Credit-Monitoring Services

Online shopping, virtual banking, social media and the Internet make managing your daily life easier, but they also put you at risk for identity theft. Every time you pay bills online, make a grocery run or upgrade to a new smartphone, you hand over personal information that thieves could use for their financial gain.

What can you do to avoid falling prey to this crime?

Credit monitoring can help stop identity theft in its tracks and lessen its damage. While credit monitoring may not entirely eliminate the risk of identity theft, it can minimize the consequences by sounding the alarm on the theft or suspicious activity as soon as it happens.

Identity thieves don’t need much to steal your identity and damage your credit — just your name and financial account information. Even without this information, thieves can use your place of birth, mother’s maiden name or physical address to impersonate you.

Don’t forget about data breaches against companies (such as retail stores where you shop), which also can increase your exposure to identity theft. Consider this fact: In the past decade, nearly 6,000 data breaches exposed more than 850 million consumer records, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center.

Where to Find Credit Monitoring

Lita Epstein

Some providers offer no-cost monitoring services for free, although these tend to provide limited features. Fee-based credit-monitoring service providers usually offer more services. Most charge between $15 and $30 monthly and many entice first-time customers with free trial periods.

All three major consumer credit-reporting agencies offer monitoring services, but there also are many credit-monitoring providers offering services. The quality, extent and features of their services vary widely, so do your homework before choosing your monitoring service. The best monitoring services continuously track credit activities under your name and identify questionable behavior that may be the work of a criminal.

The table below contains basic reviews of many monitoring services.

