the features that set them apart from the competition. We prioritized timely and accurate alerts, simulation tools, analysis of your scores and reports, and educational materials that contextualize your credit information. Our three top picks provide strong monitoring and identity theft protection measures, along with the resources to ensure you’re prepared for whatever your financial future may bring, so you can feel confident in your decision no matter which service you choose.
The Seven Credit Report Services We Tested
- CreditCheck Total
- Identity Guard
- Privacy Guard
Our Picks for the Best Credit Report Service
MyFICO is a credit report service that goes above and beyond with customer education: In addition to offering credit and identity monitoring, myFICO is equipped with comprehensive tools and resources that provide actionable tips for understanding and improving your score, like videos, articles, and forums. MyFICO is a bit pricier than the competition — $39.95 for monthly reports — but in exchange it offers unmatched resources to help boost your score, rather than just view it.
These potential improvements to your credit are reinforced by the fact that myFICO is the only credit report service directly associated with FICO, the scoring model used by 90% of top lenders. This ensures that the scores you receive are an accurate representation of the information lenders look at; other services, like Identity Guard, use educational scoring models that may not actually reflect the scores being evaluated when you apply for a loan.
Ironically, myFICO doesn’t offer direct access to your actual credit reports. Rather than task you with reading through all three reports, which are really just rows and rows of tiny red and green boxes, it gives you a top-level overview that highlights the most important information. This is far easier to understand and navigate than a credit report on its own — and if you want to supplement with your actual reports, you can get them for free each year through AnnualCreditReport.com.
Our top three services all have credit calculators that allow you to see how different scenarios will affect your score, but myFICO’s Score Simulator is by far the best. It simulates actions that impact your credit, like paying off varying amounts of debt, consolidating credit card balances, applying for new credit, and taking out a mortgage. For those who are more passive with their credit decisions, it even shows how your score will change if you do nothing except make timely payments. And if you’re hoping to get a better interest rate a few months down the line, the Score Simulator tells you how to improve your score in that time. In addition to its usefulness, the tool’s bright colors and intuitive interactions (like sliding cursors) make it, quite frankly, fun to play with. We didn’t think it was possible to say that for a credit report service.
The mobile app for myFICO includes an alerts section as well as the option to review your FICO Score 3b report (scores from all three bureaus). Monitoring your FICO score on the go means you’ll know exactly when your score increases, as ours did after making a big credit card payment. This provides the type of positive reinforcement that can motivate people to pay down debt, rather than just remind them of it. The only noticeable difference between the service’s mobile and desktop experiences is that the app lacks direct access to the myFICO forum, one of the main pillars of the service’s resources and one of our favorite features.
These forums offer information on everything from loan applications to how money can impact relationships, and it makes for a resource with a breadth of knowledge that’s unrivaled. Over 736,000 members are registered, which provides something most people don’t even know they’re missing when it comes to financial smarts: community. Discussions are moderated, so you can be sure you’re getting high quality information, and new posts appear daily. With recent developments in the credit world like the 2017 Equifax breach and ongoing legislative efforts to expand consumer protections, myFICO’s forums are a great place to stay up-to-date on news that may impact your credit. The forum experience is similar to reddit, and we found ourselves spending far more time there than we thought — just another way that myFICO has made a positive user experience out of a distinctly “unsexy” subject.
If there’s a downside to myFICO, it’s the service’s alerts — but not for the reason you might think. This service sent the most comprehensive alerts and updates of all our top picks, which can be received through email, text message, and mobile app notifications. These include both good news (your credit score has improved!) and bad (your identity may have been compromised!), but the thing that brought myFICO down was the nature and frequency of these notifications: During our testing, we received potential identity theft alerts on information that was several years out of date, as well as a fraud alert on an expired credit card. None of the other contenders flagged these “potential identity theft” issues, and while we appreciate myFICO’s thoroughness, we would prefer alerts that are better able to distinguish between real reasons for alarm and false ones.
Not everyone needs a service that will push them to improve their score. If you’re just interested in keeping tabs on your credit, IdentityForce provides top-notch monitoring.
IdentityForce is first and foremost an identity theft protection service, so only its top-tier plan, UltraSecure+Credit, offers credit monitoring. Though this plan is billed as a monthly service (at $23.95 per month), it’s important to note that the credit reports it offers are only refreshed once per quarter, unlike myFICO, which provides updates every month. Still, as an identity protection service, IdentityForce includes security features that other credit report services don’t, including monitoring services for your social media accounts and a questionnaire with simple yes-or-no questions to help determine your risk of identity theft.
Like our other top picks, IdentityForce offers access to a tracker that monitors any changes to your scores. The tracker comes with a brief overview of the factors influencing your credit, like a short credit history or lack of revolving debt experience. While it’s less comprehensive than myFICO’s, these details help contextualize what can otherwise be seemingly incomprehensible information. IdentityForce also provides links to dispute forms from all three bureaus so you’re not left wondering what to do if this information reveals a mistake in one of your reports.
