The Best Credit Monitoring Service
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 up to date on any changes in your credit score. It will scour your credit reports routinely, providing alerts via phone call, text, or email if anything changes. 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 — alert you quickly so that you can take immediate steps to combat the issue.
If you’re looking for a truly full-service subscription, myFICO was the best we found. It goes beyond simple monitoring, offering tools and resources for improving your credit. We especially liked their score simulator tool, which was intuitive and surprisingly fun to play with. MyFICO highlights specific actions you can take to get your score up, and you’ll be notified right away when that happens — great for those of us motivated by positive reinforcement. It’s pricier than our other picks, at $39.95 per month, but if you’re thinking about applying for a loan or taking other major financial steps within the next year or two, we think it’s more than worth it.
We liked IdentityForce as a basic credit monitoring option. It bills itself as a service for 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 that we didn’t find anywhere else. It doesn’t necessarily provide a lot of actionable information if you’re hoping to improve your credit habits, but if you’re already on firm financial footing IdentityForce has everything you need to keep tabs on your financial and personal data. It’s also our cheapest pick, at $19.95 per month.
If finance is not your forte and you’re feeling anxious about setting up a credit monitoring account, you may also want to look into Identity Guard. More than any other service we looked at, 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. And 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. They have a ton of articles and resources focused around security, too, and while their site isn’t quite as easy to navigate as myFICO’s, we appreciated the sheer volume of resources. This service runs $24.99 per month.
How We Found the Best Credit Monitoring Services
We began by compiling a list of the 23 providers that offer credit monitoring services to US consumers. These included both providers that billed themselves as credit monitoring services, and companies that advertise “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.
Then, to find the service with the most comprehensive alerts and the most robust monitoring abilities, we looked for monitoring services that met three criteria, following the same guidelines we laid out when we researched the best credit report companies.
We only considered services that offered reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
Credit bureaus like Equifax are companies that compile consumers’ financial information and provide it to lenders in the form of credit reports. Lenders use these reports to decide how financially responsible you are, which can affect things like the interest rates you’re offered, or your credit limit.
The three largest credit bureaus (often referred to as the Big Three) are Experian, Equifax, and Transunion. They 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, which can impact your report.
As 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 one. 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.
We cut out any contenders that didn’t provide us with reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
Credit.com, Credit Karma, CreditReport.com, CreditScore.com, Credit Sesame, Equifax, Experian, FreeCreditReport.com, FreeCreditScore.com, ProtectMyID, Quizzle, TransUnion, TrueCredit, TrustedID
We also wanted credit scores from each of the Big Three.
Credit scores are actually quite different from credit reports — and not all monitoring services offer both:
Credit reports are detailed (and often abstruse) accounts of your financial history. Credit scores function more like a grade for how successfully you’ve managed it.
Think of it like a high school chemistry course: If someone wants to know how well you did, rather than analyzing every single lab and exam you were scored on, it’s much simpler to just look at your final grade. Credit scores are similarly designed with the goal of helping you to assess your financial health in one tidy number. It’s helpful for lenders, too; while they’ll scrutinize your reports when you apply for a loan, credit scores help them understand your finances at a glance.
As with credit reports, each bureau formulates their scores 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. And because you don’t have any control over which bureau a lender will use, we decided to cut out any credit monitoring services that didn’t offer credit scores from each of the Big Three: This ensures you’ve got a comprehensive understanding of your own financial ratings.
Our 6 Finalists for Best Credit Monitoring Services
- Identity Guard
- Privacy Guard
As a final step, we graded services on timely alerts, educational tools, and customer support.
If a credit monitoring service spots red flags, how do they let you know about it? As we dug into the services offered by our finalists, the first thing we looked for were alerts on a variety of platforms. 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 reach a live person immediately and start taking action to combat it.
CreditCheckTotal failed this basic test. Their website is so bare-bones that we couldn’t find any information on how to set up alerts. And when we tried to call their customer service number to ask them directly, their automated service wouldn’t connect us until we provided our social security number (even though we hadn’t yet set up an account). After declining three times, the system hung up on us with a stern “goodbye.”
On top of promptly notifying you about any changes to your credit report or score, the best credit monitoring service will also provide you with comprehensive educational tools and resources. If you’re concerned about your credit, it’s important to be proactive, not just reactive. So we looked for services that help you understand what’s impacting your score and how you can improve it. PrivacyGuard disappointed here, providing nothing but basic monitoring features. It was effective at explaining how they monitor your credit, but didn’t have many resources to help you actually improve your score. It also costs $20 per month — we’d rather spend the same $20 for IdentityForce, which offers a range of educational tools and extra services.
FreeScoresAndMore had the text and email alerts that we wanted, plus extensive educational resources, but their customer service was lackluster. When we called them, we were greeted by an automated messaging system that only offered two options: help logging in and questions about your membership. If you’re a potential customer looking to have a conversation with real people, you’ll be completely out of luck. (It was also a little disconcerting that FreeScoresAndMore’s Facebook lists their status as “Permanently Closed.”)
We were left with three services that met all of our criteria: Identity Guard, IdentityForce, and myFICO. We signed up for each one and gave them a spin, awarding extra points for the accuracy of the alerts they sent us and how easily digestible their credit report breakdowns were. We also looked for interfaces that were simple and intuitive to use: You should be able to find the info you need at a glance, without wading through confusing page menus.
Our Picks for the Best Credit Monitoring Services
MyFICO had the most extensive collection of tools and resources we saw, giving us practical advice about what affected your score and how we could improve it. And that’s in addition to 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. It’s a little more expensive than our other top picks at $39.95 a month, but if you’re committed to improving your score rather than simply monitoring it, we think the added resources are worth it. (And once you’re happy with your score, you can always consider switching over to one of our cheaper picks.)
