With so much of your personal financial data online, it’s only a matter of time before someone with bad intentions steals your information. Even if you do “all the right things,” it’s still likely that a data breach at an organization you’ve given your information to will leak it
If you’ve been a victim of credit card fraud, credit monitoring should be one of the first steps you take to repair your credit score. Even if you haven’t been a fraud victim yet, it’s never too soon to monitor your credit.
Note that you can monitor your credit yourself for free. You’re entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian), which you can get at AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also get a free credit score from many different sources these days, including many credit cards.
Still, I have used credit monitoring services for almost 10 years to help protect my personal information. That’s because you enjoy more benefits when you pay for monitoring.
Table of Contents
- Use Credit Monitoring Services to Track Your Credit Profile
- FAQs About Credit Monitoring Services
Use Credit Monitoring Services to Track Your Credit Profile
If you’re thinking about investing in credit monitoring, first check to see if your bank or credit union offers credit monitoring service discounts. If not, you can try one of the services below. Common features for each service include:
- Seeing your current credit score
- Receiving credit report activity alerts
These services send alerts when a bank or lender reports a new loan or credit card application to the credit bureau. It’s also possible to get alerts when someone opens new bank accounts in your name.
Most companies offer tiered premium services. For instance, $20 a month might let you monitor your credit reports. But $25 a month might also get you identity theft monitoring. These premium plans can monitor your Social Security number or social media accounts, too.
Take the time to compare the features you want. That will help you find the best value for your ideal monitoring plan.
1. Credit Karma
For free credit monitoring services, Credit Karma is one of the best. Maybe you already use it to get a free VantageScore 3.0 credit score that updates weekly from Equifax and TransUnion.
The VantageScore 3.0 credit score isn’t nearly as widely used by lenders as FICO credit scores. But it gives you a firm idea of how healthy your credit profile is.
Besides using Credit Karma to get the free credit score, I also use it to monitor my credit. If you do the same, your free credit reports from TransUnion and Equifax will update once a week. Take time to see if there are any accounts you don’t recognize.
You will receive credit monitoring alerts when new account openings or credit inquiries are reported to the credit bureaus. For instance, Credit Karma sent me an email when I recently opened a new online savings account. They also sent alerts when I paid off a loan in full.
Credit Karma offers free data breach monitoring, too. Since 2012, I know two passwords have been leaked and my personal information has been in nine public data breaches.
At this time, Credit Karma doesn’t offer family monitoring plans. To monitor a child’s credit reports, you need to pay for a premium monitoring service.
Why We Like Credit Karma
- Free credit monitoring alerts
- Free data breach and stolen password tracking
- Access credit score for free
- Free credit report from Equifax and TransUnion
Read our full Credit Karma review to see all the tools that Credit Karma offers.
2. Credit Sesame
With Credit Sesame, you can enjoy free credit monitoring or pay for premium monitoring. Plus, you can access your free TransUnion VantageScore 3.0 credit score, which updates monthly.
Credit Sesame provides up to $50,000 of identity theft insurance for free. This is a perk Credit Karma doesn’t offer. On the other hand, you can’t see if your passwords or personal information have been stolen in public data breaches — a service that Credit Karma does provide.
Free Credit Monitoring
If you haven’t experienced identity theft yet, Credit Sesame’s free monitoring can be sufficient.
You will get credit report alerts when unusual activity happens on your TransUnion report.
If you become the victim of identity theft, Credit Sesame offers $50,000 of free protection when these events happen:
- Fraud or embezzlement
- Data breach
- Stolen identity event
This insurance doesn’t cover every expense or legal cost related to a qualifying event. Like any insurance policy, you will need to review the policy terms to know what’s covered and what isn’t. Still, it’s not every day that you can get $50,000 in free identity theft insurance.
Premium Credit Monitoring
Credit Sesame offers three different premium monitoring plans with a monthly fee:
- Advanced Credit: $9.95 per month
- Pro Credit: $15.95 per month
- Platinum Protection: $19.95 per month
These plans can be a good option if you are an identity theft victim or if you just want more peace of mind.
All three plans come with $1 million identity theft insurance instead of the $50,000 coverage you get with the free plan.
