The personal information of 143 million people was compromised in the recent Equifax data breach, and since then it seems like everyone and their dog is talking about protecting themselves with credit monitoring. If only it were that simple.
Credit monitoring services, like any service, have their pros and cons. Before you enroll in a monitoring service or decide to take it upon yourself to monitor your credit, check out the following 10 things to know about credit monitoring.
Not All Credit Monitoring Services Are Created Equal
It should go without saying, but some credit monitoring services are better—and cheaper—than others. Spend the time to research the service you’re interested in so you don’t end up with a headache over something that should be giving you peace of mind.
You Might Be Able to Monitor Your Credit for Free
You don’t always have to pay money for basic credit monitoring. For example, you can join a free budget service with credit alerts, like Mint.com, or sign up for free, albeit somewhat basic, credit monitoring from sites like Credit.com.
Be Careful about Sharing Your Personal Information
Free Trials Do Come to an End
Some credit monitoring services will try to entice you with a free trial, and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with free trials, they do come to an end. We’ve seen credit monitoring services charge as much as $30 a month, so make sure you understand what you’ll be paying for when the free ride is over.
You’ll Still Need to Be Diligent
No credit monitoring service is foolproof. The best way to protect yourself is to check your statements and accounts for any suspicious activity on a regular basis.
Your Credit Card May Have Free, Basic Credit Monitoring
Select credit card companies offer free, basic credit monitoring. For example, Chase includes a free monthly update of your FICO credit score for cardholders. It doesn’t hurt to check with your credit card company to see if any credit monitoring services are offered for free or at a discount.
You’re Entitled to Free Credit Reports
Thanks to federal law, you can get a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months from each of the big three credit reporting companies (Transunion, Experian, and Equifax).
You can submit your request for a free copy by going to AnnualCreditReport.com.
Not All Credit Scores Are the Same
Just a heads-up that if you’re using a credit score from a free website, it might not be 100% accurate. It’s likely to be close, but most of the time, free websites provide credit score estimates, and not actual scores from a credit reporting bureau.
Credit Monitoring Has Its Limits
Credit monitoring can alert you to credit fraud or identity fraud, but only after it’s occurred. Protecting yourself means you’re responsible for taking the proper actions should an issue arise.
Watch out for Free Credit Report Impostors
There is only one website authorized by the government to provide free annual credit reports. It’s AnnualCreditReport.com. There is no other website that will provide a no-strings-attached, free credit report.
This article originally appeared on Credit.com and was written by Joshua Adamson.