The Best Credit Monitoring Services
How We Found the Best Credit Monitoring Services
23 Credit monitoring services
6 Hand tested
3 Exceptional top picks
The Best Credit Monitoring Services
Whether you’re after extra protection against identity theft or want to raise your score before applying for a big loan, the best credit monitoring service keeps you informed along the way. It scours your credit reports routinely, alerting you via phone, text, or email of any changes to your credit score. It also keeps an eye out for new credit card applications or limit increases made in your name — often the first sign of identity theft — so you can take immediate steps.
How We Chose the Best Credit Monitoring Services
All credit monitors on the market
Twenty-three credit-monitoring providers offer their services to US consumers. This number includes both self-billed credit monitoring services as well as companies that advertise as “identity theft monitoring.” Since the first signs of identity theft typically show up on your credit report, both types of providers are actually monitoring the same information, and both can serve your credit protection needs.
To find the best, we followed the same guidelines we laid out in our review of the best credit report companies, focusing on comprehensive alerts and robust monitoring abilities.
Reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion
We required credit monitoring companies offer reports from all three of the largest credit bureaus (often referred to as the Big Three) — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. All use the same data to produce their reports (including your payment history on loans and credit cards, your credit card limits, and publicly available records like your street address), but each prioritizes a slightly different set of information, and that has an impact.
Jeff Rose, certified financial planner, founder of the blog Good Financial Cents and author of the best-selling book Soldier of Finance, explained to us, “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.”
Chances are, if you check your report from all three, you’ll get slightly different results from each. And since you never know which one will be used by your bank or lender, it’s best to have accurate and timely information from all three.
Credit scores from each of the Big Three
We also required credit scores garnered from all three. While lenders scrutinize your credit reports when you apply for a loan, credit scores help them understand your finances at a glance.
Just like credit reports, each bureau formulates this score a little differently. We ran some tests and found that our scores varied from bureau to bureau. One tester had a 704 (“Fair”) from Equifax, but a 720 (“Good”) from Experian. Again, you don’t have any insight into or control over which bureau a lender will use.
Alerts, tools, and support
The best credit monitoring service promptly notifies you of changes and provides comprehensive educational tools and resources. As we dug into the services offered by our finalists, the first thing we looked for: multiple notification types. We wanted to see options for both text and email alerts, along with 24/7 availability by phone — if we get an alarming text saying our credit has been compromised, we want to be able to take action, and that means reaching a live person immediately.
Some credit watch services failed this basic test, with websites so bare-bones that there are no options to even set up alerts and automated telephone services that wouldn’t connect us to an operator without first providing a social security number. Superior services offer swift, accurate alerts, digestible credit report breakdowns, intuitive interfaces, and real people ready to give the information and support you need.
The 3 Best Credit Monitoring Services
Best for Improving Your Credit Score: myFICO
Why we chose it
Comprehensive and educational
If you’re looking for a truly full-service credit monitoring subscription, myFICO is the best we found. It goes beyond simple monitoring, offering tools and resources for improving your credit that help you visualize and achieve desired results over time.
If you’re targeting a score that will help you negotiate a better rate on your car insurance, for example, myFICO offers specific suggestions about how to get you there. And when your score does go up, you’re notified right away — great for those of us motivated by positive reinforcement.
Pragmatic score simulator
We especially liked myFICO’s score simulator tool, which is intuitive and surprisingly fun to use. All of our top picks offer some version of a Credit Score Simulator, which allows you to estimate how certain actions could affect your credit score, but we found myFICO’s the most impressive by far. You can set up trial runs for activities like opening a new credit card, increasing your credit limit, or making a large debt payment. You can even see what would happen if you don’t do anything but pay your bills on time (or not).
Top-notch monitoring services
MyFICO provides real-time updates of your score by email, text, and app notifications, letting you know exactly when and why there’s a change. Plus, the myFICO app allows you to keep a watchful eye on your credit score. When we made a payment on our credit card, we watched our score go up in real-time. Another element of positive reinforcement, one that we can see would make it easier to stay on track and achieve credit goals.
Points to consider
More expensive than the competition
At about $30-$40 per month, it’s pricier than our other picks. But if you’re thinking about applying for a loan or taking other major financial steps within the next year or two, or are simply committed to improving your score so you’re ready for big steps when the time is right, the added resources make myFICO worth it.
One drawback to myFICO’s system of alerts is that it’s almost too exhaustive. We loved that we had the option for texts, emails, or app notifications, but the frequency with which we received them may be overkill for all but the wariest consumers.
We wouldn’t have minded if myFICO was alerting us to legitimate concerns, but the alerts we received were often based in info that was years out of date, and which none of our other contenders thought worthy of attention. For instance, we got a notification alerting us to potential credit card fraud — on a credit card that had expired years ago. “Better safe than sorry” is generally a good rule when it comes to monitoring your credit, but myFICO stretches that adage to its limit.
Best for Basic Monitoring: IdentityForce
Why we chose it
Affordable and sufficient
For a basic credit monitoring option, we like IdentityForce. At around $20 per month, IdentityForce is the cheapest credit monitoring service we found. While it’s true that you don’t get as many extras, IdentityForce still has you covered with comprehensive monitoring that lets you keep an eye on your score, plus it brings identity theft protection muscle.
Because identity theft protection is its primary business, you’ll have to opt for the top-tier plan, the UltraSecure+Credit, to access its credit monitoring service. But with that high service level comes with several identity theft features that we didn’t find anywhere else.
