The Best Credit Report Services
How We Found the Best Credit Report Services
23 services evaluated
7 products tested
4 top picks
The Best Credit Report Services
The best credit report service makes it easy to access your scores and manage your financial future. We looked at 23 widely available services and evaluated their reporting, monitoring, and educational tools to see which ones streamlined the user experience. The result: four services that will bring you the clearest picture of your credit health, help you make decisions to improve your creditworthiness, and protect you from identity theft.
How We Chose the Best Credit Report Services
Reports from each of the three major 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 our credit 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 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, this means that each of the Big Three was cut, since they only report on themselves.
Scores from each of 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.
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 a “Good” from TransUnion. As with your report, it’s impossible to know from which bureau a lender will be drawing a score, so we cut any service that didn’t provide scores from all three bureaus.
Comprehensive credit monitoring and educational tools
We ranked our final seven candidates on their educational resources. 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 identity theft. We nixed those that hardly provided any tools beyond a glossary, like PrivacyGuard and CreditCheckTotal.
Our evaluations left us with three top services: myFICO, Identity Guard, and IdentityForce. We signed up for the monthly plan options for each service to further test their monitoring and reporting capabilities, as well as the ease and intuitiveness of their user experiences — all to find the features that set them apart from the competition. We prioritized timely and accurate alerts, simulation tools, analysis of scores and reports, and educational materials that contextualize your credit information.
These three top picks provide strong monitoring and identity theft protection measures, as well as useful resources. Our fourth pick, AnnualCreditReport.com, doesn’t provide educational tools or protection measures for your identity, but it is free — and the barebones credit health it provides might be enough to make informed financial decisions in the future.
The 4 Best Credit Monitoring Services
- myFICO -
Best for Improving Your Credit Score
- IdentityForce -
Best for Monitoring Your Credit Score
- Identity Guard® -
Best for Guided Help
- AnnualCreditReport.com -
The Best Free Credit Report Service
Why we chose it
Customer education and resources
In terms of customer education, myFICO goes above and beyond: In addition to offering credit and identity monitoring, myFICO is equipped with tools and resources that provide actionable tips for understanding and improving your score, like videos, articles, and forums.
The myFICO Forums feature is 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. Over 747,000 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 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.
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.
Widely accepted scoring model
The 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 use; other services, like Identity Guard, use educational scoring models that may not actually reflect the scores being evaluated when you apply for a loan.
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 various amounts of debt, consolidating credit card balances, applying for a new credit card, and taking out a mortgage. For those who are more passive with their credit card 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.
Points to consider
On the plus side, myFICO 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!). However, the nature and frequency of these notifications was often overwhelming. 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.
Another downside to myFICO is that its plans are, on average, about $15 more expensive per month than comparable plans from our other top picks. We think that the price is worth it; however, if you’re not interested in the educational aspects of myFICO, you may find that a cheaper service fulfills your needs just as well.
Why we chose it
Solid credit monitoring
If you’re just interested in keeping tabs on your credit, IdentityForce provides top-notch monitoring. Because IdentityForce is primarily an identity theft protection service, monitoring is only available in its top-tier plan (UltraSecure+Credit) — but bundling identity protection and credit monitoring is worth the price. With this plan, you’ll receive updates on your Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion scores. IdentityForce also includes added security features, like monitoring services for your social media accounts and a questionnaire with simple yes-or-no questions to help you 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 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: For instance, 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.
Points to consider
Though the UltraSecure+Credit plan is billed as a monthly service, it’s important to note that the credit reports it offers are only refreshed once per quarter. In comparison, myFICO offers a plan that provides updates every month for close tracking needs.
Basic educational resources for credit
As far as educational resources are concerned, IdentityForce’s are fairly basic. Other than a 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.
Score simulator limitations
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 takes into account all three of your credit files from the Big Three, but upon further investigation, we also discovered that IdentityForce doesn’t disclose the scoring algorithm 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.
Why we chose it
Identity Guard is the credit monitoring service for those who want plenty of affirmation that their credit and identity information is secure. Identity Guard Premier (for individuals or families), the service’s monthly plan, 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.
All of our contenders give you the option to report 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 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. This 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.
Points to consider
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, and like with IdentityForce, 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. Still, Identity Guard’s services are comprehensive, and it’s an undeniably strong contender if you’re still learning the basics of credit monitoring.
Why we chose it
Free credit reports
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. It’s the only free credit monitoring site that sends you reports 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.
Points to consider
Raw data only
It's entirely possible that the data in your credit report is all you need. But it’s important to remember that your report is just that: data. 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 alerts when something on your credit report changes. At no cost, AnnualCreditReport.com is a great resource for obtaining baseline information about your credit, but it may take a little more work to untangle.
Guide to Credit Report Services
How to make the most of your credit monitoring service
Check for errors
A 2012 study by the Federal Trade Commission found that one out of 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.
Look for a service that will help you report those errors
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.
Realize that it takes time to improve your credit
If you’re looking to improve your credit in a hurry, you might be tempted to sign up with one of the many companies advertising credit repair. Be 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 picks provide tools and resources to help bring your score up, you’re better off avoiding such companies completely.
Be wary, be smart
After the massive Equifax data breach in 2017 that exposed the personal information of 145.5 million people, being uncomfortable with sharing your personal information with these large bureaus is understandable. But since we can’t really escape the reality of digital transactions, we suggest taking advantage of securing your credit information when you feel it’s at risk. Equifax offered free credit freezes for anyone — not just Equifax customers — through June 30, 2018. If you’ve been a victim of identity theft or are currently dealing with a similar scenario, a credit freeze might be worthwhile. (For more information on credit freezes, look to our FAQ below.)
Equifax also released a free app called Lock & Alert, which allows people to lock access to their credit files from their phones. Credit locks differ 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 check the ratings on Lock & Alert before using it will full confidence.
Know that the credit landscape may be changing
On January 10, 2018, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Mark Warner introduced the Data Breach Prevention and Compensation Act in the U.S. 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.
Credit Report Service FAQ
The Best Credit Report Services: Summed Up
Our Other Credit Reviews
Whether you’re just now entering the credit realm, a seasoned cardholder, or simply want more info, we’ve got you covered. Check out our other credit reviews for more details on managing your financial health.