With the Advanced Credit and Pro Credit plans, you can see your credit scores and reports from all three credit bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax and Experian). But these two plans don’t provide much more in terms of identity theft protection.
The Platinum Protection plan offers these identity protection benefits beyond credit monitoring:
- Black market website monitoring
- Public records monitoring
- Social Security number monitoring
These three monitoring services help spot events that might not appear on your credit report. Credit Sesame will monitor payday loans, court records and how your Social Security number is used. If unauthorized activity happens, you can call Credit Sesame for help.
Why We Like Credit Sesame
- Free $50,000 identity theft protection insurance
- Free TransUnion credit score
- Three premium monitoring plans if free coverage isn’t enough
You can read our full Credit Sesame review to decide if it’s the best plan for you.
Maybe the best-known identity monitoring service is LifeLock. If you want identity theft protection and credit monitoring, LifeLock can be one of the better deals.
All three of their plans also provide different levels of credit monitoring:
- Standard: $9.99 per month
- Advantage: $19.99 per month
- Ultimate Plus: $29.99 per month
All three plans offer up to $1 million in lawyers and experts coverage. Each plan offers incrementally more coverage for stolen funds reimbursement and personal expense compensation.
You will also get dark web monitoring, Social Security number monitoring, credit alerts and the LifeLock Privacy Monitor with all three plans.
Lifelock Standard Plan
The Lifelock Standard Plan is a barebones plan that offers Social Security number and credit report alerts. The credit report alerts are based on changes to your Equifax credit report. For Social Security monitoring, Lifelock monitors various business transactions for these unusual events:
- Financial identity theft. False applications for loans, credit cards and bank accounts
- Government identity theft. False tax returns filed in order to get a tax refund
- Criminal identity theft. A criminal who has violated the law provides your personal information to law enforcement instead of their own
- Medical identity theft. A criminal uses your information for medical expenses
- Utility fraud. Your information is used to start new water, gas, electric or phone services
If LifeLock detects someone is using your Social Security number for illegal purposes, they will send you an alert.
To see your VantageScore credit score and annual credit report, you must upgrade to the Advantage Plan. You’ll also get a couple of other services with the Advantage Plan.
Lifelock Advantage Plan
The Advantage Plan includes the Standard Plan benefits, plus these extra services:
- Bank and credit card activity alerts
- Data breach notifications
- An annual viewing of your VantageScore credit score and Equifax credit report
- Fictitious identity monitoring, which scans for names and addresses connected to your Social Security number.
- Alerts about crimes committed in your name
Lifelock Ultimate Plus
The Ultimate Plus plan offers these advanced alerts:
- 401k and investment activity alerts
- Bank account takeover and new account alerts
- File-sharing network searches
- Sex offender registry reports
You also get monthly VantageScore credit score tracking from Equifax. In addition, every year you can see your credit report from each bureau and your credit score from Experian and TransUnion.
Why We Like LifeLock
- Up to $1 million in identity theft protection
- Can add Norton Security for additional electronic device security
- One of the oldest credit monitoring services
You might consider MyFICO if you want credit monitoring and access to your FICO credit score.
Most credit monitoring services only provide your VantageScore credit score. But most lenders use one of several FICO credit scores to review your credit application. By getting your FICO credit scores, you can see the same scores most lenders and banks see.
With MyFICO, you receive monthly updates for 10 different versions of your FICO score. You might think 10 different credit scores is excessive. But different lenders use different versions of the FICO score to get information specific to their purposes.
For instance, auto lenders might use the FICO Auto Score 8. It emphasizes your previous auto loan history more than your other credit accounts. On the other hand, online mortgage companies might use the Experian FICO Score 5. It’s an older version and is less forgiving of unpaid collection accounts. Mortgage lenders might want this kind of information before they loan you a very large amount of money to buy a home.
FICO Basics 1B vs. FICO Ultimate 3B
Our full MyFICO review looks at these services in more detail. Below is a basic overview of the three different monitoring plans.
All three plans include $1 million in identity theft insurance, 24/7 identity theft support, and credit monitoring alerts.
To help you decide between the plans, answer these two questions:
- Do you want to monitor your report from one bureau or three bureaus?
- Do you want MyFICO to provide monthly or quarterly updates?
FICO Basics 1B
The Basics 1B (one bureau) plan costs $19.95 per month. For that price, MyFICO provides a monthly update of your credit score from Experian.
