Monitoring Your Credit Reports

Brendan Harkness

Brendan Harkness

Updated Sep 28, 2018

If an identity thief takes out a credit card in your name, runs up a bunch of charges and then disappears — how long would it take you to find out? If a strange new account suddenly shows up on your credit reports, would you even know?

Why Should You Monitor Your Credit Reports?

Keeping tabs on your credit might sound overwhelming, but in most cases it shouldn’t be much of a hassle:

  • Simple: Credit monitoring can be easy, especially after you get all set up and familiar with the tools.
  • Inexpensive: It doesn’t have to cost any money, although there are paid services available.
  • Quick: It usually shouldn’t take more than a few minutes per report to make sure everything is shipshape, unless you take a deep dive into the details.

You have three different credit reports, one from each of the major consumer credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Each bureau collects information on you, and publishes its own report.

This is important to remember, because it means one or two of your credit reports could be fine, but the other might have a problem. If you don’t check all three reports you could miss something.

Monitoring your credit reports isn’t a smart idea just because you should know where your finances stand. Your credit scores are based on your credit reports. With identity theft on the rise, credit monitoring is all the more important because fraudulent activity and errors on your reports can hurt your credit scores.

You credit scores affect your ability to be approved for credit cards and other loans, like auto loans and student loans. Lower scores make it harder to qualify, and they also affect your terms and interest rates when approved: People with lower credit scores generally get higher interest rates.

So it’s crucial to ensure that the information in your credit reports is accurate. After checking your reports you can take steps to correct any errors you find.

You have three basic options for monitoring your credit reports:

  • Do-It-Yourself: Request copies of your credit reports, and check them yourself.
  • Use a Free Service: There are several free services that let you easily keep tabs on all of your reports.
  • Use a Paid Service: Paid services can monitor your credit reports on a regular, pre-determined schedule and will alert you to any changes or potential problems.

We’ll walk you through each option below.

The advantage of free and paid services is that they’ll notify you when your credit reports change. If someone opens a new account or even applies for credit using your personal information, you can be alerted by text or email. You won’t get this kind of real-time monitoring if you just check your credit reports on your own.

Take note: Just because you sign up for a credit monitoring service, that doesn’t mean you’re immune to identity theft or fraud. These services can help by alerting you to unauthorized activity, but they can’t necessarily prevent that activity from happening in the first place.

Want to check your credit scores, which are based on your credit reports? See our post on How to Get a Free FICO Score in Under 5 Minutes.

Q&A Video: What’s the Best Way to Monitor Your Credit?

John Ulzheimer doesn’t mention monitoring services provided by credit card issuers in this video, but we think they’re a great way to monitor your credit for free. And since this video was recorded, new legislation has lifted the fees for credit freezes and thaws.

Do-It-Yourself Credit Reporting Monitoring

This is the most difficult and labor-intensive method. Monitoring your each credit report on your own requires an ongoing and consistent effort on your part. It also takes some time and requires an organized and disciplined approach.

You’ll need to go over each item in your credit reports manually for inaccurate information, asking yourself if it belongs.

If you choose to monitor your own credit reports, we recommend also using one of the free services below to supplement your efforts — especially if you’re worried about identity theft or unauthorized activity. These services can help by clearly listing all your accounts, with alerts if anything new pops up.

Each of the three main credit bureaus is required by law to provide you with one free credit report per year, at your request. This is due to the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Since you have three different credit reports, one from each bureau, a good strategy is to look at one report every four months. That will let you check in periodically, while giving you a picture of your credit as it changes throughout the year. You can get your reports from the bureaus in alphabetical order, to make it easier to remember which one to check next.

Annual DIY Credit Report Monitoring Schedule
January 1 Equifax
May 1 Experian
September 1 TransUnion

You can request free copies of your credit reports in three different ways:

Online will be easiest for most people, but if you have an issue with that method you can try one of the others. If you’re having trouble, call the phone number mentioned above for help.

If you decide to monitor your credit reports on your own, keep in mind that others are monitoring your financial activity too. Your bank, credit card issuers, and other lenders have a vested interest in making sure there is no fraudulent activity occurring on your cards and accounts. They will often notify you if they see anything unusual occurring with your accounts.

Confused about all the information on your credit reports? Wondering where to start? Read more about What’s In Your Credit Reports.

Free Credit Monitoring Services

There are quite a few websites offering free credit monitoring today, with more popping up all the time.

These services usually only provide data from one of your credit reports. That means you’ll need to use multiple services to monitor all three of your reports.