Alerts are also a critical part of monitoring, and IdentityForce’s were useful, customizable, and accurate. Notifications can be received through email or text if a purchase, withdrawal, or transfer exceeds a certain amount, and you’ll be alerted if any new accounts are opened in your name. We received fewer false flags with IdentityForce than we did with myFICO, and the alerts we did receive were surprisingly helpful even when nothing had happened with our personal information: During testing, we received notification of sex offenders living in our area, including their names, descriptions, and the nature of their crimes. It also notified us of times our Social Security number had been used recently; one quick check of the IdentityForce dashboard and we were able to confirm that all of the uses were from us and not someone trying to steal our identity.
As far as educational resources are concerned, IdentityForce’s are fairly basic. Other than a comprehensive glossary that provides definitions for a wide range of financial keywords, IdentityForce offers few credit tools that aren’t also available from the rest of our top picks. An FAQ section provides assistance for the basics of credit management, and phone and email services are available to answer any lingering questions. But because IdentityForce doesn’t specialize in credit, its tools and resources are ultimately more geared toward identity monitoring and protection. If you’re interested in learning more about these services, check out our review of the best identity theft protection services.
Like myFICO, IdentityForce does include a credit score simulator that allows you to determine how actions like adding a credit card, eliminating a balance, or making on-time payments will impact your score, but it’s less detailed than myFICO’s. IdentityForce’s simulator only offers these services for your TransUnion score, so you won’t be able to use this tool with your Equifax or Experian scores. Upon further investigation, we also discovered that IdentityForce doesn’t disclose the scoring model it uses to produce its evaluations. Without knowing how its scores are calculated, we can’t be certain how similar the scores you receive from IdentityForce are to the actual scores being viewed by lenders.
If you just want to make sure there’s nothing fishy going on with your credit, IdentityForce is probably all you need. It doesn’t offer the same hands-on educational resources of other credit monitoring services, but it nevertheless provides reports, alerts, and analysis that will help you watch your credit and keep track of any changes that might occur. Plus, its identity theft protection services add an extra layer of security on top of valuable access to your credit reports.
Identity Guard is the credit monitoring service for those who want to be certain their credit and identity information is secure, with plenty of continuous affirmation of that security. Identity Guard Platinum, the service’s monthly plan, is $24.99 per month and includes easy-to-navigate credit reports and identity monitoring that takes you step-by-step through every aspect of its system — it even tells you when you’ve reached maximum protection.
After setting up our credit monitoring, we received a confirmation email that genuinely reassured us: “You don’t need to do anything right now except be confident that we’ll alert you if we detect certain changes in your credit file.” Once you’re logged in, Identity Guard’s dashboard provides a central overview of all your active protection and flags any areas that still require setup so you know you aren’t missing anything. It’s a minor detail, but when we’re talking about confidential personal information, we value a company’s willingness to sweat the small stuff.
This holds particularly true for Identity Guard’s educational resources. All of our contenders give you the option of reporting errors on your credit report, but Identity Guard provides 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 your dispute fails, you can ask them which institution helped verify that info, and you can always add your own note to your report if you feel the dispute was inadequately handled. Identity Guard also includes an entire section titled, “Don’t Give Up,” which can be a helpful reminder when dealing with the complexities of credit bureaus.
The service also comes with a few resources we didn’t find elsewhere. That includes a News and Education section with updates to the state of identity protection, plus research reports on subjects like consumer trends and fraud alerts. Overall, Identity Guard provides the most information of any of our top picks, and while not all of it is as digestible as myFICO’s resources, the sheer volume of detail goes a long way in providing assurance.
Identity Guard has its pitfalls, too. Its credit analyzer is similar but less intuitive than myFICO’s Score Simulator, and its educational videos remind us of the informational clips shown in driver’s ed courses (though these are admittedly minor quibbles).
More importantly, the scores used by Identity Guard come from CreditXpert, a scoring system that provides results for purely educational purposes. Lenders will use a different scoring model when they access your report, so the scores you get from Identity Guard won’t be the same ones used by lenders to evaluate your credit. That doesn’t mean Identity Guard is off in its estimate. It just means you should treat the scores you receive as just that — an estimate.
The only other major complaint we have with Identity Guard is the advertisements for its other service plans at the bottom of nearly every page. This felt overly salesy, and the ads themselves look like the kind of clickbait one might find on a website that could actually compromise your personal information. Coming from a company that otherwise does a good job providing credit and identity security (plus reassurance of that security), these ads were a poorly-veiled reminder that Identity Guard’s first priority is business.
Still, Identity Guard’s services are comprehensive, and it’s an undeniably strong contender for credit monitoring. It’s missing a few of the tools that myFICO provides, but in exchange it offers a level of detail that’s unmatched among our top picks. As a result, Identity Guard is the best credit report service when it comes to providing peace of mind and assistance in navigating your financial future.
