Yes, you are more than just a number. You are a talented, charming, one-of-a-kind individual with many wonderful qualities. Now for some tough love: when it comes to securing a loan or a line of credit, none of that matters. Your ability to borrow money, your “creditworthiness,” all comes down to a three-digit number, your credit score. What’s more, in many states, prospective employers can even check your credit prior to hiring you. So it pays, literally, to maintain good credit.
Knowing, understanding and monitoring your credit score is your responsibility, but it can feel overwhelming with so many options and services available. Just searching “my credit score” or “free credit report” on Google can leave you with many more questions than answers: Which site should I use? Why are my scores different? How can I monitor my credit report? Do I have to pay for my credit score? How do I change my score? You may be tempted to just put it off until another day, but getting smart about your score is the first step in establishing credit, maintaining good credit or improving your credit score.
Who offers the best credit report monitoring?
We’ve done the research and we’ve decided that IdentityForce is our #1 pick for credit report monitoring. Whereas many of the services reviewed on this page provide credit report monitoring, with IdentityForce’s UltraSecure+Credit package (normally $23.95/month, but our readers get it for $19.95/month), you get monthly credit scores and reports from all three credit bureaus plus Identity Theft Protection, which provides continuous monitoring of personal information and public records. You will be alerted immediately should anything arise with your credit or identity. This is the most bang for your buck in our opinion.
What is your credit score and why should you care?
A credit score is a numerical “grade” produced when the information on a credit report is run through a computer model, and lenders use them to judge creditworthiness of loan applicants.1 These scores can determine your eligibility for loans, mortgages, or credit cards. A lender (the bank, a credit card company, etc.) uses your credit score to determine your creditworthiness or how likely you are to repay the loan on time. Best intentions need not apply; the higher your credit score, the more likely you are to pay the lender back on time. Borrowers with a high credit score are often approved for higher loan amounts and lower interest rates while borrowers with lower credit scores may have difficulty getting a loan for any amount, or may require a co-signer on a loan. Bottom line, the better your score, the easier it is secure a lower-interest loan or line of credit to do the things you want to do, like buying a car, a home, starting a business, or making purchases.
However, not all credit scores are built the same. Auto scores and mortgage scores can be different because lenders look at different items when determining your credit score. Also, the score you see when you’re online and the score a lender sees can be different from one another; another good reason to know your score.
What is a good credit score?
Most credit scores range from 200-850 and lenders and companies usually consider a credit score of 700 or higher to be a good score. However, the score needed to secure a loan can vary based on the lender, the amount you need to borrow and other factors. Your credit score will go up and down based on a variety of criteria including your payment history and the number, amount and type of loans you have in your name.
The best way to maintain good credit or to improve your credit score is by paying your bills on time. This includes all credit card, student loan, medical, utilities, and mortgage payments. If you are unable to pay your bills on time, contact the lenders immediately. Some lenders may be willing to work with you on payment terms, and in the case of student loans, payments can sometimes be deferred for a few months. Keep in mind not all lenders are so flexible but the more consistent your payment history, the more likely they may be to help you out in a pinch.
FICO credit scores
FICO credit scores are the most trusted credit scores.2 They are used by over 90% of lenders and you can save thousands of dollars in interest if you have a high score. The FICO credit score was created by Fair Isaac Corporation and is used by all three credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. (Credit bureaus are where lenders and companies go to get your credit score. More on them later.) You cannot get your FICO score for free.
What is a credit report?
Your credit report details the following information about you:
- The type and status of your credit accounts, for example, are they current and in good standing, past due, in collection or closed.
- Your bill repayment history, often payments at least 30 days late are reported to the credit bureaus, depending on the lender or company’s policies.
- How much credit you currently have, how much you’re using and how much is still available. Lenders don’t like it when a borrower is “maxed out” (meaning they have used all or most of their available credit).
- The lenders currently collecting money from you.
- Credit reports can also contain rental repayment information if you rent property.3
What is included in my credit report?
Four main things are included in your credit report:
- Identifying Information is used to find the information for the other items included in your report: Name, Address, Social Security Number, Date of Birth, and Employment Information.
