Is Credit Monitoring Ever Worth It?
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Should you pay for credit-monitoring — that identity theft protection service that promises to alert you whenever your card provider notices suspicious activity on your account?
The short answer? Probably not. If you're proactive in monitoring and protecting your credit, you likely won't need these services. But in some cases, credit monitoring and identity theft alerts might make sense. Read on to learn about free alternatives to paid services, as well as when it actually makes sense to pay for them.
Free Credit-Monitoring Alternatives
You can already order one copy of each of your three credit reports — one each maintained by the three national credit bureaus Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — every year at no charge from AnnualCreditReport.com.
These credit reports will list the amount you owe on your credit card accounts, and all active and inactive credit card accounts in your name. It will also list any auto, mortgage, student, or other loans you are paying back, and how much you owe on these loans. A separate area of your credit report lists any negative judgments against you, such as bankruptcy filings, housing short sales, or foreclosures.
You can study these reports to uncover any unusual financial activity in your name, such as credit card accounts that you don't ever remember opening. You can also look for missed or late auto loan or mortgage payments that you know you actually paid on time. You can then report this suspicious activity to the credit bureaus.
Another place that offers free credit monitoring is your credit card. Many credit cards offer credit monitoring tools as well as access to your credit score each month. Check out the best credit cards that offer free credit monitoring tools.
How to Handle Fraud for Free
If you do think that someone has illegally taken out a credit card in your name, you can place a fraud alert with any or all of the three credit bureaus. Once you do this, you are entitled to a free copy of your three credit reports once every 90 days, which gives you even more ability to monitor your credit on your own. Filing a fraud alert is free, and lasts for 90 days. You can renew these alerts, again for free, as often as you'd like. This sort of protection renders identity theft and credit-monitoring services even more unnecessary.
You can also spot fraudulent purchases on your existing credit card accounts without the help of add-ons. Just study your monthly credit card statement when it comes in the mail. Even better, log onto your credit card account every week to study the activity on your card. If you see a suspicious purchase, alert the provider of your card. Plus, many banks and credit card companies will proactively alert you of any suspicious activity — at no cost.
Know, too, that you won't be responsible for a big bill even if someone uses your credit card to run up thousands of dollars in new purchases. Your liability for credit card fraud is capped at $50 maximum, no matter how many fraudulent purchases were made with your card. And most issuers of credit cards won't charge you anything if you report fraudulent purchases.
When It Makes Sense to Pay for Credit Monitoring
There is a caveat, though. If you don't take the time to order your credit reports, or if you pay your credit card bill each month without even glancing at the new purchases you made, paying for a program like credit-monitoring or identity theft protection might make sense.
Yes, you can do everything that your credit card company offers on your own, at no charge. But if you know that you won't take the time to monitor your credit card accounts yourself? Then that small investment every month might make financial sense. This is especially true if you suspect ongoing fraud, or have several new credit-related activities on your report.
Sure, in most cases, paying for monitoring doesn't make financial sense. But you know yourself best — if paying for credit monitoring will keep you best alerted to potential issues, it's an excellent investment in your financial health.
Have you ever been a victim of identity theft or credit fraud?