“Credit monitoring” may include a variety of services, ranging from bare-bones data to comprehensive reports. In general, these tools let you see basic data like the number of accounts, overall credit utilization, payment history, and average age of accounts. Some services allow you to set alerts when your reports change, while other don’t. In most cases you’ll also get some tips to improve in each credit score category.

Depending on the service you’re using you might only get an overview of a credit report. You may be able to see how many open accounts you have, but the actual details, like the name of the lender and the account balance, won’t be included. So you might want to use those services for a quick glance at your credit reports, and then switch to a different tool to get a more detailed look. Free report services won’t usually include a FICO credit score either, although they may provide a VantageScore 3.0.

Many of the major credit card issuers provide some form of credit monitoring. In some cases you need to be a cardholder, but many credit card companies now offer free credit monitoring to anyone, cardholder or not.

Here are several of the best free credit monitoring services, some provided by credit card issuers. These tools are all available to anyone, cardholder or not. If you are a cardholder, you can typically use your login details to access the issuer’s service.

Source Service Credit Bureau Credit Score
American Express MyCredit Guide TransUnion VantageScore 3.0
Capital One CreditWise TransUnion VantageScore 3.0
Chase Credit Journey TransUnion VantageScore 3.0
Credit.com Credit.com Experian VantageScore 3.0
Credit Karma Credit Karma TransUnion and Equifax VantageScore 3.0
Discover Credit Scorecard TransUnion for cardholders, Experian otherwise FICO Score 8
Experian FreeCreditScore.com Experian None

As you can see, it’s fairly easy to find tools to monitor your TransUnion credit report. Your options for the other credit bureaus, Experian and Equifax, are more limited.

There’s a handy list of services that provide free credit monitoring on Wikipedia, although most of them are for TransUnion. We’ve picked our favorites for the table above.

American Express: MyCredit Guide

Source Service Credit Bureau Credit Score
American Express MyCredit Guide TransUnion VantageScore 3.0

MyCredit Guide by American Express is a relative newcomer. Although Amex has been offering free credit scores to cardholders for years, this new service is a bit different and available to anyone.

MyCredit Guide will provide basic info, like the number of open accounts you have. But you can’t see any of the actual details, like the lenders or dates associated with those accounts.

MyCredit Guide by American Express.

MyCredit Guide by American Express.

This tool will show your:

  • Number of Late Payments
  • Number of Open Accounts
  • Number of Recent Hard Credit Inquiries
  • Total Length of Credit History (not average age of accounts)
  • Credit Limit Utilization
  • Total Available Credit: Includes revolving and installment accounts
  • Current Balances: Includes revolving and installment accounts

Alerts can be set for any changes to your TransUnion credit report, like address updates, new inquiries, or new accounts opened.

Users can see their VantageScore 3.0 credit score, based on their TransUnion credit reports.

There’s also a credit simulator tool, which you can use to estimate how your credit scores will change based on certain situations. You can check for both positive and negative adjustments, like opening new credit cards, paying off balances, or allowing accounts to go past due.

Capital One: CreditWise

Source Service Credit Bureau Credit Score
Capital One CreditWise TransUnion VantageScore 3.0

CreditWise is a comprehensive credit monitoring service, going beyond the basics to provide detailed information about your accounts, payment history, and other aspects of your TransUnion credit report.

The CreditWise service will show you:

  • Payment History
  • Oldest Credit Line (not average age of accounts)
  • Recent Inquiries: Shows the number of hard inquiries in the past two years
  • Credit Used: Includes your revolving credit utilization
  • New Accounts
  • Available Credit
  • Accounts and Balances: Includes both open and closed accounts, and individual payment histories
  • Personal details: Includes addresses and employers

For each account on your TransUnion report, you can check the lender, type, date opened, credit limit, balance, payment history, and more. You can see which are designated “new” (those opened in the last two years), as well as any accounts with negative or disputed statuses.

CreditWise includes a simulator you can use to estimate how various decisions would affect your credit scores. You can see what would happen if you cancel your oldest card, for example, or take out a personal loan.

Users will automatically get alerts if their TransUnion credit reports change, if their SSNs are found being used with a different name or address, or if there’s any “dark web activity” associated with their identities. These alerts are for both TransUnion and Experian credit reports (but the other data used by CreditWise is all from TransUnion).

Your VantageScore 3.0 will be provided, as based on your TransUnion credit report.

