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Should You Pay for Credit Monitoring?

Written by Allison Martin

Allison Martin is a personal finance enthusiast and a passionate entrepreneur. With over a decade of experience, Allison has made a name for herself as a syndicated financial writer. Her articles are published in leading publications, like Banks.com, Bankrate, The Wall Street Journal, MSN Money, and Investopedia. When she’s not busy creating content, Allison travels nationwide, sharing her knowledge and expertise in financial literacy and entrepreneurship through interactive workshops and programs. She also works as a Certified Financial Education Instructor (CFEI) dedicated to helping people from all walks of life achieve financial freedom and success.

Updated May 12, 2024​

5 min. read​

Credit monitoring services monitor your credit report and alert you to any changes in your credit profile. Free options offer a basic level of protection, typically including periodic access to your credit reports. However, paid credit monitoring services take it a step further by offering more frequent updates, additional features like credit score simulators, and sometimes even insurance to cover losses related to identity theft.

If you often find yourself in situations where your identity could be compromised, or if you simply prefer the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’re being vigilantly protected, a paid service may be a worthwhile investment. Otherwise, staying informed about your credit and regularly reviewing your own credit reports could work for you.

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What Is Credit Monitoring?

Credit monitoring is a proactive approach to safeguarding your financial health. It’s a service designed to alert you promptly regarding any changes or activities, such as new credit inquiries or accounts, which could indicate fraud or identity theft.

What Does Credit Monitoring Entail?

Credit monitoring involves several key components to help preserve your credit health.

Tracking Credit Score Changes

To keep you updated, credit monitoring services continuously track your credit reports from the major credit bureaus – Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. You’ll receive alerts any time your credit score increases or decreases.

Identifying Fraudulent Activities

Credit monitoring alerts you to potentially suspicious activity, such as unauthorized accounts or changes to your existing accounts. Detecting such irregularities swiftly can be vital in preventing extensive damage to your credit and overall financial health.

Detecting Signs of Identity Theft

Credit monitoring also includes scans for misuse of your Social Security number and other personal information, along with other signs that could be the early stages of identity theft. This vigilance helps catch criminals using your personal information to conduct transactions before they cause serious harm.

Daily Scans and Dark Web Surveillance

Some credit monitoring services also protect your personal information through daily scans and dark web surveillance. These services search beyond your credit report to ensure that your data, such as your Social Security number, hasn’t been compromised online.

Free Vs. Paid Credit Monitoring Services

When considering credit monitoring services, you have two primary options: free or paid.

Free credit monitoring often comes with basic features such as access to your credit reports or alerts for major changes. Services like Experian’s free account option allow you to monitor your credit free of charge.

On the other hand, paid credit monitoring typically provides comprehensive protection, including more frequent credit updates, monitoring of the dark web for your personal information and sometimes identity theft insurance.

Although these services often come with a monthly fee, which can be around $20 to $30, they offer greater peace of mind for those particularly concerned about identity theft.

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Free Credit Monitoring Services

As previously mentioned, free credit monitoring services provide alerts and access to your credit reports. They allow you to take a hands-on approach to managing your credit health without incurring costs.

How Free Credit Monitoring Works

Free credit monitoring services operate by keeping track of changes to your credit reports from one or more of the credit bureaus. When you sign up for a free service, you typically receive:

  • Email or text alerts when there are significant changes to your credit report, such as new inquiries or accounts, potential fraud, or changes to your personal information.
  • Regular access to your credit scores to keep you in the loop
  • Educational resources that enable you to better comprehend your credit status and what affects it.

Limitations of Free Credit Monitoring

While free credit monitoring services are valuable, they have their limitations. Generally, these services:

  • May only monitor one of the three major credit bureaus, which could mean you’re not getting the full picture of your credit activity.
  • Offer less frequent updates to your credit score, which can impact your ability to track rapid changes.
  • Provide basic alerts and access to your credit but might lack the comprehensive identity protection measures that paid services encompass.

Paid Credit Monitoring Services

Paid credit monitoring services provide more robust protection compared to free services.