- Trade lines include credit accounts and the information about them. Your lenders report information on the accounts you have with them including type of account, date opened, credit limit/loan amount, balance of account, and your payment history. Tip: Credit reports aren’t always 100% accurate. Mistakes happen, so that’s why it’s important to keep an eye on your credit report and make sure any reported activity is correct. If you find a mistake, or potential fraudulent activity, you can dispute it.
- Credit inquiries are when you give the OK for your lender to request a copy of your credit report. These inquiries show up on your report for two years. These types of inquiries are “involuntary”. “Voluntary” inquiries are requests you make. If you aren’t sure if someone is requesting your credit report, just ask. For example, when a sales associate at a retail store tells you that you can “save 10 percent on your purchase” by simply opening up a store credit card, and you agree, the store’s credit department or lending institution electronically requests your credit report to determine whether or not to extend you a store credit card. The store employee never sees your personal credit information, only if you are accepted or declined. Tip: Try to limit the number of involuntary credit inquiries that hit your report. Store credit cards often come with outrageously high interest rates. That 10 percent you save today can end up costing a whole lot more if you aren’t able to pay off your purchase immediately.
- Public Records and Collection Items from state and county courts and overdue debt from collections are in this category. Items like bankruptcies, foreclosures, suits, liens, judgments, and wage attachments are included in this section of credit reports.
What is not included in my credit report?
Here is a list of items NOT included in your credit report.
- Checking and Savings Accounts
- Bankruptcies Older than 10 Years
- Debts in Collection that are More than 7 Years Old
- Political Affiliation
- Medical History
- Criminal Records
Who are the three credit bureaus?
Lenders go through three credit bureaus to obtain your credit score:
These three credit bureaus also offer their own monthly credit monitoring services to consumers for a fee. Federal law states that everyone is entitled to one free credit report from each of these three bureaus, once a year. The only place to do this is AnnualCreditReport.com. Credit scores are not provided, only credit reports. This is a good way to make sure there is no fraudulent activity or errors on your report once a year.
Equifax offers credit monitoring with their Equifax Complete package for $19.95/month. Below are some of the features you receive with this package.
- 24/7 file monitoring
- Alerts to your credit reports
- Credit scores and profile based on your information from all 3 bureaus (once a year)
- Financial alerts on 2 of your credit card and bank accounts
- Unlimited access to your Equifax credit report and score
- Up to $25,000 in identity theft protection
- Access to customer service 7 days a week
Experian offers their own credit monitoring with their Experian Credit Tracker package for $4.95 the first month and $14.95 for each additional month after that. Below are the features in Experian’s Credit Tracker package.
- Checks 3-bureau credit reports daily and notifies you when changes are found
- Unlimited online access to your credit report and score
- Access to your credit risk level
- $50,000 guarantee including a Fraud Resolution Specialist in the case that your identity is stolen
- Track your Experian credit score and receive alerts when it goes up and down
- Monthly statements with your credit score
- Toll-free support 7 days a week
TransUnion offers a credit monitoring service for $17.95/month. If you just want to check your TransUnion score, you can pay $1 for a 7 day trial and then cancel before the 7 days are up. Below is a list of the features TransUnion monthly subscription offers.
- Unlimited updates to your TransUnion credit score
- Credit trending analysis
- Up to $1,000,000 in identity theft insurance
- Email alerts of changes to your credit reports from all 3 bureaus
- 7 day free trial
- Unlimited, toll-free access to identity theft specialists
Credit report monitoring services reviews
Below are some of the top competitors for credit monitoring. Some offer credit scores from all 3 bureaus while others only offer a credit score from a single bureau. We will distinguish what each provider offers and some other features included in their packages.
Credit Karma uses two bureaus and is a free credit monitoring service. It is free because it makes recommendations for products that fit into your credit profile.
- No FICO scores but calculated in a similar way
- Uses TransUnion and Equifax
- Credit Report Card to explain your credit report details
- Email alerts when something changes in your credit report
- Monitors your credit report daily
- View details on individual credit cards, mortgages, auto loans, and personal loans to help watch for fraudulent activity
- Credit Score Simulator lets you put in financial actions to see how it would affect your credit score over time
CreditReport.com charges $1 for your 7-day membership. After the first 7 days the price increases to $24.95/month. They are owned by Experian, but provide credit monitoring from all 3 bureaus.