Chase: Credit Journey

Source Service Credit Bureau Credit Score
Chase Credit Journey TransUnion VantageScore 3.0

Chase’s Credit Journey offers a thorough look at your TransUnion credit report, providing full account details.

Credit Journey by Chase.

Credit Journey by Chase.

The categories included in Credit Journey are:

  • Account Summary: Includes your total balance, the number of open, closed, and delinquent accounts, and number of hard inquiries
  • Personal Information: Shows your name, current and previous addresses, current and previous employers, and any consumer statements on your report
  • Inquiries: Shows the number, source, and date of any hard inquiries from the last two years
  • Accounts: Includes all your open and closed accounts, both revolving and installment, with full details including payment history
  • Public Records: Shows the number of public records on your report, with details about each account

Credit Journey provides credit alerts when information on your TransUnion report changes, like new credit inquiries. There’s a score simulator you can use to predict how your credit scores will react to particular changes, like adding public records or maintaining a record of positive payments over time. And there’s also a lengthy credit education section you can read to learn more about credit and credit scores.

Users can see their VantageScore 3.0, as based on their TransUnion credit reports. The main factors affecting that score are shown as well, along with tips to improve your credit scores.

Credit.com

Source Service Credit Bureau Credit Score
Credit.com Credit.com Experian VantageScore 3.0

Credit.com provides an overview of your Experian credit report, without going into much detail. You can see the personal information included in your report, and you’ll get a grade in five basic categories:

  • Payment History: Includes the total number of late payments, negative accounts, and public records
  • Debt Usage: Includes your debt-to-limit ratio, total credit card debt, overall credit limit, and number of accounts with balances
  • Credit Age: Includes oldest account, youngest account, and average credit age
  • Account Mix: Includes number of revolving credit accounts, mortgages, auto loans, and student loans
  • Credit Inquiries: Includes the total number of inquiries and the date of the latest inquiry

You can also see your VantageScore 3.0, as based on your Experian credit report.

This service is pretty simple, not offering much if you want to really dig into the details of each account on your Experian report. Credit.com will offer you an enhanced service through Experian that provides more information, at $1 for a seven-day trial. After seven days you’ll automatically be charged $21.95 per month for the service.

We don’t typically recommend paying for this service, because you can easily see account data from your Experian report through FreeCreditScore.com, explained below. If you’re just trying to check your reports for accuracy there’s usually no need to pay.

Credit Karma

Source Service Credit Bureau Credit Score
Credit Karma Credit Karma TransUnion and Equifax VantageScore 3.0

Credit Karma provides one of the best credit monitoring services, covering both TransUnion and Equifax. Most services only use data from one bureau, so this is a handy tool.

CreditKarma's credit monitoring service.

CreditKarma’s credit monitoring service.

You can view a wealth of information about your credit reports and scores, with plenty of helpful explanations and advice. The credit factor categories covered by Credit Karma are:

  • Credit card use: Includes credit utilization, and shows all your open credit card accounts
  • Payment history: Includes how many late payments you’ve made, and your percentage of on-time payments
  • Derogatory marks: Includes the number of collection accounts and public records, like tax liens and bankruptcies
  • Credit age: Includes your average age of accounts, and shows all of your open accounts
  • Total accounts: Includes your account variety, and shows all of your open and closed accounts
  • Hard inquiries: Includes the number of hard inquiries in the last two years, and shows all the inquiries

Credit Karma provides you with a rating in each category, from very bad to very good, along with tips on how to improve. You can also see the relative impact on your credit scores: Hard inquiries have a fairly low impact on your scores, for example, while payment history has a high impact.

You’ll be notified by email alert if there are any changes to your TransUnion or Equifax credit reports. You can see your VantageScore 3.0 credit scores, one for each of those reports.

Credit Karma also has a credit score simulator, among other tools. You can see what happens if you get a credit limit increase of a certain size, for instance, or if your home has entered foreclosure.

Discover: FICO Credit Scorecard

Source Service Credit Bureau Credit Score
Discover FICO Credit Scorecard TransUnion for cardholders, Experian otherwise FICO Score 8

Discover’s FICO Credit Scorecard works a bit differently than the other services described.

If you’re a Discover cardholder you can access the service through your online account, and it will use data from your TransUnion credit report.

If you’re not a Discover cardholder, you can sign up for the service and it will use data from your Experian credit report.

Maybe you’re wondering if you can access both versions of this tool, seeing your TransUnion data in one and your Experian data in the other. The answer is yes, you can use both versions simultaneously.