Reviews: The Best Credit-Monitoring Services

Name of Service Provider Monthly Cost # of CRAs Monitored Additional Information
AARP Identity Theft Protection
(from TrustedID)
$12.99 3
  • Must be an AARP member
  • Monthly credit report
  • Monthly credit score based on Equifax score model
  • Includes address-change, black market, Internet and social-network monitoring
  • Includes lost-wallet protection, identity monitoring, $1 million ID theft insurance, medical ID protection
Bankrate Free 1
  • Monthly credit report
  • Monthly credit score
  • Credit-builder tools, including tracking of available credit, balances, utilization and changes between credit reports
Compare Cards Free 1
  • Credit report
  • Credit score
  • Basic credit-monitoring services, with focus on savings recommendations
Credit.com Free 1
  • Monthly credit report card, with letter grades assigned to the five key areas (payment history, debt usage, credit age, account mix and inquiries)
  • Monthly credit score (Experian)
  • Monthly action plan with expert analysis
  • Matches you to credit and loan offers based on your credit score
Credit Check Total (part of Experian) $29.95 3
  • Credit scores from three bureaus
  • Credit reports from three bureaus
  • 24/7 credit monitoring of Big Three bureaus, including instant notification alerts for credit changes, including score changes
  • Monthly credit-monitoring notice with updates on credit in at-a-glance format
  • Daily monitoring for ID theft, with fraud-resolution support
  • Includes $50,000 product guarantee
Credit ID Protect (Powered by Identity Guard) $14.99 3
  • Quarterly credit report updates
  • Daily monitoring of credit reports and credit applications
  • Public-record and Internet monitoring
  • Includes lost-wallet protection, $1 million ID theft insurance, ID theft victim assistance
Credit Karma Free 1
  • Credit scores, updated weekly
  • Daily credit monitoring (TransUnion)
  • Includes email alert notifications
  • Provides educational resources and financial tools
CreditReportsandScores.com $14.95 3
  • Credit scores
  • Additional charge applies for full credit reports from Big Three bureaus
  • Credit analysis
  • Email notification alerts of credit changes
  • Daily monitoring of credit profile
Credit Sesame Free 1
  • Monthly credit score
  • Credit report summary
  • Provides tracking services, including 24-hour monitoring and daily updates
  • Personalized savings advice
CreditReport.com, CreditScore.com, FreeCreditReport.com (all sites lead to Experian Credit Tracker product) $24.95 3
  • Initial credit scores from three bureaus
  • Initial credit report based on data from all three bureaus, followed by unlimited access to Experian report and three-bureau report every 30 days
  • Daily monitoring of three-bureau credit reports, including inquiries and address changes
  • Bimonthly score monitoring and alerts
  • Notification alerts for credit changes to Experian credit
  • Educational and financial articles
  • Up to $50,000 ID theft insurance
Equifax Complete Advantage $17.95 3
  • Provides unlimited access to Equifax credit report
  • Unlimited access to Equifax credit score
  • Annual access to data from Big Three credit bureaus
  • Calculation of credit risk (uses Equifax credit-score model)
  • Daily credit monitoring of three bureaus, including numerous ID protection safeguards
  • Email notification alerts of Equifax credit changes, address changes, new accounts, SSN monitoring
  • Alerts for changes on two banking or credit-card accounts
  • ID theft insurance up to $25,000 (purchase additional insurance through upgraded plan)
  • ID theft assistance and lost-wallet assistance
  • Online tools, including educational resources
Experian $21.95 1
  • Access to credit score (Experian)
  • Access to credit report (Experian)
  • Basic notification for credit changes and analysis of factors that may impact credit
  • Upgraded plan (Experian Credit Tracker) includes daily monitoring with notification alerts, fraud-resolution specialists, monthly credit-monitoring statements, unlimited access to credit report
Fast 3 Credit Scores $24.99 3
  • Credit score based on data from three bureaus, updated monthly
  • No credit report
  • Daily credit monitoring with notification alerts for credit inquiries, accounts, public records and address changes
  • Provides ID theft support
FreeCreditScore.com (part of Experian) Free 1 (Experian)
  • Credit score from three bureaus
  • No credit report
  • Upgraded membership to Experian Credit Tracker offers credit report (updated daily) and analysis of credit score
FreeScoresAndMore $19.99 3
  • Credit scores based on scores from three bureaus
  • No credit report
  • Daily three-bureau credit monitoring
  • Notification alerts of credit changes, including new accounts, inquiries
  • Credit-score tracking and score-simulator tools
  • Credit educational center
  • Provides ID theft protection and support through verification monitoring
IdentityForce (UltraSecure+Credit plan) $19.95 3
  • Three-bureau credit scores, quarterly
  • Three-bureau credit reports, quarterly
  • Daily monitoring of three bureaus for changes, including credit score and address changes
  • Provides credit-score simulator and tracker
  • Additional monitoring of public records, such as court records, sex offender, payday loans
  • Provides numerous ID theft protections, including threat alerts, fraud alerts, medical ID fraud protection, lost-wallet assistance fraud, $1 million ID theft insurance, ID resolution specialist and restoration advisor
  • Instant notification alerts
