Keeping track of your credit isn’t always easy. You know you need to do it, but where do you start? There are so many programs now that claim to give you the big picture of your credit, especially with the increase in the frequency of large-scale data breaches.
Some financial tools can make all the difference between just getting by and actually succeeding. Credit monitoring services like SmartCredit® definitely fit that bill. They are not necessary to your everyday financial stability, but they can make all the difference if you’re trying to achieve an excellent or even good credit score. They can also help you protect your credit information and catch potential identity theft.
What is credit monitoring?
Credit monitoring refers to any tool that tracks changes in your credit reports and/or credit score, but most tools include both. A credit monitoring service alerts you to changes in the information contained in your credit report. In addition, it also tracks your credit score, so you know exactly where you stand. You need it even if you don’t have credit cards!
The best credit monitoring services monitor all 3 credit reports and scores. In most cases, the score it tracks is the VantageScore 3.0 or the scoring model from a specific credit bureau. Some paid apps like SmartCredit give you scores from all three credit bureaus. Experian, Equifax and TransUnion each have their own scoring model. VantageScore was a model created by all three to compete against FICO. That’s the credit score used in 90% of financing decisions.
How credit monitoring works
- First, you sign up for the service by providing basic personal information, like your name and Social Security number. You must provide your Social Security number for a credit monitoring service to work, since your credit reports are directly tied to your SSN.
- Once your account is set up, the system will flag anything that it thinks you should note in your credit report. With SmartCredit, you can also learn about steps you can take to improve your score. 3-in-1 credit monitoring services give you updates on the three reports you have (one from each credit bureau).
- You review the information it flags and act accordingly. If you believe a negative item that the tool flagged is an error or mistake, you go through credit repair. If you have SmartCredit, you can use one of their action buttons to inquire about the issue as soon as possible.
- After the initial review, the service alerts you whenever there’s something new you should note in credit profile. It also notifies you to increases or decrease in your credit score.
Credit Monitoring Tool Comparison
|SmartCredit (Paid)||Credit Karma (Free)||Credit Sesame (Free)|
|$1 Million Identity Fraud Insurance for the Whole Family||YES||NO||NO|
|Action Buttons to Improve Your Score||YES||NO||NO|
|Auto Score, Insurance Score, and Hiring Index Monitoring||YES||NO||NO|
|3-Bureau Credit Monitoring, Report, and Score||YES||NO||NO|
|Credit Report Activity Alerts||YES||YES||YES|
|Alerts When Payments Are Due||YES||NO||NO|
|Personalized, 120-Day Score-Building Plan||YES||NO||NO|
|Future Score Predictions||YES||NO||NO|
Tips for Using Credit Monitoring Services
#1: Be careful with free credit monitoring
Now, there’s nothing wrong with a free tool. You can make the best of it and fill in the gaps with other credit reports and services. Just don’t think it’s completely accurate or will tell you everything you need to know.
#2: Don’t worry about affecting your score
Some people think that monitoring your own credit will actually hurt it. It doesn’t. If you use a credit monitoring service with a score tracker, you can check your credit as often as you like. It won’t affect your credit score at all.
#3: Not everything in your credit history is a mistake or fraud
The main goals of credit monitoring are to maximize your credit score and make it easier to spot signs of identity theft. So, monitoring is good for credit repair and identifying fraud. But not everything that’s negative in your credit history falls in those two categories. For example, if you missed a payment by more than 30 days, the creditor reports this information to the major credit bureaus. This creates a negative item in your credit report that sticks around for seven years. That’s a legitimate negative item and in most cases, you’re stuck with it until it expires.
So, don’t think that a credit monitoring tool can instantly help you clear out all negative information from your credit report. It can’t. Just like third-party credit repair services can’t magically erase all negative items.
#4: Look online for a credit monitoring service review before you sign up
Before you sign up for any service, make sure to check out the provider online. Make sure the company is rated by the Better Business Bureau; they should maintain an A rating or higher. You can also check out reviews on independent third-party review websites. Never believe the testimonials from the company, since they’ll only show you their top credit monitoring reviews. You can also check things like consumer reports and the rip off report, to make sure you’re not signing up for a scam!
Monitoring Your Credit Yourself
By law, you have access to one free annual credit report per bureau every year. Getting all three of your reports and ensuring that they match up with your personal records is one way to monitor your own credit file. This is not nearly as thorough as any of the credit monitoring tools, however, so we recommend you combine the two methods.
Article last modified on May 22, 2023. Published by Debt.com, LLC