Credit Monitoring Services – Pros, Cons and How to Select One

credit cardsFinancial experts are divided with regards to their opinions about how useful credit monitoring services can be to subscribers. Most experts agree that certain credit monitoring services are more beneficial for some consumers. For example, if you just want to monitor your credit to ensure that you do not become a victim of fraud, a basic monitoring plan may work for you. Individuals who are preparing to make a major purchase, and those who simply want to improve their credit rating can benefit from more extensive credit monitoring services. Consumers must weigh the cost of monitoring plans with the benefits they expect to receive from the service.

Basic Credit Monitoring Services

The most basic credit monitoring plans will send a text message or email to the subscriber when an inquiry is made on their credit report. A basic plan generally monitors one of the three major credit bureaus: TransUnion, Equifax or Experian. You are notified if someone attempts to use your credit information to open an unauthorized account. However, because only one credit bureau is monitored, you are only notified if an inquiry is made on your account with the single credit bureau.

In-Depth Credit Monitoring Services

The credit monitoring plans that provide more in-depth monitoring and protection tend to cost more, as expected. These deluxe plans monitor all three credit bureaus for inquiries and changes to your account. Recently, however, even more in-depth monitoring is becoming available through credit monitoring companies. Some companies offer subscriptions that include monitoring of public records, databases, websites and telephone records.

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The Cost of Credit Monitoring

Consumers should shop around to find the best monitoring service that meets their needs for the price. The most basic plans can be found for under $10 per month, and the most deluxe plans are generally offered for under $30 per month. For low cost plans, generally only one credit bureau is monitored. Most deluxe plans monitor all three credit reporting agencies, and possibly additional data sources.

Contrast and compare plans based on your individual needs. If you suspect that you may be a possible fraud victim, you probably want to monitor all three credit bureaus for a period of time. For example, if you received a notification from a company that states your Social Security number was compromised due to an intrusion, you may need to monitor your credit report from each of the three agencies for six months to a year after the breach. If you are in preparations to make a large purchase, you may want to monitor your credit report from all three agencies for several months before you apply for the loan. Your credit monitoring needs will change over time. Make sure that your credit monitoring plan is flexible enough to allow you to change the plan, if needed, without additional charges.

What Credit Monitoring Does Not Find

Identity theft can take many forms. Credit monitoring will alert you if your credit bureau data is accessed or if your information changes. However, identity thieves can be very creative when stealing and using a consumer’s identity information. An identity thief can use your information to get a job or to open a cell phone account. Generally, neither of these activities is reported to a credit bureau. Most utility companies do not report to the major credit bureaus. Therefore, if your information gets into the wrong hands, even credit monitoring is not foolproof for protecting you against fraud.

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Do-It-Yourself Credit Monitoring

Credit monitoring services are valuable for many consumers. However, the cost of these services can range from under $100 to over $350 per year. There are a few steps you can take to monitor your own credit report and save the cost of a credit monitoring subscription.

Get Your Free Credit Report

By law, every consumer in the U.S. is entitled to receive one free copy of their credit report from each of the three credit bureaus once per year. The three credit reporting agencies have joined forces to create the AnnualFreeCreditReport.com site. Through this website, you can order your free report from each of the three agencies. The website also provides instructions for ordering your credit reports over the phone or by mail.

Use Credit Bureau Tools

  • Credit Freeze

Each credit bureau allows you to place a freeze on your credit account. Placing a freeze on your credit account prevents anyone, including creditors, from accessing your account for a specified period of time. Credit bureaus generally charge a small fee, such as $10, to freeze a consumer’s credit account. You can pay another small fee to temporarily lift the freeze if you need to make a purchase or complete a credit application.

  • Fraud Alerts

All three credit bureaus offer fraud alerts. You can place a 90 day fraud alert on your credit account. When an alert is placed on your account, you are notified when your credit report is accessed or if changes are reported. Additional identification is required if someone attempts to open a credit account in your name, as well.

  • Credit Monitoring Plans

Each of the three credit bureaus offers credit monitoring plans based on their service. However, each of the reporting agencies also offers monitoring products that monitor all three agencies. If you are in favor of purchasing a credit monitoring plan from one of the major credit bureaus, read the fine print to understand what the plan covers. Credit monitoring plans through the credit bureaus tend to be available for competitive rates.

  • Shopping for a Credit Monitoring Service

Consider a few guidelines when shopping for a credit monitoring service:

One Credit Bureau or All Three?

When shopping for a credit monitoring plan, do you need a plan that monitors all three credit agencies, or do you just need to keep an eye on your credit score from one agency over time? If you are in the process of cleaning up your credit, you probably need a service that provides regular reports from all three agencies.

Scores Versus Reports

Some credit monitoring plans offer a “credit score” once per month. It is important that you understand this score. Is the score the actual FICO score that the credit bureau uses for inquiring creditors, or is the score a proprietary score designed to be similar to the FICO score? Will your plan provide you with regular full credit reports, or will the plan provide only one score each month? Also, take note of how many times you can access your credit report or score. Most plans allow you unlimited access to at least one report during the course of your plan.

Duration of Time in Business

You likely prefer to do business with companies that have a long and successful track record. As with any company, you should check to see how long the credit monitoring service you are considering has been in business. Reputable companies exist, but many shady credit monitoring services abound, as well. Do your homework to find a credit monitoring service that has been in business for an extended period of time. Brand-name companies are likely to be more reputable than companies you have never heard of.

Better Business Bureau Ratings

An excellent company will have an excellent rating with the Better Business Bureau. In addition, the Better Business Bureau website hosts comments and reviews from customers of each company. Check out the BBB rating and customer reviews for the credit monitoring companies you consider.

Avoid Outrageous Promises

Avoid companies that promise to “clean up your credit” for you, or promise to “prevent you from being an identity theft victim.” Claims such as these are unrealistic. No company can make these claims with any certainty. Companies that claim to be able to clean up your credit or protect you from identity theft may end up becoming a potential cause of a problem instead of the solution.

Because the need for credit monitoring is growing exponentially from year to year, your choices in credit monitoring services and plans are vast. Many credit card companies, home security services, credit unions and other institutions are now offering credit monitoring services. Check with companies that you already do business with when shopping for a credit monitoring plan. First, however, determine your needs for such a plan, and then shop around to select the best plan that meets your needs for the best price.