It’s important to note that this plan doesn’t provide dark web monitoring. If you want that additional protection and don’t mind receiving your VantageScore instead of your FICO score, the Credit Sesame Platinum Protection costs the same amount and offers dark web monitoring.
Otherwise, you need to enroll in one of the MyFICO three bureau (3B) plans to get dark web monitoring.
FICO Ultimate 3B
For $29.95 a month, the Ultimate 3B plan provides an updated credit score and credit report from all three credit bureaus each quarter.
This plan offers dark web monitoring to protect your personal reputation, too.
FICO Ultimate 3B+
The Ultimate 3B+ plan has the same credit monitoring benefits as the Ultimate 3B. But you pay $39.95 a month and you get your credit score and three credit reports each month.
Why We Like MyFICO
- Can view your FICO credit score
- Up to $1 million in identity theft insurance
- Dark web monitoring with either 3B plan
You might prefer to go directly to a credit bureau to monitor your credit. Experian provides a FICO credit score and offers identity theft monitoring as well. At this time, Experian only offers individual adult plans. Family plans aren’t available.
The other two credit bureaus — Equifax and TransUnion — also offer credit monitoring services. But Experian is probably the strongest of the three services because you can access your FICO credit score.
Another benefit of going directly through Experian is that you can request a credit freeze faster. With a single finger swipe or mouse click, you can freeze or unfreeze your Experian credit report for free.
You will still have to call Equifax and TransUnion to freeze and unfreeze your reports from those agencies. But it’s a little faster than having to contact all three bureaus, which is what you have to do if you go with an independent monitoring service.
Experian’s basic IdentityWorks Plus plan costs $9.99 monthly and offers these benefits:
- Daily FICO credit score updates
- Credit report alerts for your Experian credit report only
- Social Security number and address change monitoring
- Up to $500,000 in identity theft insurance
For $19.99 a month you get daily FICO credit score updates from Experian, plus:
- Quarterly FICO credit score updates from Equifax and TransUnion
- Credit report alerts from all three credit bureaus
- Dark web monitoring, plus Social Security number and address change alerts
- Up to $1 million in identity theft insurance
Why We Like Experian
- FICO credit score updates
- Identity theft monitoring, plus Experian credit report monitoring
- Can quickly request an Experian credit freeze
6. Identity Guard
Identity Guard offers three monitoring plans that primarily focus on protecting your identity. The company’s medium Total Plan and top-tier Premier Plan offer credit monitoring.
Identity Guard is one of the few companies that offers family plans. This discount option can be an easy way to save money.
All plans use IBM Watson artificial intelligence technology to monitor your online information. You also get dark web monitoring, which sends you alerts when your personal information is used for high-risk activities like payday loan applications, wire transfers and tax refunds. Finally, all plans offer stolen funds reimbursement and $1 million in identity theft insurance.
When you only want Identity Guard to monitor your information and not your family members’ information, you can choose one of these three plans:
- Value: $8.99 per month
- Total: $19.99 per month
- Premier: $24.99 per month
For credit monitoring services, you must subscribe to the Total or Premier plan.
With the Total Plan, you can access your TransUnion VantageScore 3.0 credit score. You also receive credit report alerts from all three bureaus. According to IdentityGuard, you will receive nearly-instant alerts from Experian and TransUnion.
Springing for the Premier Plan lets you view your credit reports from all three bureaus once a year. The two cheaper plans don’t let you view your credit reports. But you can request them for free once a year from AnnualCreditReport.com.
With this plan, Identity Guard will also monitor your Facebook timeline to ensure you’re not giving away too much personal information that thieves can use against you.
The family plans make it affordable to monitor information for your entire family. Family plan benefits are the same as the individual plans.
All three family plans monitor your children’s information on the dark web. The Premier plan monitors social media accounts to look for cyberbullying as well.
For credit monitoring, you still have to choose the Total or Premier plan options:
- Value Family Plan: $14.99 per month
- Total Family Plan: $24.99 per month
- Premier Family Plan: $39.99 per month
Why We Like Identity Guard
- Family plans can save you money
- Credit monitoring sends you alerts from all three credit bureaus
- Can be one of the cheapest ways to get dark web monitoring
You have two different plan options with IdentityForce. Like a few other companies on this list, IdentityForce specializes in identity monitoring first and credit monitoring second. But one can make the argument that having both offers the best protection and peace of mind.