If you’re a Discover cardholder, you can create a new FICO Credit Scorecard account in addition to your regular card account. You can use your regular personal details, and your email address will be used as your username. If you’re using this dual-account strategy, to see your Experian data you’ll need to log in through the Credit Scorecard website, rather than Discover’s regular website. To see your TransUnion data, just log in to your card account as normal and find the “FICO Credit Scorecard” link.

The FICO Credit Scorecard only shows an overview of your credit report, without going into the details:

  • FICO Score 8: Based on either your TransUnion or Experian report, includes the key factors helping and hurting, your score history over the past year, and how you compare to the U.S. average
  • Total Accounts: Includes your credit mix (or account variety), along with the number of revolving credit accounts and installment loans
  • Length of Credit: Takes into account the age of your oldest and youngest accounts, plus your average account age, and shows your total credit age
  • Inquiries: Includes the number of hard inquiries you’ve had in the last 12 months
  • Revolving Utilization: Shows your overall utilization, along with how much of your available credit you’re using
  • Missed Payments: Includes your payment history, and shows how many late accounts you’ve had in the past year and past seven years

You’ll get a grade in each category, up to “Exceptional.”

Discover cardholders can opt-in to receive alerts whenever a new account is opened on their Experian credit reports. Take note that this only applies to Experian credit reports, not TransUnion. This may seem a bit weird, because Discover cardholders see data from their TransUnion report, but this alert service is for Experian. It includes Social Security number monitoring as well, looking for your SSN on thousands of risky websites.

If you’re not a Discover cardholder you do not get access to these alert services.

Experian: FreeCreditScore.com

Source Service Credit Bureau Credit Score
Experian FreeCreditScore.com Experian None

Experian has several different levels of credit monitoring, and this is the free version with the most basic features.

FreeCreditScore.com provides:

  • Personal Information: Shows all the personal details associated with your Experian report
  • Account and Debt Summary: Includes the number of open accounts, accounts that have been late, collection accounts, average account age, and more
  • Overall Credit Usage: Shows your revolving credit utilization, with your total debt and total credit limit
  • Accounts: Shows details of all your open and closed accounts, like the names of lenders and utilization for each account
  • Collections: Shows the number of collection accounts, with details about each account
  • Inquiries: Shows the number and source of each hard credit inquiry
  • Public Records: Shows the number public records, with details about each account

This is a pretty comprehensive service that will show you plenty of details about each account on your Experian credit report. There is no free credit score given, however, despite the misleading name of this website!

Paying For a Credit Monitoring Service

Not everyone feels comfortable monitoring their credit reports on their own. You may not think it’s worth the time and hassle, or you may just feel more comfortable letting experts handle it. In that case, you can pay for a credit report monitoring service.

Paid credit monitoring services charge a monthly fee to keep an eye on your credit report (or reports) and quickly identify any potentially fraudulent, unusual, or questionable activity. Like the free services above, these can alert you when your reports change, or if someone attempts to pull your reports. Paid services offer extra features compared to free services, like FICO scores and identity theft protection and insurance.

There are plenty of credit monitoring services to choose from, but we generally recommend sticking with the official services offered by the three major credit bureaus, or by myFICO. Some of these are ongoing, for a monthly fee, while others just provide one-time reports.

We also recommend picking a service that includes all three of your credit reports, rather than using a different service for each report. myFICO, Experian, and TransUnion each offer a monthly service that will cover all three bureaus.

You can check with your bank or credit union to see if they offer credit monitoring, which may end up being cheaper. If you go this route, be sure that the service covers all three reports. And be sure to ask how quickly they will notify you if they find suspicious activity.

Below, you’ll find the credit monitoring services offered by myFICO and the three main credit bureaus.

If you’re going to use a paid service we suggest Experian’s CreditWorks Premium, which will cover all three bureaus and provides multiple FICO scores for $24.95 per month ($4.99 the first month). TransUnion’s Credit Report Monitoring is another good choice, at just $19.95 per month, but it only provides alerts about your Experian and Equifax credit reports, without going into detail about those reports.

