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Are Credit Monitoring Services Worth It?

You know that your credit is important. From getting a mortgage, to buying a car, to getting the best insurance rates, your credit can impact how much you pay, and whether you get the loan you need. Staying on top of your credit is important if you want to save thousands of dollars over your lifetime. On top of that, identity theft is the fastest growing crime, and everyone is vulnerable.

No matter how hard you try to keep your information safe, there is no way to completely guarantee that you won't end up the victim of identity theft. One of the earliest ways to catch identity fraud is to keep tabs on what is happening with your credit.

Because good credit is such a concern, and because identity theft is a very real fear, many people turn to credit monitoring services. These services can help you keep track of whether or not your credit is improving, as well as notify you when someone opens credit in your name (and signaling that someone else might be using your identity). But are credit monitoring services worth it?

Paying for Peace of Mind

When you sign up for credit monitoring, you authorize someone to keep track of what's going on with your credit situation. You receive regular access to credit information, as well as notifications when something happens that affects your score, such as when you pay down debt reduce your credit utilization, or when you open a new line of credit.

Because you receive information about new lines of credit, it is possible for you to identify when fraud is taking place. Some credit monitoring services will even send you an email alert or a text alert to let you know the minute someone opens a line of credit in your name.

Obviously, if you are the one opening your line of credit, it isn't a problem. However, if you haven't applied for credit, and suddenly someone is using your name to open an account, that's an indication that your identity might be stolen. Credit monitoring can provide you with peace of mind; you know someone is keeping track of what is happening with your situation, and you know that you will be notified as soon as anything changes. However, this peace of mind isn't always cheap.

You will pay anywhere between $15 and $50 a month for many credit monitoring services, depending on the level of protection you get. If you decide to pay for the peace of mind that comes with credit monitoring, make sure you understand exactly what you are getting, and how you will be notified of changes.

Some premium services even go beyond just credit monitoring. In some cases, it's possible for you to get background information monitoring, and information about your reputation, record, and even notifications relating to whether or not your personal information has popped up on black market web sites that sell credit card numbers and other identity related items.

Can I Do It Myself?

You don't need to pay for credit monitoring services, though. It's possible to monitor your credit on your own and you can normally do it for less. Every year, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major bureaus. Many people use this as a way to keep tabs on their credit for free. You can order a report every four months, one bureau at a time, for free.

Even if you don't rely on the free credit reports each time, you can usually get a three-in-one report, plus a credit score, for between $35 and $50, depending on what comes with it. Often, it's possible to purchase your report from a single bureau for between $10 and $15. (Your credit score usually has to be purchased separately.)

Additionally, there are plenty of free sites, like Credit Sesame, Quizzle, and Credit Karma that can help you keep track of credit trends. You can see what new credit has been issued, as well as see different credit scores in a way that helps you track rises and falls in your credit situation.

If you are willing to put in a little extra time, it's possible to monitor your credit on your own, usually for less than you would pay for credit monitoring services. Of course, you won't get the alerts, so you will have to make sure that you regularly check your credit report for information about accounts. If you notice an account that shouldn't be on your report, it's vital that you address the situation immediately.

Bottom Line

You can monitor your own credit, keeping tabs on what is happening, and when new accounts are opened in your name. However, if you want instant information, alerts, and regular access, you might decide it's worth it to pay for the convenience and thoroughness that comes with credit monitoring services.