Another Credit Report Service to Consider
AnnualCreditReport.com didn’t pass all of our initial criteria: It only delivers your reports, not scores, and it doesn’t come with any tools or analysis of your information. It is, however, the only source for your free credit reports that’s authorized by federal law, and we think that’s worth knowing about. If all you need is the information contained in your credit report without context or analysis, AnnualCreditReport.com has you covered.
AnnualCreditReport.com is jointly run by the Big Three Bureaus in order to comply with the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, which requires the existence of a website where a person can access all three credit reports for free. You’re legally entitled to one free credit report from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion per year; if you stagger these reports over a 12-month period, you can check your credit report every four months for free.
For some, the data found in your free credit report is enough to provide the information you need. But it’s important to remember that your report is just that: “The credit report you get for free annually is nothing more than data. There are no scores and there is no advice or analysis,” says John Ulzheimer, a credit expert who has worked for both Equifax Credit Information Services and FICO. That means you’ll need to review the information yourself, and you’ll need to do your own work to figure out how to improve your credit — with no help from the site’s blocky and outdated design. You also miss out on apps, forums, and immediate alerts when something on your credit report changes. But at no cost, AnnualCreditReport.com is a great resource for obtaining baseline information about your credit history.
Tips for Protecting Your Credit
There’s a 20% chance your credit report has errors.
A 2012 study by the Federal Trade Commission found that one in five people had an error on their reports that was corrected by a credit bureau after it was disputed. Even minor errors can result in less favorable terms for loans, which makes it all the more essential to verify that the information contained in your report is accurate.
All of our top contenders provide instructions to help you start the dispute process, though the level of instruction varies: myFICO and IdentityForce simply link to the Big Three Bureaus’ dispute pages, while AnnualCreditReport.com connects to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for more information. Identity Guard was by far the most detailed in its guidance, providing paragraphs of text on what to expect from a dispute and how to go about the process — it even provides sample letters, so you don’t have to worry about where to begin.
There may not be a “best” credit repair company.
If you’re looking to improve your credit in a hurry, you might tempted to sign up with one of the numerous companies advertising credit repair. Be very, very careful before paying someone to repair your credit. Many credit repair companies are ready to take your money to do the same things you can do for free, like report incorrect information found on your credit history.
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.” If the credit repair company gets caught doing so you’ll both be held responsible. Since all of our top services provide tools and resources to help bring your score up, you’re better off avoiding such companies completely.
Equifax is offering free credit freezes through June 2018.
After a massive data breach in 2017 that exposed the personal information of 145.5 million people, Equifax is offering free credit freezes for anyone — not just Equifax customers — until June 30, 2018.
Credit freezes restrict access to your credit report, which makes it more difficult for identity thieves to obtain your information. If you need to reopen your report when applying for credit or a job, you can always lift the freeze, though there may be a cost for doing so. Certain entities will still be able to access your report, including your existing creditors and government agencies, but freezing your credit report is a simple way to give yourself an extra level of security.
Equifax also released a free app called Lock & Alert, which allows people to lock access to their credit files from their phones. Credit locks vary from freezes in that your report can be “unlocked” immediately without incurring charges. But credit locks aren’t subject to the same regulation as freezes, and it's still unclear what rights you're entitled to by using a lock — if the lock fails and your identity is stolen, you may have no legal recourse against Equifax. Plus, at the time of writing, Lock & Alert was far from functional: Early users reported an inability to even get past the login screen. Our advice? Opt for a freeze over a lock, and wait to see if Equifax resolves its app issues before signing up for Lock & Alert.
The credit landscape is due for a change.
On January 10, 2018, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Mark Warner introduced the Data Breach Prevention and Compensation Act in the US Senate. The bill addresses the aftermath of data breaches like the 2017 Equifax hack, giving broader power to the federal government to penalize entities that fail to adequately protect consumers’ personal information.
Under the bill, a new Office of Cybersecurity would be created at the FTC with the ability to fine credit-reporting agencies $100 for every person with private information stolen in a data breach, along with $50 for each additional piece of private information per person (though total monetary fines would be limited based on the agency’s revenue). According to Recode, these penalties would have totaled over $1.5 billion for Equifax had the legislation been in place at the time of the hack.
Money raised from such fines would be split evenly: Half would go to “cybersecurity research and inspections by the Office of Cybersecurity,” while the other half would be “divided fairly among consumers affected by the covered breach.” If the bill passes, it will mark a major step toward creating more oversight of credit agencies and greater protection for consumers. Plus, it may jumpstart a race for increased security measures among the credit agencies themselves.
Our Credit Report Service Review: Summed Up
More Credit Report Service Reviews
We’ve been reviewing credit services for a while now. Check out our other reviews below for more information about reports and monitoring, but stay tuned: We’ll be updating them soon to maintain consistency with our latest round of research.