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Should I Pay for Credit Monitoring or Do It Myself?

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My husband and I signed up for a credit monitoring service about two years ago. After living in one part of the city for over a decade, we had sold our house and purchased a new one. After we moved into the new house, we received a ton of credit card solicitations for the people that owned the house before us. Not all your mail is forwarded when you put in a request with the post office. Things like credit card applications and other non first class mail are not. All those bulk mass mailings sent to lots of people are not forwarded and show up on the doorstep of the old address. So, like the previous owners of our new house, all credit card solicitations sent to our old address were being delivered there. Given that I routinely shred those types of applications, I was worried about all those things with our name on them being delivered there. We also recently had someone we did not know use our credit card online for some minor purchases. A few years prior, my renewed (and canceled) passport never made it to me from the passport agency. I was given a temporary one, then had to get another one if the original one did not turn up within the year. I, of course, ended up renewing the temporary one and the original was a lost cause. All of these things made me wonder what activities someone might be doing under my and our names. Given that our jobs were demanding and our free time limited, we decided to pay for a credit monitoring subscription, rather than attempt the credit monitoring on our own.

The major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, offer credit monitoring services for a monthly fee. The range is generally from $12 to $20 per month, depending on the scope of what is provided. These services are supposed to alert you in a timely manner if there are any changes to your credit history. If a bank receives an application for a credit card under your name, for example, you will be alerted. The tricky part of credit monitoring is that you will receive an alert from a credit bureau only if a credit request has been made using that particular bureau. That means that if you have a credit monitoring service that monitors activity within Experian, and a particular lender requested a credit report on you from TransUnion, you will not receive an alert. If the credit card is approved, you will find out about it eventually, as it will appear as a new account on reports from all three bureaus. If you want to know every single credit solicitation that might be made under your name, the best option is to choose a credit monitoring service that includes information from all three credit bureaus.

Some financial experts say that you should not rely on a credit monitoring service; rather, they believe it is more advantageous to do it yourself. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you are entitled to a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus annually. Receiving a report from each of those three at the same time will give you the most comprehensive picture of activity on your credit history. Unfortunately, if you are trying to accomplish credit monitoring at no cost, you will only be able to do that once per year. Instead of requesting all three credit reports at once, you can request them from each of the credit bureaus at different times during the year. This will allow you to take a glimpse at your activity several times a year, but lets you maintain your credit monitoring for free. With this method, you might miss some activity because you are only looking at a report from one credit bureau at a time. Again, examining credit reports from all three of the credit bureaus at the same time is a more comprehensive method.

It does not matter how you choose to conduct your credit monitoring. Just do it and stay on top of any mistakes on your report. Once you have corrected them, contact all three credit bureaus to assure those corrections appear in your credit reports. Make sure you know what accounts may still be active, as it is common to stop using an account but forget to close it. Close any accounts you are no longer using. You are at the helm for maintaining, correcting and improving your credit. Conducting credit monitoring on a regular basis will keep you empowered.

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