  • More simplified plan, Ultrasecure, available (does not include three-bureau credit monitoring, three-bureau credit reports or scores, or score tracker)
Identity Guard Total Protection (Premium Credit and Identity Monitoring Solution) $19.99 3
  • Credit scores from all three bureaus, quarterly (upgraded plan updates monthly)
  • Three-bureau credit report quarterly
  • Monitors online and public records for personal information
  • Notification alerts by email, text or phone
  • Focus is on ID theft protection and assistance, with lost-wallet protection
  • Other plans available — Essentials (Basic) and Platinum (most comprehensive)
Lending Tree Free 1
  • Credit summary, updated monthly
  • Credit score, updated monthly (VantageScore 3.0)
  • Provides recommendations for savings based on credit situation
Mint (Intuit) Free 1 (Equifax)
  • Monthly credit score
  • Credit-report summary
  • Monthly Equifax update, quarterly three-bureau update (with upgraded membership Mint Credit Monitor, which also includes daily credit and identity monitoring with alerts, ID theft threat score and educational resources)
  • Daily monitoring, including credit alerts (Equifax) and unusual-spending alerts
  • Focus is on overall financial health and less on credit monitoring
myFICO Essentials 1B $19.95 1
  • Monthly credit report (Equifax)
  • Six FICO credit scores updated monthly (including FICO Score 8, most widely used FICO Score)
  • Notification alerts within 24 hours for credit changes, including account changes
  • Notification alerts by email, text or mobile app
  • Financial tools, including FICO-score simulator, showing how decisions affect score
  • ID theft protections, including lost-wallet protection, 24/7 identity restoration, $1 million ID theft insurance
  • Upgraded membership FICO Ultimate 3B provides three-bureau credit reports every quarter, additional FICO-score versions
MyScore.com $29.95 3
  • Three bureaus’ credit scores
  • Credit reports
  • Includes ID protection features, such as notification change alerts for all three bureaus
  • Daily monitoring of report and score
  • Provides credit-fraud consultations
  • Site has educational resources
Privacy Guard $19.99 3
  • Credit scores based on three-bureau data
  • Credit reports from all bureaus
  • Daily credit monitoring of three bureaus
  • Monthly credit-score tracking, with simulator that shows how practices can affect score
  • Credit-education center
  • Notification alerts by text, email or phone when credit changes
  • ID fraud and theft support
Privacy Matters (Website open only to existing members, not accepting new customers) $19.95 3
  • Credit score (TransUnion)
  • Credit reports from three bureaus
  • Credit monitoring includes notification alerts of credit changes
  • Email notification alerts of new activity that can affect credit score
  • Online learning center
  • ID theft restoration service, but no ID theft insurance or lost-wallet protection
Protect my ID (part of Experian) $15.95 3
  • Credit report (Experian)
  • Daily monitoring of credit report
  • Sends notification alerts of credit changes
  • Scans Internet for SSN, debit and credit accounts and other personal information for exposure
  • Monitors address changes
  • Numerous ID theft protections, including $1 million ID theft insurance, ID theft resolution support, lost-wallet protection
  • Educational resources covering ID theft protections
QLCredit Free 3
  • Provides a debt tracker for all of your loans, balances and payments
  • Complete credit report
  • Provides users with a VantageScore, which is a consumer credit-scoring model created by Equifax, Experian and TransUnion
Quizzle Free 1 (Equifax)
  • Full credit report quarterly
  • Credit score quarterly
  • Ability to dispute credit errors online through Quizzle
  • Site has financial resources and tools
SmartAsset 360 $14.99 3
  • Credit score provided
  • Provides credit report
  • 24/7 credit monitoring with notification alerts
  • Provides $1 million ID theft insurance
  • Includes educational resources and financial tools
TransUnion $17.95 1
  • Credit score provided, unlimited access (TransUnion)
  • Email notification alerts for all three bureaus’ credit changes
  • Identity protection features, including lock on TransUnion credit report
  • Educational resources and tools, such as debt analysis and credit trends
TrueCredit (part of TransUnion) $17.95 1
  • VantageScore credit score provided, with unlimited access (TransUnion only)
  • Email notification alerts for all three bureaus’ credit changes
  • Identity protection features, including lock on TransUnion credit report
  • Educational resources and tools, such as debt analysis and customer’s credit trends
  • ID theft support, including access to ID theft specialists, up to $1 million ID theft insurance
  • Similar to TransUnion’s credit-monitoring service, although TrueCredit emphasizes educational resources
Trusted ID $16.99 3
  • Credit score
  • Credit reports from three bureaus (provided after trial period ends)
  • Credit-monitoring services for all three bureaus, including scanning black-market websites and public and private databases for SSN, address, accounts
  • Includes identity-protection features, such as notification alerts of credit changes
  • Includes lost-wallet protection, Facebook privacy monitoring, medical benefits review
  • Produces an ID threat score to assess ID theft risk
  • ID fraud assistance
  • $1 million ID theft insurance
Wise Piggy Free 1
  • Credit score (TransUnion)
  • Credit-report assessment
  • Provides comparison of offers, including creditors and lenders with best rates for credit situation
  • Offers personalized tips to improve credit score

