Are you keeping a close eye on your credit in the wake of the alarming Equifax data breach? Or applying for a car loan? Or refinancing your house?
Credit monitoring services might have just what you need.
For one thing, protecting your credit accounts and your credit score can have a huge effect on your financial well-being. Your credit score, for example, is a major factor in determining what your interest rate on a loan will be—if you take out a $200,000 loan to purchase a home, the seemingly minuscule difference between a 4% and 5% interest rate ends up being about $42,773 over the course of 30 years.
Credit monitoring services can help you manage your credit score so you can meet your financial goals and watch out for fraud that results from identity theft.
We researched credit monitoring services to find out which companies offer the best value. After evaluating customer support, coverage, account access, and price, we found that IdentityForce, Experian CreditWorks, and Credit Sesame offer the best protection and service. Find out how they beat the competition in the reviews below.
Top three credit monitoring providers
Best combination of credit monitoring and identity protection
We like IdentityForce because the company offers affordable protection that has practical applications for everyday life.
- Excellent customer service
- Daily credit monitoring from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion
- Credit score simulator
- Banking and credit card alerts
- Thorough identity protection
- Easy mobile access
- Family plan must be purchased over the phone (not available online)
Why IdentityForce took first place
One of our favorite things about IdentityForce is that the company’s services are useful not only in a crisis but also in normal everyday situations. For example, while fraud and identity theft are serious issues, you’ll also need protection if you lose your wallet or purse when you go out to lunch with your coworkers. Plus, you can use IdentityForce’s features to manage your day-to-day finances—set up banking and credit card alerts and motivate yourself to avoid overspending or use the credit score simulator to see what would happen to your score if you got a mortgage or paid off an old student loan.
Banking and credit card activity alerts
As an IdentityForce customer, you can set up personalized alerts that tell you when a transaction from your bank account or credit card exceeds a certain amount. This can help you keep your own spending in check, but it also will alert you if someone else has used your information to make a big-ticket purchase.
Daily monitoring of all three bureaus
IdentityForce offers daily monitoring from all three major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax), which will help you catch any issues as quickly as possible.
Credit score simulator and monthly monitoring
Credit monitoring from IdentityForce includes a credit score simulator that lets you estimate how certain financial decisions can impact your credit. This makes it easy to test the effects of paying off your student loans, applying for a mortgage, or buying a new car, which in turn can help you maintain a positive credit score or rebuild your credit.
Excellent identity protection service
IdentityForce’s credit monitoring package also includes comprehensive identity protection. Since identity theft can often impact your credit and your finances, we believe customers who care about their credit will also benefit from court records monitoring, Social Security number tracking, lost wallet assistance, and the other ID theft protection services that come in an IdentityForce package.
If you want credit monitoring from IdentityForce, you’ll need to choose the UltraSecure+Credit plan.
|Visit website||View plans|
|SSN and identity monitoring|
|Change of address alerts|
|Court records monitoring|
|Credit report request alerts|
|Data breach notifications|
|Medical ID fraud protection|
|Removal from mailing lists and online databases|
|Customized bank and credit card alerts|
|Anti-phishing and anti-keylogging software|
|Lost wallet assistance|
|$1 million identity theft insurance|
|Credit score simulator|
|Daily monitoring (all three bureaus)|
|Online access to credit scores from all three bureaus|
|Online access to credit reports from all three bureaus|
Best for managing your credit
We like that Experian CreditWorksSM provides you with your FICO score and offers daily monitoring from all three credit bureaus, which makes it a good choice if you are monitoring your credit in hopes of improving your credit score.
- Daily monitoring from all three credit bureaus
- FICO score tracking
- Fast credit lock
- Easy mobile access
- Higher prices than IdentityForce and Credit Sesame
- Fewer identity protection features than IdentityForce
- Mediocre customer service reputation
What we like about Experian CreditWorksSM
Like IdentityForce, Experian offers daily credit monitoring from all three major credit reporting agencies, which is much more frequent than monitoring offered by most other services. And daily monitoring doesn’t just help you catch problems, it also gives you a much better picture of your credit than services that monitor quarterly or monthly.
