Credit monitoring services are designed to scan your credit report for any changes and suspicious activity — an important tool as cases of credit card fraud continue to rise within the United States year over year. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), credit card fraud is the most common type of identity theft with over 271,000 reported cases in 2019 (more than two times the number of cases reported in 2017). Incidents like the 2019 Capital One breach, affecting 100+ million cardholders and applicants across the U.S. and Canada, have dotted the news landscape in recent years and remind cardholders that both vigilance and preparedness is key.
Whether you own a travel or secured credit card, a credit monitoring service can help you identify and reverse any unauthorized changes to your report early on. But the question of whether a free or paid service is best for your lifestyle depends on the range of features you prefer.
What is credit monitoring?
Credit monitoring, in the simplest terms, is the process of overseeing credit files. It’s usually offered as a service through credit bureaus, credit card issuers, banks and independent companies.
The role of credit monitoring services is to routinely check credit reports for any changes and notify individuals of these changes (typically via text, email or phone call). Then, consumers can identify whether the change in their report was accurate, fraudulent or accidental and take further action to amend the situation.
What’s included in credit monitoring?
With the help of a credit monitoring service, cardholders can easily keep tabs on their financial health and better prepare for new credit opportunities in the future.
Typically, credit monitoring services can alert you to a number of changes. Here are a few you can expect credit monitoring to pick up on:
- New accounts, such as a new credit card or mortgage loan
- Hard inquiries, which typically occur when you apply for a new line of credit (such as a rewards credit card or personal loan
- Changes to your home address, which can indicate a thief’s attempt to reroute your mail
- Any instances of your personal information on the dark web, such as credit card information or your social security number
- Payment history and account balances
- New public records, such as bankruptcy or lawsuits
What credit monitoring can’t stop
While a credit monitoring service may offer identity theft protection and monitoring services, it’s important to note they are not one and the same. Identity theft protection might include dark web scanning while credit monitoring focuses on changes to your credit report.
For example, if your credit card information is used to make a purchase without your knowledge or consent, your credit monitoring service will alert you to this fraudulent purchase but typically can’t do much more. The situation is then left in your hands to contact your credit card issuer, remove the charge and obtain a new card and account number.
Some services, though, make it easy to file disputes should an incorrect or accidental change appear on your report. Experian’s free credit monitoring service, for example, offers an online dispute feature to seamlessly submit corrections to your Experian report, if needed.
The best credit monitoring services for 2020
|Service name||Superlative||Summary of services||Cost||Credit bureaus reviewed|
|Experian free credit monitoring||Best free credit monitoring service||A monthly updated credit reportCredit report and account balance change alerts
FICO® Score 8 credit score tracking
Ability to submit online credit report disputes
|CreditWise® from Capital One||Best issuer-backed credit monitoring service (no credit card number or Capital One affiliation required)||TransUnion credit report change alertsDark web scanning and social security number tracking
VantageScore credit score simulator
Weekly VantageScore update
|$0||Experian and TransUnion|
|IdentityForce®||Best paid credit monitoring service||Credit and fraud monitoring, as well as dark web and social media identity monitoringActivity tracking and fraud/identity threat alerts
Identity theft insurance, customer service options and more
UltraSecure+Credit only: Monitors all three credit bureau reports and offers a VantageScore tracker and simulator
|UltraSecure: $9.99 per month or $99.90 per year (currently 30-day free trial)UltraSecure+Credit: $19.99 per month or $199.90 per y|