All of our favorites offer some version of a Credit Score Simulator — a tool that estimates how certain actions could affect your credit score — but we found myFICO’s easily the most impressive. 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).
But where myFICO really impressed us was it ability to show you how you can 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 while we found it to be the most pragmatic simulator of the bunch, it was actually pretty fun to mess around with (something we never thought we’d say about a credit monitoring subscription).
MyFICO’s mobile app is another nice perk for those who want to keep a watchful eye on their credit score. It lets you easily track your score from anywhere. When we made a payment on our credit card, for example, we could watch our score go up on the app in real-time. It felt great to see our positive actions immediately rewarded — we felt this type of positive reinforcement would make it easier to stay on track and achieve our credit goals.
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.
If you just want to keep an eye on your credit score without paying extra for tools that will help you improve it, IdentityForce was the best option we found. It’s primarily in the identity theft protection business, so you’ll have to opt for its top-tier plan, the UltraSecure+Credit, to access its credit monitoring service. But at $19.95 a month, it’s still significantly cheaper than myFICO’s plans, and it comes with several identity theft features that we didn’t find anywhere else.
For instance, IdentityForce’s social media monitoring will scan 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 appreciated 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.
While IdentityForce wasn’t quite as detailed as myFICO about the factors affecting our credit score, we still found IdentityForce’s breakdown 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. They also include links to each credit bureau’s dispute page: If you do notice an error as you’re sifting through your history, you can go directly to the credit bureau’s dispute page and file a claim.
IdentityForce’s alerts were practical, easy to customize, and, most importantly, accurate, giving us of 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. In addition, IdentityForce offers optional alerts beyond basic credit monitoring: During testing, 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.
Where IdentityForce fell behind myFICO was in its resources for credit improvement. It does provide a credit score simulator, but we found it much less comprehensive than myFICO’s. Where myFICO tells you exactly how it calculates its scores, IdentityForce keeps this information secret, so we couldn’t be sure how close its estimates were to the scores actually used by lenders.
IdentityForce did have a nice range of reading material, but be aware that most of it is targeted toward identity theft protection rather than financial health — typical blog articles have titles like “Public Wi-Fi Safety Tips” and “Social Media Mistakes that Invite Valentine’s Day Scams.” If that kind of security is your main reason for purchasing a credit monitoring service, IdentityForce is as good as it gets. (You can also check out our review of the best identity theft protection services for additional info.)
If maximum protection (and being sure when you’ve reached it) is your goal, Identity Guard provides the ultimate peace of mind. Identity Guard’s Platinum Plan ($24.99 per month) provides guided reassurance with every click you make, constantly confirming that you’re taking all possible measures to secure your identity and your credit.
When we set up our Identity Guard account, we were immediately impressed with the care they put into even the most basic steps. As soon as we registered, they sent us an email saying: “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.” That level of reassurance was present in everything they did. When you log in, for instance, the first thing you see are color-coded icons telling you exactly what you need to do to finish setting up your account.
This thoughtfulness carried over to Identity Guard’s educational resources as well. While we didn’t find them quite as effective as myFICO’s for helping you to improve your credit score, we liked how they helped us understand some of the more opaque processes involved in credit monitoring. Instead of simply providing the option to report credit report errors, Identity Guard actually explains what happens during the dispute process: The bureaus have 30 days to respond to your claim and prove that their information is correct. If they rule against you, Identity Guard walks you through follow-up options in a helpful article called “Don’t Give Up.” Dealing with credit bureaus and lenders can feel like a Kafkaesque fever dream sometimes, but Identity Guard goes above and beyond to arm you with the tools you need to navigate it.
You also have access to a few nice resources exclusive to Identity Guard. They provide a News & Education section with 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. It isn’t quite as easy to take in at a glance as myFICO, but we appreciated the pure quantity of resources that they provided.
One of the only gripes we had with Identity Guard was 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 they aren’t quite as good at helping people actively improve their scores.
Other Credit Monitoring Service to Consider
We’d be remiss not to mention AnnualCreditReport.com: It’s your only guaranteed source for free credit reports, as authorized by federal law. The website is run jointly by TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian to comply with FACTA (the 2003 Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act), which requires that each bureau make their credit reports available for free. It doesn’t necessarily qualify as a credit monitoring service, since it provides nothing but your raw credit reports — but it’s a valuable resource for anyone who doesn’t want to commit to a monthly bill.
You only get one free report per bureau per year, but if you space out each of the Big Three, you’d be able to check in on your credit every four months. There are a couple of disadvantages to going this route: All you’ll have access to is your credit report not your score, which means you’ll see a long, sometimes confusing log of all your credit activities, with no real guidance about how to interpret what you’re looking at. It also won’t give you any tools to help you improve your score, educate yourself about the financial shape that you’re in, or alert you if anything fishy is going on. But, as a free resource, AnnualCreditReport.com is a good place to start your journey to better credit health.
How to Protect Your Credit Score
Double check your credit 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: They’ll walk 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, they clearly lay out all your options for how to proceed.
Be wary of any 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 the FTC, “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.
For an extra layer of security, Equifax is offering free credit freezes through June 2018.
Around 148 million Americans had their personal and financial information accessed in last year’s massive Equifax cyberattack. In response, Equifax has offered free credit freezes through June 2018. The offer isn’t limited to Equifax customers — anyone can take advantage of it.
A credit freeze lets you close access to your credit reports. Since lenders require a credit report to open a new account, this makes it very difficult for would-be thieves to profit from your personal information. If you want to open an account or apply for a loan yourself, you can lift the freeze at any time. While there is typically a small fee associated with these actions, Equifax has decided to waive it until June 30, 2018. If you’re concerned about your security, this is an easy step you can take to ensure extra protection.