In the wake of recent events, it’s become more important than ever to monitor your credit.
The recent Equifax breach put about 143 million people at risk of identity theft. Unlike other major hacks, this incident has the potential to cause damage for decades to come. With thieves gaining access to addresses, birth dates, social security numbers, and more, this breach could literally cause problems for the rest of your life.
To protect your credit and your identity, it’s important for you to stay vigilant. We’ve already discussed steps you can take for dealing with the Equifax breach, and one of those steps is monitoring your credit. Using a combination of credit monitoring tools and keeping a watchful eye on your current accounts is essential to protecting your identity. Here are several tools to help you get started.
Free Credit Score and Credit Monitoring
At an absolute minimum, consider monitoring your credit score on free sites like Credit Sesame and Credit Karma. While these sites don’t provide in-depth credit monitoring services, they do offer some pretty good benefits. And since they are free, it doesn’t hurt to sign up for both of them.
Credit Sesame is my favorite free credit monitoring service, and I’ve used it for years. After joining, you’ll receive your free credit score almost instantly. Your score is updated once a month, and you’ll receive daily updates if anything changes with your credit report. Additionally, Credit Sesame provides up to $50,000 in identity theft insurance, also for free. A credit card is not required, and using the service will not affect your current credit score.
Credit Karma also provides free monitoring and scores. Like Credit Sesame, you’ll receive a free credit score once a month. They also provide alerts if any changes or suspicious activity is detected on your credit report.
While free monitoring tools are great, they do have limitations. The main problem is that these free tools don’t track reports from every credit reporting bureau. Both Credit Sesame and Credit Karma use TransUnion credit reports for your score and monitoring. So, if another bureau picks up suspicious activity that TransUnion doesn’t, you wouldn’t be notified.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t use these options. In fact, it makes sense to use them both. Just don’t rely on them for all of your credit monitoring needs.
Premium Services to Monitor Your Credit
Since free credit score services can only do so much, you may want to consider a premium credit monitoring service.
With over 4 million customers, LifeLock Identity Theft Services is probably the most popular premium service available. LifeLock watches for a wide variety of suspicious activity and monitors all three major credit bureau reports. If anything is detected, they send you alerts via phone, text, and email. They also have specialists available to help you recover your identity if anything goes wrong.
Depending on the plan you choose, you’ll also receive up to $1 million in stolen funds reimbursement. Plans range from $9.95 to $29.95 a month.
TransUnion, one of the three major credit reporting agencies in the U.S., also offers premium credit monitoring services. Regularly priced at $19.95 a month, you’ll receive unlimited updates to your TransUnion credit score and credit report. They also provide monitoring for all three major credit bureau reports and send instant alerts if anything suspicious is detected. You’ll also get up to $1 million in identity theft insurance.
When speaking about credit scores, most people are actually referring to their FICO® score. The people at myFICO also provide premium credit monitoring services, although this is my least favorite option. Again, you can receive credit monitoring and your FICO® score from all three bureaus if you choose. They also offer quarterly access to your credit reports and have some features available to help repair your I.D. if anything happens. As I mentioned, I don’t think this is the best value, but you can check it out here.
Other Ways to Monitor Your Credit
In addition to using a credit monitoring service, you should also do a little leg work on your own. As a benchmarking tool, I’d highly recommend grabbing your free credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. By law, each of the three major credit reporting bureaus are required to provide a copy of your credit report every 12 months. Go through yours now so you can easily spot any suspicious activity moving forward.
In light of the Equifax breach, you might also want to consider freezing your credit. This the most aggressive step you can take to protect your credit. Basically, this means that nobody – including you – will be able to open up new accounts in your name.
Freezing and “unthawing” your credit typically costs money and can be a bit of a pain. First, you must freeze your credit with all three reporting agencies for it to be effective. If you plan to apply for a loan or get a new credit card, you’ll need to “unthaw” your credit several days prior to doing so. If not, you’ll be immediately denied. However, if you don’t plan on opening any new accounts, have already been a victim of identity theft, or are at a high risk of having your identity stolen, this may be a good option for you.
Monitoring Your Credit: Final Thoughts
Remember, none of these options is completely foolproof. Even a credit freeze can’t protect thieves from gaining access to the accounts you currently have, so you need to stay vigilant.
By employing a variety of these credit monitoring tools, you will (hopefully) avoid any issues and immediately spot suspicious activity if it arises. Additionally, be sure to watch your current accounts like a hawk. Taking swift action against fraudulent activity could save you an incredible amount of pain and years of trouble to come.