Experian’s premium plan includes CreditLock, a service that makes it easy to lock and unlock your Experian credit report. When your report is locked, some organizations can’t view your report (such as utility companies, lenders you don’t have accounts with, and landlords). Keeping your report locked makes it more difficult for someone to use stolen personal information to open an account or take out a loan in your name.
If someone does apply for credit in your name while your report is locked, Experian will send you an alert so you’re aware of suspicious activity immediately.
Quick access to your FICO score
If you sign up for Experian CreditWorksSM Premium, you’ll have access to your normal credit scores, but you’ll also get your FICO score. And while your FICO score is usually similar to your other credit score, it’s good to know what it is because many lenders use the FICO score to determine interest rates and eligibility for loans.
Experian offers very basic credit monitoring for free, but we strongly recommend choosing the Premium option if you can afford it since it gives you much more coverage.
|CreditWorks Basic||CreditWorks Premium|
|Visit website||View Plans||View Plans|
|Monthly 3-bureau scores and reports|
|Daily Experian score|
|Experian credit report||Monthly||Daily|
|Lost wallet protection|
|Identity theft insurance|
|Identity protection features|
|Credit monitoring and alerts||Experian only||All three bureaus|
Best for credit monitoring on a tight budget
Credit Sesame offers very affordable basic credit monitoring. It may be the right option for you if you don’t need identity theft protection.
- Monthly updates from all three credit bureaus
- Very affordable lower-tier packages
- Higher-tier packages that include basic ID monitoring services
- Mobile app for Android and iOS
- Fewer services than IdentityForce
- No monitoring of bank accounts or credit cards
- Very limited identity protection
Why we recommend Credit Sesame
Credit Sesame offers very basic free credit monitoring and three levels of paid monitoring. We don’t recommend the free monitoring because it doesn’t offer enough protection, but all three of the paid plans are relatively inexpensive.
Help resolving credit report errors
If you choose either the Pro Credit plan or the Platinum Protection plan, you’ll have access to 24/7 support that can help you resolve issues with your credit report. Since credit reports can be complicated and a bit confusing, we appreciate this service.
Monthly reports and scores from all three bureaus
Credit Sesame gives you a monthly credit score and credit reports from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion—even if you sign up for the least expensive package. This makes it easier to keep an eye on your finances, watch for fraudulent activity, and manage your credit score.
Daily credit monitoring in the higher-level packages
If you choose Credit Sesame, we recommend getting one of the higher-level packages—either the Pro Credit plan or the Platinum Protection plan. Both of these plans come with daily credit monitoring from all three credit bureaus, so they offer more protection than the lowest-tier plan, which gives you a daily score only from TransUnion.
|Features||Advanced Credit||Pro Credit||Platinum Protection|
|Visit website||View Plans||View Plans||View Plans|
|Monthly credit score updates (3 bureaus)|
|Daily credit score (1 bureau)|
|Monthly credit report (3 bureaus)|
|Daily credit monitoring (all 3 bureaus)|
|24/7 live support for credit report errors|
|24/7 live support for lost wallet assistance|
|Black-market website monitoring|
|Public records monitoring|
Other credit monitoring services
There are quite a few companies that offer credit monitoring, but since credit monitoring is such a personal issue with serious potential financial consequences, we were very picky when choosing companies to recommend. Read on below to learn more about the companies that didn’t make the cut.
Price range: $19.95 to $39.95 per month
What we like about myFICO
myFICO’s higher-tier plan is a good blend of credit monitoring and identity protection, which makes it a decent option if you want both services.
Why it isn’t in our top three
One of our biggest concerns about myFICO is the price. You have to pay almost $40 a month to get monthly monitoring from all credit three bureaus, but other companies offer daily monitoring for much less.
Price range: $19.99 to $24.99 per month
What we like about Identity Guard
Identity Guard offers a lot of coverage, and some packages come with unique features like an algorithm that learns things about your lifestyle to give you more personalized recommendations and security.
Why it isn’t in our top three
While Identity Guard offers quite a bit of coverage, none of the packages comes with everything. For example, if you want monthly credit reports and scores from all three bureaus, you have to sign up for the most expensive package—however, that package doesn’t include bank account takeover alerts or Identity Guard’s personalized algorithm.
