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Free and Low Cost Alternatives to Credit Monitoring

It is in your financial best interest to stay on top of changes that appear on your credit report. But a credit monitoring service may be more than you need.

This article offers some free and comparably low-cost alternatives to enrolling in a credit monitoring service.

 

  • Free Annual Credit Reports

    Beginning in 2005, American consumers won the right to one free credit report per year from each of the three credit agencies. These reports contain everything except the credit score.

    Get your credit reports free only at http://www.annualcreditreport.com.

    By requesting a credit report from a different credit bureau every four months, you can effectively monitor your credit year round for free. Read more about this in our article "Do-It-Yourself Credit Monitoring."

     

  • "Freeze" Your Credit

    If you are concerned about identity theft, a "security freeze" is the most effective way to protect yourself. This inexpensive (and sometimes free) service prevents anyone from accessing your credit report unless you explicitly "unlock" it.

    By freezing your credit reports, an identity thief would need your secret code (a PIN) to open a line of credit in your name.

    This service is cheaper than credit monitoring (typically $30 a year). Even better, it can actually prevent identity theft unlike credit monitoring which will only alert you to it after the fact.

     

  • Buy a Single Credit Report as Needed

    Purchasing a single credit report is comparable in cost to one month of credit monitoring. If your free annual credit reports aren't enough or you want to see your credit score from time to time, you can purchase your credit report several times a year and still come out ahead.

     

  • Minimal Credit Monitoring Service

    If you are convinced that you need to prompt alerts of changes to your credit report and you don't object to the service on moral grounds, it pays to shop around. You can pay as little as $4.95 per month for credit monitoring or as much as $15.

    Obviously, you sacrifice features on cheaper services. Some don't show your score. Some don't monitor all three credit agencies. Some don't show your credit report at all, just changes to it. These shortcomings can be addressed with other options discussed above.

    If you are comparison shopping, pay a visit to our side-by-side comparison of the credit monitoring services. Here we include some low cost services not advertised on the credit agencies' web sites.

     

  • Don't Worry About Identity Theft!

    Unless there is something unique about your situation, a free alternative to credit monitoring is not buying into the identity theft hype. By using common sense and the protections already afforded you as an American consumer, you do not need a credit monitoring service.

    Under the common sense category: Be very careful about giving out your Social Security number. Most identity theft is low-tech; shred any documents with your Social Security number, credit card numbers or other sensitive information. Be careful about giving out your personal information, particularly if someone seems to be asking for it "out of the blue" in a phone call, e-mail or web site.

    Among your protections as an American consumer: You are only responsible for $50 of unauthorized charges on your credit card, as long as they are reported in 60 days. You can place free personal statements and fraud alerts on your credit reports if you suspect you are at risk of identity theft. If you are ever denied a line of credit because of a negative marks on your credit report, you are entitled to a free credit report. And don't forget your three free annual credit reports.

    Remember there are degrees of identity theft and nearly a third of victims don't suffer any financial loss at all.

    Read more about preventing identity theft by visiting some of the web sites on our Links page.

    Credit monitoring draws its power from your fear of identity theft. Don't become a victim of its propaganda machine!

 

Originally Published:  Sunday, August 13, 2006, 5:00 PM PT

Last Updated:  Friday, July 15, 2011, 5:15 PM PT

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