Compare credit monitoring services

September 19, 2012 | By

Breaking down the many choices for identity theft monitoring.

Credit Monitoring Is Early Detection

If you're like me, careful with my online activities, have a PO box, shred everything, check my reports often, etc., then credit monitoring is a big waste of money in my opinion. But I'll provide the options available for those interested.

Short of placing a Security Freeze on your report, as explained in Identity Theft Protection and Avoidance, there is no way to avoid identity theft completely. Just keep in mind that a credit monitoring service doesn't actually prevent it; it only puts an early warning system in place—alerting you to new entries and inquiries to your credit report—so that you can take action quickly and mitigate the damage in the event that it occurs.

Credit monitoring is very confusing, as each of the Big Three has its own version available, as does FICO.

Summary of Credit Report Monitoring Services17
Trans Union Total $16.95/month ($203.40/year) Monitors the Big Three 24/7. Includes the Vantage Score (useless). One free credit report per quarter.
Equifax’s Complete Premier Plan $19.95/month ($239.40/year) Monitors the Big Three 24/7. Unlimited access to Equifax’s report & proprietary score (useless). Score monitoring included.
Equifax’s Complete Family Plan $29.95/month ($359.40/year) Monitors the Big Three 24/7. Unlimited access to Equifax’s report & proprietary score (useless). Credit reports for the Big Three once every 12 months. Score monitoring for two adults.
Equifax’s Complete Advantage Plan $17.95/month ($215.40/year) Monitors the Big Three 24/7. Unlimited Equifax reports & proprietary score (useless).
Experian’s Credit Tracker $14.95/month ($179.40/year) Daily monitoring of the Big Three. Unlimited access to Experian’s report and Vantage score (useless).
FICO’s Quarterly Monitoring $4.95/month ($59.95/year) or $49.95 if paid annually. Monitors your FICO score for Trans Union and provides access to quarterly Trans Union Reports and FICO scores. Monitoring & notification is quarterly.
FICO’s Score Watch $14.95/month ($179.40/year) or $149.95 if paid annually. Monitors the Equifax credit report and FICO score daily and alerts when key changes are detected; includes two free Equifax reports and scores anytime.

Table 9.

As the summary in Table 9 clearly shows, there is no good option. The prices are high, due to high demand on the part of uniformed consumers. And paying for credit monitoring from a credit reporting agency—an identity theft enabler— does seem a bit ridiculous.

The monitoring of a FICO score may seem useful and nice to have, but this really isn’t what monitoring is all about. It’s about early detection of identity theft. Having said that, I believe the price of Experian's Credit Tracker puts it in the lead based on price alone.

Each of the services offers insurance in the event of identity theft, but there are so many caveats that it’s not worth considering.18 Ever hear a plug from a credit report insurance company like, "Insured for a million dollars!" This is ridiculous; identity theft insurance is limited to actual losses, which amounts to very little. Fraudulent credit card charges are limited to $50 per credit card (and debit card) by federal law anyway. And who wants to log the hours they spent away from work in resolving the situation. So it's ten hours. So what? How much do you make an hour? How much can you prove you lost? Do you need a boss's statement? The limitation of loss doesn't extend to pain and suffering, either. Fughetaboutit.

Always read the fine print when purchasing credit monitoring online from the Big Three. Remember that their online forms may have arbitration and other undesirable terms attached (see Chapter 1, BestCredit).

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17. Check the credit bureaus’ Web sites (Equifax.com, TransUnion.com, and Experian.com) for the latest offers.
18. Each provider has differing terms, such as insurance. And some insurance is limited to internet fraud only. Since these terms change often, check their respective web sites.

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