How to Choose the Best Credit-Monitoring Service

Choosing the best service depends on your circumstances. For example, if you live in a city where pickpocketing is common, it might make sense to choose a service that offers lost-wallet protection. If you constantly reach for your smartphone, subscribing to a service that texts notification alerts is convenient.

Your circumstances are important, but don’t forget to investigate a credit-monitoring company’s background before making your final decision. Have other consumers filed complaints about the company with the state attorney general or Better Business Bureau? Exercise caution with companies that promise too much, such as 100 percent prevention against ID theft. The provider’s website should clearly explain its history, indicating that it’s a legitimate business operation.

Credit Monitoring Services Features to Watch For

Feature Description
Access to credit score and credit report

Access varies, with the best providers offering unlimited access to credit scores and reports from all four CRAs, with credit scores and full credit reports updated daily or monthly. Some companies provide summaries of reports and not the actual credit report.

Providers specify which credit scores they provide (e.g., VantageScore, FICO 8)

Ease of monitoring credit reports from the three biggest CRAs

Not all providers monitor all four national CRAs, but not all vendors and merchants report to all four. So it’s best to look for a service that does.

Also consider the frequency of provider’s credit monitoring, with the best monitoring being 24/7.

Internet scanning

Performs online scans to determine whether your personally sensitive information has become publicly available.

Tips:

  • Frequency of scanning may vary between providers. Look for a service that scans daily for the best protection.
  • Determine what the service will scan for — at the very least, make sure it includes your debit and credit cards and your social security number.
  • Some services scan online public and criminal databases.
ID verification alerts

Receive a message alerting you of a credit check, a verification of your identity or a new account or loan opened in your name — all to verify the legitimacy of the activity.

Account-takeover alerts

Receive a message alerting you of a change to an existing financial account listed on your credit report.

Address-change monitoring

Detects any change to your address made on your credit report.

Method of delivering alerts

Providers typically send alerts to your email address, while some give you the option of receiving alerts via text messages or phone calls.

Identity Theft by the Numbers

12.7 millionConsumer victims of identity theft in 2014.

$16 billion Amount stolen by identity thieves in 2014.

No. 1Identity theft’s rank in 2014 consumer complaints.

1 out of 6 Frequency of credit card fraud occurring in identity theft cases.

Every 2 seconds Rate that identity thieves find a new victim.

Source: Federal Trade Commission

How to Monitor Your Own Credit

If you’re a do-it-yourself kind of person, of if you prefer to avoid the cost of a credit-monitoring service, you can take credit monitoring into your own hands. Some consumers take this approach, starting with vigilant inspection of their bank and credit-card statements. There are also several DIY credit-monitoring tools available, some of which are listed below.

DIY Credit Monitoring What It Is How To Do It Caveats
Free Annual Credit Report

Under federal law, you are entitled to a free credit report once each 12-month period from any consumer credit-reporting agency (CRA) that compiles and maintains files on consumers on a nationwide basis. The largest three are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion (the “Big Three”). A fourth nationwide CRA, Innovis, maintains a low profile but is subject to the same laws governing the big three.

Allows you to check each of your separate reports for accuracy, including credit activity you did not initiate or authorize.

Request the report at AnnualCreditReport.com, the only federally authorized website offering no-cost credit reports from the three largest CRAs. You will need to check Innovis separately because it does not participate in AnnualCreditReport.com.

  • Infrequent — One report per CRA per year may mean a long delay before spotting identity theft.
  • Limited Utility — Report shows new accounts opened, but doesn’t show unauthorized access or use of existing accounts.
  • Additional cost — Obtaining more than one report per CRA per year costs money.
Fraud Alert

If you believe you are at real risk of identity theft, placing a fraud alert on your credit reports informs creditors and lenders of the potential crime, so they can verify the authenticity of a credit application or transaction.

Contact one of the Big Three CRAs by phone or online to request the initial fraud alert. The CRA will contact the other two big bureaus to relay the alert. Innovis does not share fraud alerts with the Big Three, and it is unclear whether those three share fraud alerts with Innovis.

  • Short duration — Generally only lasts for 90 days, so you must renew it to keep the alert in place.
  • Innovis offers alerts of longer duration.
Credit Freeze

Maximize control of your credit by locking it down so that the Big Three credit bureaus may not release your credit report to creditors or lenders without your permission. Helps prevent identity theft because you receive notification of anyone applying for credit under your name.

