According to a 2018 study from Javelin Strategy & Research, more than 16.7 million Americans were victims of identity theft or fraud in 2017.
That figure represents a record high number of identity theft victims that year, but the year before was also another record high.
Amounts stolen in 2017 added up to $16.8 billion in losses for consumers, much of which was the direct result of data breaches. However, fraudsters and thieves are becoming more and more sophisticated in their techniques, meaning your data may not be safe anywhere.
With that in mind, you may be wondering what you can do to protect yourself and your identity.
Fortunately, it’s possible to pay for credit monitoring and/or identity monitoring — both services that can help you catch credit mistakes or even fraud.
What is Credit Monitoring?
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) notes that there are two main types of credit monitoring available today — pure credit monitoring and identity theft monitoring.
Credit monitoring is a service you can pay for that tracks your credit movements, monthly payments, and other details with the three credit reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
Generally speaking, credit monitoring services will notify you when you have a new hard inquiry on your credit report or a new credit account has been opened in your name.
You may also be notified if a creditor says your payment is late, there’s a legal judgment against you, or your credit limits change.
The FTC explains that, for the most part, credit monitoring only lets you know about activity that shows up on your credit report. Also note that some credit monitoring companies only monitor one of your credit reports instead of all three.
Identity monitoring takes the oversight of your credit report a step further by notifying you when your personal information is being shared in ways that may not even show up on your credit report. For example, identity monitoring can let you know when information like your bank account details or Social Security number are used in ways that could harm you.
As the FTC notes, identity monitoring services closely watch your personal information so they can discover when someone requests a change of address or orders new utility, cable, or wireless services.
Identity monitoring can also let you know if someone has legal or arrest records in your name, or if your information has been shared on the dark web or on websites known as online hubs for fraud.
Who Needs Credit Monitoring?
If you’re wondering whether you’re a good candidate for credit monitoring, identity monitoring, or both, you can rest assured that you could likely benefit. The cost of credit monitoring is typically fairly low, but the cost of not having this coverage and having your identity stolen can be astronomical.
A Department of Justice study found that the average financial cost of identity theft worked out to $1,343. However, that’s just the average since some consumers stand to lose considerably more. And remember, that’s just the financial cost. There are numerous downsides that come with having your identity stolen, including the emotional toll and the time it takes to get it resolved.
In short, everyone could benefit from credit monitoring, identity monitoring, or both. Should you pay for it? Now, that’s an entirely different question.
How to Monitor Your Credit for Free
If you are interested in keeping tabs on your credit movements and credit score but you aren’t ready to pay for the help of professionals, you may want to look into a free credit monitoring service such as Credit Karma or Credit Sesame.
Both companies let you create a free account and gain access to your credit score so you can monitor your progress.
With Credit Karma, for example, you can sign up for notifications that will alert you if there are any important changes on your TransUnion or Equifax credit reports.
You can also monitor your open accounts, account balances, and the number of hard inquiries on your credit report.
Finally, this service shows you how each of the factors that make up your credit score influence your progress, as well as steps you can take to give your credit a much-needed boost over time.
Should You Pay for Credit Monitoring?
While you can monitor your credit online without paying a service, you won’t get access to the same comprehensive help you would if you paid for credit monitoring.
With that in mind, it can make sense to sign up for all the help you need to protect your identity and your credit score.
The cost of doing so is typically affordable when you compare it to what you have to lose, and you can sign up for credit monitoring, identity monitoring, or both online and from the comfort of your home.
However, the FTC does pose some specific questions you should ask before you pay a service to help protect your credit.
For credit monitoring specifically, you should plan on asking:
- Which of the three credit bureaus do they monitor? If they only watch one of them and ignore the others, they’re not providing you with much protection at all.
- How often do they monitor reports? If they’re only checking your credit reports once per month, they may not be thorough enough to catch problems before they snowball.
- Will you have access to your credit reports? Some credit monitoring companies let you see your credit reports for free at any time, but others charge for the privilege. Keep in mind, however, that no matter what, you can view all three of your credit reports for free once per year at AnnualCreditReport.com.
- Do you get access to your credit score? Some credit monitoring companies grant you access to your credit score so you can monitor your progress over time.
For identity monitoring specifically, you should plan on asking:
- What kinds of information do they check, and how often? You need to know about the different types of information they check, including how they plan to use that information to protect you from identity theft.
- What personal information do they need from you? How will they use it?
- What other services are included in your plan? Do you get access to your credit reports? Your credit score? Which of the credit bureaus do they keep track of, and how do you gain access to that information?
Best Credit Monitoring Companies in 2019
If you’re in the market for credit monitoring this year, you’ll want to compare all the top companies to learn about the plans they offer and how much they cost.
Here are some of our favorites that protect your credit and your identity for a reasonable monthly outlay:
Identity Guard offers top-notch credit monitoring and identity theft protection for less than a dinner out each month.
Their Total Protection Plan comes in at $16.99 per month and offers Social Security number monitoring, dark web monitoring, ID verification alerts, and your credit score from each of the bureaus once per quarter. They also offer more robust plans for consumers who want more protection as well as a 30-day free trial.
Another popular identity and credit monitoring company is LifeLock. This company offers protection plans that range between $9.99 and $29.99 per month as well as a 60-day money back guarantee.
Their middle of the road LifeLock Advantage Plan costs $19.99 per month and comes with Norton Security, Social Security Number and credit alerts, security protection for up to five devices, bank and credit card activity alerts, and alerts of crimes in your name.
Credit reporting agency Experian also offers a comprehensive credit monitoring and identity monitoring product that starts at just $9.99 per month. Their plans come with a 30-day free trial for those who want to try it out before they commit.
Their IdentityWorks Premium Plan, which costs just $19.99 per month, comes with dark web surveillance, $1 million in identity theft insurance, lost wallet assistance, fraud resolution assistance, identity and credit monitoring alerts, the ability to lock your Experian credit report, monitoring of all three credit bureaus, and more.
Finally, don’t forget to check out Identity Force. Like some other identity and credit monitoring companies, Identity Force offers a free trial that lasts for 14 days.
Their Ultra Secure Plan costs just $17.99 per month yet it includes advanced fraud monitoring, change of address monitoring, dark web monitoring, payday loan monitoring, social media monitoring, bank and credit card alerts, Social Security number tracker, identity theft alerts, and more.
The Bottom Line
Do you need help monitoring your credit? You may or may not wind up needing it, but you should probably have it anyway. Getting started is easy and many companies offer a free trial.
The financial cost of these plans isn’t significant, but it can buy you a lot of peace of mind. At the very least, monitor your credit for free so you can find out any time someone opens a new account in your name.