Since the September 2017 data breach that occurred at Equifax, I have had it on my mind that my entire family needed to have some sort of monitoring or freezing of credit to help protect us against the malicious and false use of our identities.
Prior to this moment in time, I must admit that I had little knowledge about the services that existed to monitor my credit and identity or that freezing credit was even an option.
The goal of this post is to inform you of what is out there and to simply suggest considering taking action to protect yourself against the constant threat of having your credit or identity stolen.
Currently, there are several different types of monitoring services and options ranging from the totally free to the moderately expensive.
The credit monitoring options generally break down into one of three categories:
- Free credit self-monitoring
- Tiered paid credit and identification monitoring
- Credit Freezing
Each of these options is very different, so I’ll go through each one and talk about the pros and cons of each option, where you can go to set up each option, as well as offer tips and tricks that can save you some money with the paid options.
Going It Alone – Free Credit Self-Monitoring
This is perhaps the most time intensive of the three options which involves you, the consumer, taking advantage of free credit reporting sites to track your own credit.
One wishing to go it alone needs only choose one of the many available free credit reporting sites and check their credit. It is advised to do so annually, but one might wish to do so more often if they know they are one of the many people whose data was pilfered in a data breach – not just the Equifax data breach but also for the Target credit card breach or the Lowes data breach – or if you are looking to make a big purchase such as a car or house in the near future.
Pros of Free Credit Monitoring
The biggest upside to going it alone is, of course, the fact that this option is completely free. No money needs to change hands because you are entitled to the information you are monitoring. Simply choose any one of the free options available, and begin monitoring your credit.
Cons of Free Credit Monitoring
There are many downsides to this option, the least of which is the time it takes to regularly check your credit.
Also, this is only a credit monitoring service and will not help protect your identity in any larger sense.
The biggest con, however, is there is no protection offered in going it alone. If something happens where your identification or credit are stolen you are, well, alone. That means you are left to battle to gain control of whatever situation may arise, which, depending on what has occurred in your name, could be very costly, not to mention the possibility of legal action that might need to take place in your defense.
Popular Free Credit Monitoring Options:
I don’t want you to think this option isn’t a good option, as we’ve done this for years and been fine. In fact, many Americans go it alone and are fine, but if you do fear that something might happen this option might not be well suited for you. (i need to give a better conclusion)
The Safety Net – Tiered Paid Credit Monitoring
This is the hands-off approach, where you are willing to put your trust in a monitoring company to protect your identity and credit. There are many companies out there that offer credit/identity monitoring and each company has different tiers of coverage from the simplest credit monitoring to the more complex whole identity monitoring.
Pros of Credit Monitoring
There are many pros to having a safety net, including constant monitoring of information, not only through the credit reporting agencies, but also depending on your tier of coverage, through avenues such as court records, payday loan applications, black market websites (where your information may be bought and sold), and sex offender registries.
Additionally, because you are paying a corporation for this monitoring they typically back up their product with some kind of insurance to cover you in case something does happen. In the case where something does happen, they work with you to resolve the issue so you can get on with your life sooner.
Another pro for the safety net is that you typically are given access to your credit score through your service provider. This means you, to some degree, are getting access to the same information that you get from the going-it-alone option.
Again, this is great if you know you are going to make a big purchase or if you are just interested in keeping tabs on your credit score.
Cons of Credit Monitoring
The con here is primarily the cost of these services.
The cheapest tier for most of these services is around $10/month (they use consumer psychology on you by making it $9.99/month) but can be as much as $30 for an individual. That means that if you are married it could be as much as $60/month for credit monitoring.
Now, you typically can save some money by paying a year up front, but that means you need to be willing to fork out $600 for the top tier service for you and your spouse.
There are of course ways to bring this price down. Both Sam’s Club and Costo offer their members discounts on identity monitoring through outside partners. Also, if you are a senior citizen then you may also be eligible for a discount.
Another con, which is directly attached to the cost of monitoring, is that with the cheapest tier safety nets they don’t check all three credit agencies. This can be problematic as not all three agencies are used in setting up new lines of credit, so your information could still be stolen if you aren’t paying for the higher tier, or don’t also self-monitor with additional, regular free credit checks.
Popular Options of Credit Monitoring Services
- Credit Cards – Most big name credit cards monitor your card for fraud, but some top tier cards (e.g. Discover) have built into the fees you pay for the card an extra level of holistic protection.
- Banks/financial institution – Some banks and financial institutions offer identity theft protection (which includes credit monitoring) as an extra service, though this is not a common option.
The Deep Freeze – Credit Freezing
The deep freeze is an interesting option which basically makes it so that new credit inquiries cannot be taken out on you. This is a great measure to consider if you know you are being targeted or that your information has been compromised.
Once frozen, you will have the ability to temporarily thaw your credit if you need to do so by use of a password or passphrase.
Pros of Freezing Your Credit
The biggest pro is that, once in place, your credit is, well, frozen. New credit requests cannot be taken out maliciously and there is a good layer of protection.
Cons of Freezing Your Credit
There can actually be quite a few cons with this method.
First, you need to check what your rights are in your state. This is one of those things that is legislated differently from state to state and may not be available depending on where you live.
Also, if the “bad guys” can’t open credit in your name, well it isn’t that easy for you to do either. This is not a good option if you are planning on making big purchases like a house or car, or if you want to open a new credit card.
One of the biggest cons (at least for my family) is that you have to set up a credit freeze with all three credit bureaus individually. That means three applications for an individual, six for a couple, and if there are any kids involved… well yeah.
If that isn’t your favorite, well then you hate this one.
The deep freeze isn’t free, nor is the thaw. Each time you want to thaw or refreeze your credit there’s going to be a fee, and since sometimes multiple credit bureaus are used to set up a new line of credit, then you will have to pay more than once.
Options for Freezing Your Credit
Because this is something that is set up with the credit bureaus, your only option is to contact each individually.
What’s to be Done?
Which option is best is going to be up to you. Only you know your specific circumstances and that means you’re the pilot of your own ship, though it may not hurt to talk to a financial expert for individualized advice. I would say that doing nothing is a sure fire way of asking for trouble, especially with the increased frequency of hacks and data breaches. So, whatever you do, protect yourself and your family.