You must contact each CRA separately to place a credit freeze with each — Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, Innovis

  • Cost — Unless you’re an identity-theft victim or a senior citizen, you must pay fees to add or temporarily lift the freeze.
  • Inconvenience — Interferes with legitimate applications for credit and requires you to take steps to temporarily lift the freeze.

Credit Monitoring’s Other Benefits

Credit monitoring can accomplish more than simply homing in on identity theft. Here are some additional reasons for credit monitoring:

  • Improve credit – Credit monitoring helps you keep track of your credit score. Knowing you have a less-than-stellar score motivates you to work on improving your credit to increase your future potential for obtaining credit.

  • Confirm credit accuracy – Consumer credit-reporting agencies make mistakes, such as financial information from another individual with the same name appearing on your report. Credit monitoring brings these mistakes and misinformation to your attention.

  • Organize finances – Credit monitoring presents you with the big picture. Knowing how your assets are distributed may help you decide how to reorganize them to increase cost savings or optimize tax savings.

How to Recover From ID Theft

ID theft can strike despite all your credit-monitoring efforts. Some services help you recover from the crime with these additional features:

  • Lost-wallet protection – If you lose your wallet or someone steals it, the monitoring service assists you with canceling and reordering your debit, credit or medical-insurance cards.

  • ID theft victim assistance – Receive professional support to mitigate the damage of the crime.

  • ID theft insurance – Liability amounts can run as much as $1 million, but make sure you understand what’s covered and what’s not. Insurance may be unnecessary if your liability is already limited through other methods, such credit-card issuer policies.

Key Terms to Know About Credit Monitoring

Consumer credit-reporting agency (CRA)

Company that amasses an individual’s credit history and produces a credit score, a measure of each individual’s future debt-repayment behavior that is sold to third parties, who use it to decide whether to extend credit or loans to the individual. The three main CRAs are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

Credit History

A record of an individual’s behavior pertaining to repayment of loans, credit-card balances and other debts, which is collected by CRAs as a measure of the individual’s future likelihood to repay debts. It usually includes the individual’s record of late payments, bankruptcies and other outstanding or delinquent debts.

Data Breach

The release (intentional or unintentional) of an organization’s confidential information — such as consumers’ credit-card account information — to an unauthorized party.

Experian

One of the country’s three main credit bureaus that sell credit reports to lenders, creditors and other third parties.

Fraud Alert

An alert a consumer can file with a credit bureau that requires creditors to obtain your permission before opening a new credit line in your name. The credit bureau with whom the alert is filed must notify the other two main bureaus. Usually last 90 days, but ID theft victims can request an alert that lasts up to seven years.

Innovis

A nationwide credit bureau that is not as well-known as the three main credit bureaus. Innovis produces credit reports and scores based on other credit data not collected by the Big Three CRAs.

TransUnion

One of the country’s three main credit bureaus that sell credit reports to lenders, creditors and other third parties.

Credit Freeze

Lockdown of a consumer’s credit report, performed by a major credit bureau, which prohibits merchants, financial institutions or other such potential creditors from accessing that consumer’s report or history until the consumer temporarily or permanently lifts the freeze.

Credit Monitoring

Service offered by a credit bureau or other financial-service company that monitors a consumer’s credit activity as a way to spot identity theft or lessen the crime’s damaging consequences.

Equifax

One of the country’s three main credit bureaus that sell credit reports to lenders, creditors and other third parties. It is the oldest credit bureau and generates 158 billion credit-score updates monthly, according to the company.

Fourth Bureau

A collection of organizations, other than one of the country’s three main credit bureaus, that are known to collect and track consumer financial information, such as rent payments and utility bills, which are not included in the main credit bureaus’ data collection. Also refers to Innovis, a credit bureau not among the three main credit bureaus, which collects credit information not collected by the main credit bureaus.

Identity Theft

Unauthorized retrieval of an individual’s financial or personally identifiable information (PII), which is frequently used for fraudulent purchases or other unauthorized financial transactions.

Personally Identifiable Information (PII)

Specific information linked to a person that can be used to identify the individual. Examples include place of birth, social security number, name and address.

More Resources: Learn More About Credit Monitoring

Updated: June 6, 2017