Your credit is a very important part of your financial life. You should know what is contained in your credit report, and understand how to improve your credit score in order to ensure that you have access to the best deals out there.
Keeping up with your credit is important, since a poor credit report can result in higher interest rates on loans, and can even lead to you paying more for different financial products and services, including paying higher insurance premiums. Here are some ways to keep tabs on your credit situation:
Free Credit Monitoring
Before you apply for credit, and even just to keep up with what is going on with your credit on a regular basis (you have to be careful of identity theft), it helps to have a general idea of what others see regarding your credit. Before my husband and I drove to the car dealership recently, I check both of our credit situations using the free site Credit Sesame. While the score wasn’t exact, it did give us a fairly good picture of our Experian scores; they were within in five points of what the dealership pulled up.
Here are some of the free ways you can keep tabs on your credit score and report:
- AnnualCreditReport.com: This is the “official” way to access your credit report from each of the three major bureaus. You are entitled, by law, to one free report from each bureau every 12 months. You can spread it out, getting one free report from each bureau every four months, or you can look at them all at once. This is one way to keep tabs on your credit situation on your own.
- Credit Sesame: You can get a look at your credit situation, using information from your Experian report. Includes your credit score, as well as information about your loans as they appear on your credit report, and other important information about your situation.
- Quizzle: Quizzle also uses Experian, and allows you free access to your Experian credit report. Take a look at your score — including your VantageScore — and get an idea of what others are likely to see regarding your credit history.
- Credit Karma: If you want information about your TransRisk score, as well as other credit scores, you can visit Credit Karma. This free site allows you to get a summary of the accounts showing on your TransUnion credit report, as well as other information about your credit situation. It’s a great place to monitor the general characteristics of your credit.
Paid Credit Score Monitoring
In addition to track your credit situation for free, there are also paid credit score monitoring options. These options do more than just offer you a general look at your score, and an overview of the information in your credit report. Instead, these monitoring services alert you when something negative shows up on your report, and allows you to check in with your report (and often your score) as often as you like, in order to keep up with your credit situation. Some of the services that offer paid, full-service credit monitoring include:
- MyFICO: The developer of the famous credit scoring model also provides you with credit monitoring. You can choose from different products designed to help you track your credit performance, as well as catch identity theft.
- Experian: While you can get some of the information for free by using other sites, you can go to the source and get credit-monitoring of all three credit reports through Experian’s monitoring and security products.
- Equifax: Another of the three major credit bureaus, Equifax also offers information about your credit. You can monitor your situation, receive alerts, and get help protecting your identity from fraud.
- TransUnion: You can monitor your three credit reports, check your TransUnion credit score, and get information on protecting your identity. There are a variety of levels and products, for different prices.
Most of the above services run between $10 and $30 a month. Prices depend on the features you choose, and the way you decide to pay. Most of the above providers will send you alerts, and offer you access to your three credit reports anytime, and at least one credit score.
Other Credit Monitoring and ID Fraud Protection Services
There are also a number of other credit monitoring services and companies that offer protection against identity fraud. Many of the identity fraud services also come with some type of credit monitoring. You can expect to pay between $7 and $50 (or more) per month, depending on the features you choose. Many of these offer free trials, which can reduce your cost initially:
- FreeCreditReport.com: This is a site that gets a lot of play. You do get a free credit report — but only after you provide credit card information and agree to sign up for credit monitoring services. Forget to cancel within the allotted time, and your card is charged.
- FreeCreditScore.com: The story is similar with this web site. Sign up for a service, and you can get your free credit score. Realize, though, that many of the companies that offer these services might also charge by the item when they automatically dispute negative items on your credit report.
- LifeLock: Another well-known site, LifeLock, is supposed to protect your identity. You can also set credit alerts to inform you when something suspicious crops up in your credit situation. However, the service doesn’t offer true credit monitoring.
- Identity Guard: This site offers credit monitoring of all three bureaus’ information on you, as well as ID theft protection. This product also claims to protect children from ID fraud.
Realize, though, that even with credit monitoring and identity theft protection products, you are still vulnerable to ID fraud. ID protection services can help, but you have to be aware that they aren’t full-proof. ID protection services do help you offset some of the costs of time that might be associated with fixing your credit report (although it’s important to note that you can do it yourself, for free).
Keeping track of your credit situation is important, and there are a number of tools, free and with cost, that can help you stay on top of things. Just make sure, as you should with any transaction, that you read the fine print.