The entry-level UltraSecure plan that costs $17.95 per month doesn’t provide credit monitoring.
For identity monitoring and credit monitoring, you will need to choose the UltraSecure+Credit. That plan costs $23.95 a month and lets you enjoy these services:
- Credit report monitoring for all three credit bureaus
- Real-time access to your VantageScore 3.0 credit score from all three bureaus
- Dark web monitoring
- $1 million identity theft insurance
Family plans are also available, but you will need to call IdentityForce to get a quote.
Why We Like IdentityForce
- Credit monitoring for all three credit bureaus
- Real-time access to your credit score and credit reports from all three bureaus
- $1 million identity theft insurance
FAQs About Credit Monitoring Services
Most of us don’t think about credit monitoring on a daily basis. Below are a few common questions you might have.
What is Credit Monitoring?
Credit monitoring is when a company watches your credit report for activity that could indicate fraud. They’ll send you an alert when they detect the following:
- Credit card applications
- Loan applications
- New bank account openings
- “Hard” credit checks that impact your credit score
Credit monitoring companies don’t know which actions you have authorized. So they send an alert for you to verify if the transaction is legitimate or not. If you don’t recognize the transaction, contact the monitoring service to start correcting the problem.
Free credit monitoring services will track your credit activity for at least one credit bureau. If you only want credit report alerts, this is probably all you need.
Premium credit monitoring lets you get identity theft protection, too. And with most services, you can monitor all three bureaus from one platform. These extra benefits can help you spot fraud fraud sooner instead of later. The sooner you find out, the easier it may be to clean up your credit and reputation.
Credit Monitoring vs. Identity Theft Protection
Many premium credit monitoring services will also offer identity protection services. It’s easy to confuse the two services but there are a few differences:
- Credit monitoring only looks for unusual activity on your credit report
- Identity monitoring looks for unusual activity that might not appear on your credit report
If someone opens a new bank account, credit card or loan in your name, you get a credit alert. This is because account openings and credit checks appear on your credit report.
But not every financial transaction gets sent to your credit report. For example, an identity thief might use your Social Security number to get a payday loan. Or they might use your health insurance details to obtain medical care in your name. Without identity monitoring, you might not find out until you receive the bill in the mail.
Most premium plans offer a support line you can call. They will assist you in repairing your identity. Their help can also ensure you take the right steps to collect the identity protection insurance benefits.
Does Credit Monitoring Prevent Identity Theft?
By itself, credit monitoring doesn’t prevent identity theft because it’s reactive. You don’t know that your personal information has fallen into the wrong hands until after an unauthorized activity happens.
One of the best ways to prevent identity theft is by choosing strong, unique passwords and using a different password for each account.
If you want extra security, you can request a credit freeze. You will need to request a freeze from each credit bureau separately. You can freeze and unfreeze your credit by phone, mail or the credit bureau website.
What Is A Credit Freeze?
A credit freeze is like putting your credit profile into a bank vault and locking the door. While your credit is frozen, nobody can access your credit report. If you apply for a loan or another service that requires a credit check, you will need to unfreeze your credit.
Keep in mind that scammers can still obtain your other personal information from data breaches. If they use it for an activity that doesn’t appear on your credit report, then credit monitoring alone won’t trigger an alert.
Should I Get Credit Monitoring for Every Credit Bureau?
For full coverage, it’s best to get credit monitoring alerts from every credit bureau. But it depends on how much money you are willing to spend.
Free credit monitoring services don’t monitor all three bureaus. So you need to decide if these two free services meet your needs:
- Credit Karma: Monitors Equifax and TransUnion credit reports
- Credit Sesame: Monitors your TransUnion credit report
If you’re willing to pay for premium credit monitoring, you can pay as little as $15.95 with Credit Sesame to receive credit monitoring alerts from all three bureaus.
One of the best steps you can take to protect your credit and identity is using credit monitoring services. Monitoring your credit in real time can prevent stress and unpleasant surprises when you apply for credit.
What do you think is the best credit monitoring service? Are you willing to pay extra to have identity monitoring services, too? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page.