Price: $29.99 for credit monitoring
What we like about LifeLock
LifeLock offers lots of identity theft protection features and easy mobile access so you can act quickly if you realize someone has stolen your information.
Why it isn’t in our top three
LifeLock provides some of its identity theft protection through Equifax—and since Equifax was responsible for putting many of us at risk for identity theft, we’re skeptical about recommending a company that uses its services. Our other big concern is that LifeLock doesn’t offer frequent monitoring from all three credit bureaus.
Price: $19.95 to $29.95 per month
What we like about TransUnion
TransUnion offers some nice features like a credit score simulator, ID theft insurance, and personalized debt analysis.
Why it isn’t in our top three
TransUnion doesn’t provide monitoring from all three credit bureaus and has a poor customer service reputation with lots of negative online reviews.
Price range: $19.99 to $29.99 per month
What we like about PrivacyGuard
PrivacyGuard’s credit monitoring packages include daily monitoring from all three credit bureaus. You also get a credit score simulator and a financial calculator that lets you see the effects of specific scenarios like paying off an auto loan or getting a mortgage.
Why it isn’t in our top three
PrivacyGuard has no mobile app and has a poor customer service reputation, so although the coverage is okay, we don’t recommend it over companies with easy mobile access and better reputations.
What we like about Credit Karma
The best thing about Credit Karma is that you get free credit monitoring.
Why it isn’t in our top three
Unfortunately, with Credit Karma you get what you pay for—which isn’t much. The free credit monitoring is extremely limited and doesn’t include all three bureaus. Plus, the company has very low ratings with the Better Business Bureau and Consumer Affairs. We don’t recommend giving a company with such a poor reputation so much of your personal information.
What should you look for in a credit monitoring service?
When you choose a credit monitoring service, you’re choosing a company to handle some of your most sensitive personal and financial information, so it is important to choose a service you’re very confident in. We recommend looking for the following features and services when picking a credit monitoring provider.
Good customer service
Customer support is almost always important, but it’s crucial when you’re dealing with something that could have significant financial ramifications. Choose a provider that offers excellent customer support so you’ll have the help you need if you become a victim of fraud or if you want to improve your credit score.
Credit reports, scores, and monitoring from all three credit bureaus
While you can get a lot of information from just one credit bureau, any credit monitoring service should offer reports and scores from all three so you can get as many details as possible. While most of the information on your reports will be similar, there may be things that show up on one report and are left off another.
You can do some basic credit monitoring on your own, but signing up for a service saves you lots of time and can help you catch problems faster. Choose a service that comes with mobile alerts, an app, or frequent email notifications so you can find out about issues as soon as possible and easily keep an eye on your credit score and reports.
Basic ID theft protection
While the primary focus of credit monitoring services is financial, we suggest picking a provider that also offers some basic identity protection. In many cases, ID theft can lead to serious financial consequences. We believe most customers would benefit from a credit monitoring service that also offers social security number tracking, public records monitoring, and black-market website monitoring.
The companies that made our top three list offer reports from all three credit bureaus, mobile alerts, and at least some ID theft protection.
Why is credit monitoring important?
Credit monitoring offers two primary benefits:
- It helps you catch identity theft and limit the damage that is caused.
- It helps you manage your finances.
Credit monitoring and identity theft
In 2016, 32.7% of identity theft reported to the Federal Trade Commission involved credit card fraud—either people opening new accounts or using existing accounts without permission.1 Since a lot of identity theft involves using your financial accounts without your permission, credit monitoring can help you catch identity theft quickly so you can act before your finances take a heavy hit. If your credit has already been harmed by identity theft, check out our post on repairing your credit after identity theft.
The companies we recommend all offer credit monitoring with some identity theft protection. Credit monitoring usually focuses specifically on your financial accounts and your credit reports, while identity theft protection services track your personal information like your name, Social Security number, and address. If you’re looking specifically for identity theft protection, our top pick—IdentityForce—offers excellent ID protection with credit monitoring. To learn more about protecting yourself from identity theft, check out our post reviewing the best identity theft protection services.
Credit monitoring and your finances
Aside from protecting you against identity theft, credit monitoring can help you manage your own finances. It makes it easy to see your credit history, check your scores, and use that information to build, repair, or maintain your credit.
