The Best Credit Monitoring Service for 2014

With identity theft on the rise, now is the time to find the best credit monitoring service so you can protect yourself before it happens. According to the most recent “Victims of Identity Theft” report published by the Bureau of Justice in 2013, approximately 16.6 million persons (7% of all U.S. residents age 16 or older) were victims of one or more incidents of identity theft in 2012.

If you don’t think that’s very much, consider that losses from ID theft were $24.7 billion. That’s $10 billion more than all other property theft combined.

With ID theft on the rise, and sparked by a recent ID theft scare experienced by a close family member, I conducted some serious research on the best credit monitoring services available today. My focus was mainly on comprehensive credit monitoring with ID theft protection, but I also found some great options that work well for low-cost credit report monitoring.

The Best Credit Monitoring Service

IDENTITY-GUARD-Total-Protection
My research led me to choose Identity Guard as the best credit monitoring service because it is a comprehensive program that monitors changes in your credit score and provides some of the best ID theft protection in the industry.

Identity Guard has many different package options to fit any budget. Any plan you choose comes with:

  • Social Security number monitoring
  • ID theft victim’s assistance
  • Lost-wallet protection
  • $1 million ID theft insurance

In case Identity Guard is not for you, several other strong companies worth looking into emerged from my research.

Here is my full list of the 5 best credit monitoring services:

  1. Identity Guard
  2. LifeLock
  3. Identity Force
  4. Experian
  5. TransUnion

What exactly does credit monitoring entail?

There are two main reasons you’ll want to use a credit monitoring service:

  1. You’re concerned about identity theft and want to protect against it.
  2. You need to improve or repair your credit score, but you’re not as concerned about ID theft protection.

Credit monitoring tracks your credit reports and notifies you of any significant changes. Since all things financial flow to your credit report, including loans, credit cards, and payment histories, your credit report is a major factor that financial companies use to extend you any type of loan.

Many times, people are unaware of derogatory reports that show up on their credit report until they actually apply for a loan — when it’s already too late. Knowing what’s in your credit report is extremely important for this reason. Derogatory reports like a delinquency from a creditor can affect your credit score for years. You’ll also want to know your score prior to applying for any credit cards so you know you’ll be accepted.

The other important way people use credit monitoring services is to prevent identity theft. Any financial account that is opened in your name with your Social Security number will show up on this report. Identity thieves prey on unsuspecting people by taking information about them and using it to use or open new financial accounts in the unsuspecting person’s name. Credit monitoring services notify you any time a new account is opened so you can respond quickly.

There are a number of steps you can take to better protect yourself, but having your credit monitored by a professional team can give you the greatest edge by letting you know — in near real time — what is affecting your credit.

What are identity thieves looking for?

In a USA Today article, Phoenix-based cybersecurity expert Mark Pribish says identity thieves look for specific pieces of information.

Here is what identity thieves look for:

  • User names, passwords, and PIN numbers
  • Social Security numbers
  • Phone and utility account numbers
  • Bank and credit account numbers
  • Employment and student identification numbers
  • Driver’s license and passport numbers
  • Professional license numbers
  • Insurance identification numbers
  • College or university financial-aid form information

For most ID theft victims, having new accounts opened in their names is not the main issue, so credit report monitoring alone isn’t adequate. The big problem is that ID thieves use the above information to gain access to and control current bank, credit card, loan, and other accounts, which is where more proactive measures come in handy.

According the Bureau of Justice, for 85% of identity theft victims, the most recent incident involved the unauthorized use of an existing account.

This key statistic has great ramifications for determining which of the best credit monitoring service features have the most impact when it comes to combating ID theft.

How can the best credit monitoring services protect my existing accounts?

Simply monitoring a credit report only shows you when a new account has been opened, but doesn’t show you when your credit card has been used by someone else nor when your bank account has been accessed.

The best credit monitoring services that make this list protect your open accounts with:

  • ID verification alerts
  • Account takeover alerts
  • Lost-wallet protection
  • ID theft victim assistance

The Most Comprehensive Credit Monitoring Services

The first three products listed below will be able to provide full credit monitoring services, identity theft protection, and access to credit reports. If you’re looking for the most comprehensive services to stay protected, these are your best options.