Holistic identity protection
IdentityForce bills itself as identity theft protection, so in addition to keeping tabs on your credit score and alerting you to any changes, it provides features like social media monitoring — something we didn’t find anywhere else. Social media monitoring scans your Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, and Instagram accounts for any signs of hacked or imposter accounts.
If you have kids, the service will also alert you to social media content “associated with profanity, drugs, violence, discrimination, or sexually explicit language” — a nice safeguard against online bullying.
We also appreciate IdentityForce’s risk assessment questionnaire, which asks you 16 questions that evaluate your current identity theft risk and gives you customized suggestions for improvement based on your answers.
Solid summary analysis of score
While not as detailed, we still found IdentityForce’s breakdown of factors affecting your credit score more than adequate: It gives you a paragraph summary of what went into your score, like a history of on-time payments or revolving debt. Financial details can easily become overwhelming, and IdentityForce does a great job of highlighting the most important elements, providing solid grounding for all of your financial decisions.
It also includes links to each credit bureau’s dispute page: If you notice an error as you’re sifting through your history, you can go directly to the credit bureau dispute page and file a claim.
Helpful, customizable alerts
IdentityForce’s alerts were practical, easy to customize, and – most importantly – accurate, giving us all the information we needed to know without setting off any false alarms. You can tinker with your settings so that you get notified if any purchases, withdrawals, or transfers exceed a certain limit, making it simple to match your credit monitoring to your desired level of involvement.
IdentityForce also offers optional alerts beyond basic credit monitoring. When we tested the service, we were notified if sex offenders moved into our neighborhood (including names and crimes) as well as anytime our Social Security number was used in a transaction. And if this feels like overkill, it only takes a few clicks in your settings to turn these alerts off.
Points to consider
Little help for score improvement
IdentityForce doesn’t provide a lot of actionable information if you’re hoping to improve your credit. The credit score simulator is much less comprehensive and the full story behind how IdentityForce calculates its scores isn’t shared, so we remain in the dark about how close its estimates are to the scores actually used by lenders.
If you’re already on firm financial footing, IdentityForce has everything you need to keep tabs on your financial and personal data. And if theft protection, rather than financial health, is your main reason for purchasing a credit monitoring service, IdentityForce is as good as it gets. For more info, check out our review of the best identity theft protection services.
Most User-Friendly Credit Monitoring: Identity Guard
Why we chose it
If finance is not your forte, and you’re feeling anxious about setting up a credit monitoring account, look to Identity Guard. More than any other service we explored, Identity Guard excels at reassurance. It guides you through exactly what you’ll need to do to protect yourself if you run into issues (like inaccuracies on your credit report).
If all is well, it lets you know that, too, with comforting messages that confirm you’re protected and don’t need to take any further steps. If maximum protection (and being sure when you’ve reached it) is your goal, Identity Guard provides total peace of mind.
This thoughtfulness carries over to Identity Guard’s educational resources as well. The sheer volume of Identity Guard’s learning resources bolsters its knowledge-is-power personna. Articles focused on security, clear instructions for every scenario, plus color-coded indicators that allow you to verify your level of protection at a glance, combine to create an information-dense security platform.
We appreciate how Identity Guard works to clarify some of the more opaque processes involved in credit monitoring. Rather than just give you the how, it also provides the why. You’ll also find news stories about identity theft, sample letters, and forms you can use to do things like dispute a transaction on your credit report, and current research on credit fraud.
Points to consider
One of the only gripes we have with Identity Guard is the high volume advertisements for their other product, displayed on almost every page. Since we’d already purchased their service, it felt a little sleazy to be constantly pressured to buy more from a service that’s supposed to prioritize financial security. Still, this was a pretty small bone to pick.
Overall, Identity Guard provided more peace of mind than any of our other picks, even if it isn’t quite as good at helping people actively improve their scores.
How to Use a Credit Monitoring Service
Put knowledge of your score to work
If you’re concerned about your credit, it’s important to be proactive, not just reactive. That’s why we looked for services that help you understand what’s impacting your score and how you can improve it, not just check it from time to time. No matter what credit monitoring company you choose, make beating your own scare on a monthly or even annual basis a healthy game against yourself and your past financial habits.
Double check your report for errors
According to a 2012 study from the Federal Trade Commission, one in five Americans has a “potentially material error” in their credit reports — errors that can typically be corrected by filing a dispute. Small mistakes like this can translate into higher interest rates when you apply for a loan, so it’s crucial that you go over your credit reports yourself to make sure everything is accurate, which is why we made sure our top picks all provide credit reports from each of the Big Three bureaus.
All of our picks also offer guidance on how to file a dispute should you come across an error, but some are more helpful than others. MyFICO and Identity Guard just link to each bureau’s “file a dispute” page. IdentityForce more helpful: It walks you through exactly what you should expect through the process, even providing sample letters to use in your claim. And if your dispute gets rejected, it clearly lays out all your options for how to proceed.
Beware of companies promising to “repair” your credit
You may have seen ads offering you a completely new “credit identity.” No matter what shape your credit score is in, they promise to fix it. But there’s no shortcut to good credit, and the tactics these companies use are often things you could do yourself, like filing a dispute for incorrect information. At worst, some tactics are downright illegal.
According to a 2012 study from the Federal Trade Commission, “These companies may be selling stolen Social Security numbers, often those taken from children.” Since you’ll be responsible for any fraud that’s committed in your name, it’s best to proceed with extreme caution with any company promising “credit repair.” If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
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