The Benefits of Paid Credit Monitoring

Paid credit monitoring services give you thorough surveillance of your credit reports from all three major bureaus. Generally, you can expect to receive the following:

  • Ongoing access to credit reports so you can view updates to your credit files regularly
  • Real-time alerts of changes or inquiries to aid in rapid response to potential identity theft
  • Credit score tracking to keep an eye on the direction your credit score is trending in
  • Expert support and access to identity theft protection specialists if fraud is suspected.
  • Additional features, like identity theft insurance and recovery assistance, which can provide financial reimbursement and expert help in restoring your identity
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Downsides to Paid Credit Monitoring

Despite these benefits, there are some drawbacks to consider before purchasing a plan:

  • Monthly fees can be about $20 to $30 monthly, and sometimes even higher, adding up over time
  • You might already have access to similar services for free through your bank or credit card issuer.

Comparing Free and Paid Credit Monitoring

When considering credit monitoring options, you will find that both free and paid services offer key features like regular updates on your credit reports and alerts for various activities.

Accuracy and Timeliness

Free credit monitoring services may offer you basic updates, but these can sometimes be less frequent. This means potentially slower notification of changes to your credit report.

On the other hand, paid credit monitoring often guarantees more up-to-date information and timely alerts, which are crucial for promptly identifying suspicious activity.

Comprehensive Monitoring

Paid services typically cover a more comprehensive range of credit information sources, including all three credit bureaus, which can provide a more holistic view of your credit health.

Free services may monitor only one credit bureau, which could miss changes reported elsewhere. Unfortunately, this could leave you in the dark about certain transactions, like unauthorized new accounts being opened in your name.

Alert Features

With a paid credit monitoring service, you’ll generally receive more detailed alerts for various activities, including bank account changes or lender inquiries.

Free services offer alerts, too, but they might be limited to particular types of changes to your credit report. This includes new hard inquiries or recently closed accounts.

Other Bundled Services

Many paid subscriptions include identity theft protection services and options to initiate a credit freeze directly. These features enhance your ability to protect your identity beyond simple monitoring.

Free credit monitoring subscriptions typically do not offer these additional services, which can be integral to comprehensive identity theft prevention.

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Factors to Consider Before Paying for Credit Monitoring

When deciding if you should invest in a credit monitoring service, assess your personal financial situation and habits.

Your Financial Habits

Carefully evaluate your daily financial activities. If you regularly check your bank account and credit reports, you might catch unauthorized activity early. However, a credit monitoring service could offer added peace of mind if you prefer a hands-off approach.

Frequency of Major Financial Transactions

Consider how often you engage in transactions that require credit checks, such as applying for new credit cards or loans. If it’s often, this could justify your investment in a paid credit monitoring service.

Level of Risk and Exposure

Your exposure to risk also plays a vital role in this decision. If you’ve experienced identity theft or have a high-profile job that could make your personal data a target, investing in a credit monitoring service might be worthwhile.

Weighing the Pros and Cons: Should I Pay for Credit Monitoring?

When considering whether to pay for credit monitoring, it’s essential to measure its value against your particular needs for financial vigilance and the level of protection it provides.

Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus, offers a service to monitor your credit. With Experian’s credit monitoring service, Experian CreditWorksSM, you receive real-time alerts when changes occur, such as new credit inquiries, which can be vital in stopping fraud before it escalates. There’s also Experian IdentityWorks, which gives you an added layer of protection against identity theft.

Visit the website to learn more about these services and other tools that can help you elevate your credit health.

FAQs About Credit Monitoring Services

Is It Worth Having a Credit Monitoring Service?

Credit monitoring can help protect your credit and overall financial health. The specific value you’ll gain from it depends on your personal circumstances and how actively you manage your credit. Some services charge a monthly fee, while others are free.

Will Credit Monitoring Hurt Your Credit Score?

No, using a credit monitoring service will not hurt your credit score. These services perform soft inquiries, which are visible only to you and do not affect your credit scores.

Why Might Someone Want to Pay for a Credit Monitoring Service?

You might prefer a paid credit monitoring service for more comprehensive features. These may include scanning the dark web for your personal information or identity theft insurance and restoration services. For those at a higher risk of identity theft or who want to enjoy the convenience of more detailed and frequent updates about their credit, the benefits could easily outweigh the cost.

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