Identity Guard

For comprehensive monitoring, including proactive identity theft protection, Identity Guard is your clear choice.

They monitor all three major credit bureaus for changes to your reports, helping you make more informed financial decisions. On top of this, they monitor personal information like your name and Social Security number across thousands of databases.

ID verification alerts and account takeover alerts proactively notify you every time your online account information has been accessed or changed. This way, you can quickly take action if the accounts were accessed fraudulently. These services are included in the same plans as their credit monitoring service so you just pay a single monthly fee for both.

If you happen to become a victim of ID theft, Identity Guard has the services to get you back on your feet fast. A victim hotline gives you access to a trained expert who helps you through your stressful situation. Lost-wallet protection gets your credit cards cancelled and replaced fast, and $1 million in ID theft insurance covers all of your losses due to ID theft.

Highlights:

  • Social Security Number Monitoring
  • ID Verification Alerts
  • Account Takeover Alerts
  • Identity Theft Victim Assistance
  • Lost-Wallet Protection
  • $1 Million Identity Theft Insurance
  • 3-Bureau Credit Monitoring
  • ID Vault® Password Protection

LifeLock

LifeLock® identity theft protection helps proactively safeguard your identity and your credit. LifeLock actively monitors applications for credit cards, bank accounts, utilities, and other services within an extensive network for attempts to use your personal information. Whenever suspicious activity is detected, you receive an alert via email or phone. If your wallet goes missing, LifeLock helps cancel or replace the contents quickly.

LifeLock® monitors thousands of black-market websites where ID thieves buy and sell stolen information. If your personal information shows up there, you are alerted. They also work with the credit bureaus to reduce the number of annoying preapproved credit card offers by taking your name off mailing lists.

With LifeLock® Junior, you can also protect your child’s identity, which makes LifeLock perfect for families. Children’s clean credit is often a gold mine for thieves because they are largely unmonitored. If your child’s information was stolen and used, it may go undetected for years and do lasting damage.

Highlights:

  • Identity Threat Detection and Alerts
  • Black-Market Website Monitoring
  • Lost-Wallet Protection
  • $1 Million Total Service Guarantee
  • Public Records Monitoring
  • Sex Offender Registry Reports
  • Monthly Credit Score Tracking

Identity Force

Identity Force is another top service for credit monitoring. They monitor all three credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, and notify you by email if any changes occur on your reports. A monthly statement comes in handy to help keep you informed of what’s going on with your credit files.

On the ID protection front, Identity Force also offers a variety of tools available to protect your personal information. Their comprehensive monitoring feature keeps tabs on any address changes, court records, credit reports, payday loans, and sex offender lists to make sure your information is not being used without your knowing.

In the event a problem occurs, you have 24/7 access to Identity Restoration Specialists who save you lots of time and headaches by completing all the paperwork, making calls, and doing all the heavy lifting to make sure your identity is restored.

Identity Force is another great choice for a families. Like LifeLock, this company can protect your children. Their Child Watch service delivers proactive credit monitoring, identity monitoring, and ID theft insurance for your kids.

Highlights:

  • Identity Threat Detection and Alerts
  • Lost-Wallet Protection
  • ID Theft Insurance
  • Identity Restoration Specialists
  • Child Watch ID Theft Services
  • 3-Bureau Credit Monitoring

The Best Credit Monitoring Services — Credit Reporting Bureaus

If you’re less concerned with ID theft protection, credit monitoring services from one of the main credit reporting bureaus is a great place to start.

These options can be more affordable and have flat fees for one-time access to your credit report if you just want to know where you stand before applying for a loan. Here are the top two options:

Experian

Experian makes the list of the best credit monitoring services by offering triple-bureau credit monitoring with a variety of options for one-time access to your credit report. You can purchase your Experian credit report for $14.95 or get all three credit bureau reports for $39.95. This feature is great if you just need to check in on your credit score once in a while.

For more active monitoring, select the Experian Credit Tracker. For $4.95 per month, you get your Experian credit score and credit report, plus triple-bureau credit monitoring and dedicated fraud resolution support.