What is a credit report?
A credit report is a history of how you’ve used credit. The credit bureaus receive this information from creditors, so while these reports have a lot of information, there isn’t a guarantee that something will show up on your report if a creditor hasn’t told the credit bureaus about it.
Your credit report will list the accounts you have, how long they’ve been open, how much of your credit you’ve used, and whether or not you’ve made payments on time. The report will also include your previous addresses, Social Security number, birth date, phone number, and employer information, as well as previous court judgments, tax liens, bankruptcies, and credit inquiries.
How to check your credit report
You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each credit bureau once a year. To order a free copy of your report, visit annualcreditreport.com. Since there are three bureaus, we suggest ordering one report every four months—that way you can keep an eye on your credit throughout the year instead of looking at all three credit reports at the same time. If you sign up for credit monitoring, you should receive a copy of your credit report more often.
Why is your credit score important?
Lenders use credit scores to determine whether they’ll loan you money, how much they’ll lend you, and what your interest rate will be. If you have a low credit score, your request for a loan could be denied or you could end up with an extremely high interest rate. A high score could get you a better interest rate that makes your mortgage or car payment much more affordable.
Landlords, employers, and insurance providers may also request permission to see your credit report and use your score and credit history to decide whether or not you can rent an apartment, be hired for a position, or receive insurance coverage.
What is the difference between a VantageScore and a FICO Score?
In most cases, your FICO credit score and your VantageScore will be relatively similar, but they aren’t quite the same.
VantageScore (Range 300–850)
VantageScore was developed by Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. The following things factor into your score:2
- Payment history
- Length of credit history
- Types of credit
- Percent of credit limit used
- Total debt
- Recent behavior and credit inquiries
FICO Score (Range 300–850)
The FICO score was developed by the Fair Isaac Corporation. It has been around longer than VantageScore and is still the score many lenders rely on, so if you’re getting a mortgage or a car loan, creditors will likely use your FICO Score. This score takes the following into consideration:3
- Payment history
- Amount owed and credit utilization ratio
- Length of credit history
- Credit mix
- New applications for credit
What is a good credit score?
Although the ranges for VantageScore and FICO scores are similar, the breakdown of what is considered a good credit score varies slightly.
A good VantageScore falls between 700 and 749, while an excellent score falls between 750 and 850.
A FICO score between 670 and 739 is considered good, a score between 740 and 799 is considered very good, and a score between 800 and 850 is considered excellent.
How to improve your credit score
If you’re not happy with your current credit score, there are many things you can do to improve it.
- Sign up for credit monitoring. A credit monitoring service makes it much easier to keep an eye on your credit score and your reports. Our number-one recommendation, IdentityForce, even offers a credit score simulator that lets you see how certain actions can affect your score.
- Pay attention to your credit utilization ratio. In most cases, it is best to keep your balances below 30% of your credit limit on revolving credit accounts (such as credit cards).
- Pay all your bills on time. A huge portion of your FICO score and your VantageScore comes from your payment history. Even if you have a lot of debt, you’ll be much better off if you always make your payments on time. It is important to make credit card and loan payments on time, but paying utilities, rent, and other bills promptly is also essential. Sign up for automatic payments when possible and schedule reminders in your calendar or on your smartphone for accounts that don’t allow automatic payments. Schedule these reminders a few days early so you can make sure a payment goes through on time, even if it is due on a Saturday or Sunday.
- Check your credit report for errors. Order copies of your credit reports (or use the copies provided by your credit monitoring service) and review these reports for errors. If you find a mistake on your credit report, you can dispute it with the credit bureaus. The FTC offers lots of advice for consumers about disputing credit report errors.
Credit monitoring services can help you protect your financial accounts and personal information while also managing or building your credit. The companies in our top three offer thorough coverage, high value, and excellent customer service so you can trust them to protect your sensitive information and help you reach your financial goals.
What have you done to manage your credit? Share your advice in the comments below!
- Federal Trade Commission, “Consumer Sentinel Workbook for January–December 2016”
- VantageScore, “What Influences Your Score”
- myFICO, “What’s in My FICO Scores”