Why isn't credit monitoring free?

Ask The Expert: Why Isn’t Credit Monitoring Free? And What’s The Best Credit Score Monitoring Service?

Question: Last week, you answered a question from a man who had his credit card stolen. That happened to me — twice in the past few years. Your advice was OK, but I saw an ad on TV for Life Lock. I’m wondering if I should pay for a service that will check these things for me. Are they worth it?

Actually, I want to know why they cost money at all. I learned from reading this website that the law says I can get free credit reports from annualcreditreport.com. Why isn’t credit monitoring free too?

— Patricia in Oklahoma

Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…

Howard Dvorkin on how to get out of debt fastLife Lock and other companies are known as credit monitoring services. For a fee, they monitor your account with one or more of the three national credit agencies every day. (Those are Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.)

They also offer a slew of other services. You can check your credit report whenever you want, instead of just once a year. You can also GET your credit score, which is different than a credit report, and which isn’t free at all (although more places are finally offering this as a perk, like the Discover card.)

If someone tries to steal your identity, these services notify you pronto. Here’s what they can’t do: Stop the theft before it happens. Like the name says, they monitor. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t religiously check your credit card statement each month, this is vital — because waiting to report credit card fraud can cost you.

Before we talk price and value, there’s one big advantage to these services besides fraud protection. If you’re trying to rebuild your credit after a tough time — divorce, layoff, or medical condition — these services can help. Here’s how.

Now let’s talk cost.

Life Lock is the best-known service because they spend the most on advertising. Because of that, Life Lock is also one of the priciest services. What’s not well known is that many of these services are exactly the same. Many use the same third-party software to monitor your credit, much like various restaurants buy desserts from outside bakeries. Their prices may vary, but you’re eating the same chocolate cake.

That’s why Debt.com partnered with Credit Power. As Debt.com’s founder, I searched for the best service at the cheapest price.  Life Lock charges $10 a month for its basic service, $20 for its midrange service, and $30 for its premium service.

Meanwhile, Credit Power offers the same services for $7, $17, and $25.

If you want to know more about credit monitoring, we have an entire section on the topic in our Learning Center. If you want to know more about Credit Power, fill out the form at the top right of this page, and we’ll send you details.

Have a debt question?

Email your question to editor@debt.com and Howard Dvorkin will review it. Dvorkin is a CPA, chairman of Debt.com, and author of two personal finance books, Credit Hell: How to Dig Yourself Out of Debt and Power Up: Taking Charge of Your Financial Destiny.

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