- Daily monitoring
- Email alerts on key changes
- Credit score estimator to help you see how your credit score will be effected by making certain financial decisions
CreditScore.com offers credit monitoring from all 3 bureaus for $12.95/month. Like CreditReport.com, they are also owned by Experian.
- Daily monitoring
- Alerts you about changes
- Detailed analysis showing what’s effecting your score
Credit Sesame is a free credit monitoring service that only uses one bureau. Credit Sesame offers unbiased recommenda
- No FICO scores but calculated in a similar way
- Only uses Experian
- Monthly credit score
- Analysis of all your credit and loans
- Monitoring of market rates and savings recommendations
- iPhone/Android app
Credit monitoring from FreeCreditReport.com only $1 for the first week. However, it increases to $14.99/month after the first week, which is still fairly cheap.
- $1 the first week then $14.99/month
- Only Experian
- Unlimited access to your Experian credit report
- Bi-monthly monitoring
- Alerts you when your score goes up or down
- Monthly statement with you credit score, alert notifications, and summary of key financial information
- $50,000 guarantee
- Access to fraud resolution specialist
Identity Guard charges a monthly fee of $19.99 ($16.99/month for A Secure Life readers) for Total Protection and provides a credit score based on data from each of the three bureaus. It also offers a Platinum package for $22.99/month. Below is the information for the Total Protection package.
- 30-day free trial
- Monitors your SSN, public records, and address change
- Sends you alerts when certain changes are made
- Up to $2,000 emergency cash from your accounts if wallet is stolen
- $1 million identity theft insurance
- Quarterly credit scores based on data from all three bureaus
- iOS and Android app
IdentityForce charges a monthly fee of $23.95 for their UltraSecure+Credit package, but our readers can get it for $19.95 a month! A credit score is provided from all 3 bureaus.
- 14-day free trial
- Monitors your personal information and public records
- Alerts you when your personal information is being misused
- $1 million insurance policy
- Lost wallet assist
- Credit scores, reports, and monitoring from all 3 credit bureaus
- ChildWatch to monitor your child’s credit for an additional $2.75/month
MyFICO offers credit reports from all 3 bureaus but to get credit monitoring in a package it only offers a credit report from TransUnion for $14.95/month ($4.95 for the first month). This is myFICO’s FICO Quarterly Monitoring package.
- $25,000 identity theft insurance
- Toll-free help line to help you recover from identity theft
- Monitors the Internet for identity theft
- Monitors credit for identity threats
- Credit scores every 3 months
- Explanation of what’s effecting your FICO score
- Monitors personal information
- Email and mobile alerts
PrivacyGuard offers credit monitoring for $1 for the first 14 days and then increases to $14.99/month. Credit scores and reports are provided from CreditXpert Scores and are not used by lenders to evaluate your credit.
- Daily monitoring
- Credit reports and scores from all 3 bureaus
- Monthly credit score tracking
- Toll-free hotline
- Identity fraud support service
- $1 million identity theft insurance
TrueCredit offers credit monitoring for $17.95/month and provides credit scores and reports only from TransUnion.
- Unlimited access and updates to your TransUnion credit report and score
- TrueCredit is a TransUnion company
- Email alerts of changes
- Debt analysis and credit trending
- Toll-free access to identity theft specialists
- Up to $1 million identity theft insurance
- Smartphone app
Which credit report monitor should you choose?
You may be thinking, “But I don’t want to pay for a monthly subscription. I just want my credit score and be done with it.” The fact is a single credit score from one credit bureau without the detailed report will only give you a very general, and possibly inaccurate, idea of your overall credit health. As we mentioned, scores can vary and there are many factors that contribute to your score. In order to really understand the contributing factors, to check for errors or fraudulent activity and to establish a plan to improve your credit score, a credit report is necessary. We encourage you to choose the best credit monitor for your needs.
Do you already use a credit report monitoring service? Whom are you using and why do you like/ hate them?