Experian does have some ID protection features, but they fall short of the more comprehensive services like Identity Guard. The Experian ProtectMyID® service takes the Experian Credit Tracker features and adds daily Internet ID scanning to look for your personal information that may be publicly available on the Internet.

Finally, Experian also offers credit reports and credit monitoring for your small business. This is a rare service only offered by the major credit bureaus.

Highlights:

  • 3-Bureau Credit Report Monitoring
  • Credit Report Change Alerts
  • One-Time Access to Credit Report
  • Dedicated Fraud Resolution Support
  • Lost-Wallet Protection
  • ID Theft Insurance

TransUnion

Like Experian, TransUnion is another credit reporting bureau that provides some of the best credit monitoring services. As a member, you have access to triple-bureau credit monitoring alerts, so you will be notified of any suspicious activity. TransUnion used to only monitor their own report. This flaw kept them from being one of the best credit monitoring services in the past.

If you’re looking to get one-time access to your credit report, you can receive your TransUnion score for free and credit report for just $1 by signing up for a free seven-day trial. Cancel at any time during the seven days and you won’t be charged the $17.95 membership fee. You also have the option to purchase your triple-bureau credit report for $39.95 without ongoing membership.

You can add some ID theft protection by signing up for True Identity. This service monitors many of the same public records as other services and alerts you if your information shows up there.

If you believe you’ve been a victim of identity fraud, the security freeze feature prevents lenders from accessing your TransUnion credit report entirely. This makes it less likely that a lender will extend credit to someone posing as you. Tools like these offer you peace of mind since they allow you a greater level of control over your account.

Highlights:

  • 3-Bureau Credit Report Monitoring
  • Credit Report Change Alerts
  • One-Time Access to Credit Report
  • Identity Restoration Services
  • Lost-Wallet Protection
  • ID Theft Insurance
  • Security Freeze

Choosing the Best Credit Monitoring Services

Here’s an outline of how I got to my final choices:

  1. Conducted research to find a list of all services
  2. Removed companies that did not belong on the list because they feed business to other companies
  3. Segmented the remaining companies based on their features
  4. Analyzed features deeper to select a top product

For a more detailed look into my process for selecting these services, continue reading below.

I started my research by compiling a comprehensive list of credit monitoring services from multiple Internet sources. I found 20 companies to investigate further.

As I dug deeper, I found that several companies on my list were actually lead-generation sites for other companies on the list. Two examples are FreeCreditReport.com and FreeCreditScore.com, both owned by Experian. I instantly eliminated these companies and don’t recommend them.

The next step was segmentation. I found that while all the companies on the list provided some form of credit monitoring, some focused more on detecting and preventing ID theft while others were more focused on tracking your credit score and report to provide you with valuable information when applying for credit.

So, I segmented companies into two categories:

  1. Comprehensive: for those that provided a set of credit monitoring services with a heavier emphasis on ID theft prevention.
  2. Credit Reporting Bureaus: these companies are more focused on monitoring your credit changes and less on ID theft.

Once I had two buckets to place the services, I focused more on features. For the Comprehensive category, I focused on features that could protect existing accounts because, for over 85% of identity theft victims the most recent incident involved the unauthorized use of an existing account.

The must-have features for this category include:

  • ID verification alerts
  • Account takeover alerts
  • Lost-wallet protection
  • ID theft victim assistance

For the Credit Reporting Bureau category, there are really only three options to choose from: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.

In this category, the distinguishing features that made Experian and TransUnion the best are:

  • Ease of monitoring credit reports from all three bureaus
  • The alerting functions for changes to each report
  • Best options for one-time access to your credit score and credit report
  • Ability to add certain ID theft protection features

Making the Final Decision

Looking at everything that credit monitoring encompasses, I determined that Identity Guard was the best credit monitoring service.

IDENTITY-GUARD-Total-Protection

Hands down, it has the most comprehensive features for not only monitoring changes in your credit report, but also for proactively combating the risks factors that make your identity vulnerable.

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About this resource:

Created on: March 27, 2014

Updated on: May 19, 2014

Edited by: Sarah Ban, Mike Jelinek

Research by: Michael Gardon, Mike Jelinek, Montana Thomas

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