myFICO Credit Monitoring Services
Service Details Price per Month
FICO Basics 1B
  • Only includes Experian report
  • Monthly credit report updates
  • Includes FICO Score 8
$19.95
FICO Ultimate 3B (quarterly reports)
  • Includes all three credit reports
  • Quarterly credit report updates
  • 28 FICO scores included
  • Identity theft monitoring
$29.95
FICO Ultimate 3B (monthly reports)
  • Includes all three credit reports
  • Monthly credit report updates
  • 28 FICO scores included
  • Identity theft monitoring
$39.95
Single-bureau report: FICO Score 1B
  • One-time report, not a monthly service
  • Includes your choice of one credit bureau’s report
  • Includes FICO Score 8 and simulator
$19.95 (one-time fee)
Three-bureau report: FICO Score 3B
  • One-time reports, not a monthly service
  • Includes reports from all three credit bureaus
  • Includes 28 FICO Scores
  • Includes FICO Score 8 simulator
$59.85 (one-time fee)
Experian Credit Monitoring Services
Service Details Price per Month
CreditWorks Basic
  • Only includes Experian report
  • Monthly credit report updates
  • No credit score provided
Free (described above)
CreditWorks Plus (available after signing up for the free Basic service)
  • Only includes Experian report
  • Includes FICO Score 8
  • Monthly credit report updates
  • Experian CreditLock with Attempted Inquiry Alerts
$1 for a 7-day trial, then $21.95
CreditWorks Premium
  • Includes all three credit reports
  • Daily updates for Experian, monthly updates for other bureaus
  • Includes multiple FICO Scores
  • FICO Score 8 alerts and simulator
  • Identity theft monitoring
$4.99 first month, then $24.99
Experian Credit Report and FICO Score: One-Time Access
  • One-time report, not a monthly service
  • Includes Experian credit report
  • Includes FICO Score 8
$19.99 (one-time fee)
3-Bureau Credit Report and FICO Scores: One-Time Access
  • One-time reports, not a monthly service
  • Includes Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion credit reports
  • Includes FICO Score 8 for each report
$39.99 (one-time fee)
Equifax Credit Monitoring Service
Service Details One-Time Price
Equifax Credit Report and Score
  • Only includes Equifax report
  • Includes an Equifax Credit Score (not FICO)
  • Only accessible for 30 days
$15.95
TransUnion Credit Monitoring Service
Service Details Price per Month
TransUnion Credit Report Monitoring
  • Monitors reports from all three bureaus for changes
  • Monthly TransUnion credit report updates
  • Includes VantageScore 3.0 credit score
  • Identity theft protection and insurance
  • Lock and unlock both TransUnion and Equifax credit reports
$19.95

What To Look For: Errors and Fraudulent Activity

Misinformation on your credit reports can come from two sources, in general: legitimate errors and fraudulent activity.

Legitimate errors should be pretty easy to take care of. Usually you’ll just need to file a dispute online with the relevant credit bureau to submit your request. Accurate credit reports are in the best interest of both credit bureaus and lenders, so they’ll take steps to correct any mistakes.

Fraudulent activity is a bit different — this means someone has stolen your identity in some way, and may be applying for credit in your name or using your credit cards. The process for disputing fraudulent credit report information is the same as for legitimate errors. But you should also take some additional steps to ensure that your identity will be more secure going forward.

Here are a few things to look out for when monitoring your credit reports:

  • Personal information: Is it all accurate and up to date?
  • Open and closed accounts: Do you recognize every account listed? Are all the dates and lender names correct?
  • Account balances: Do the balances listed for your accounts match up to what you’ve spent?
  • Credit inquiries: Has anyone else applied for credit in your name? Make sure all the hard inquiries on your reports were made at your request.
  • Payment history: Are there any late payments included that don’t belong? If they do belong, are they classified correctly? (30 days late, 60 days late, etc.)
  • Negative accounts: Check for bankruptcies, tax liens, and collection accounts — should they be there? If so, are the details correct?

If you find any errors on your credit reports you should correct them by filing disputes with the relevant credit bureaus.

Freeze Your Credit Reports or Set Fraud Alerts

There are two actions you can take to help prevent fraud, and make it more difficult for identity thieves to open accounts in your name.

A credit freeze will completely prevent anyone from taking out new credit in your name as a result of a hard inquiry on your credit reports. This means nobody (including you) can be approved for a credit card or loan in your name until the freeze is lifted, known as “thawing.” Your credit files at each credit reporting agency need to be frozen and thawed individually.

You can learn everything you need to know about credit freezes in our guide, How to Freeze Your Credit Reports.

A fraud alert is like a minor version of a credit freeze. If you place fraud alerts on your credit reports, lenders will have to verify your identity before issuing a credit card or loan in your name. They’ll contact you at the phone number you provide whenever a request for credit is made, giving you a chance to verify the request before it goes through.

So, unlike credit freezes, fraud alerts don’t completely stop lenders from extending credit in your name. Instead it adds an extra verification step.

You’ll need to place fraud alerts on each one of your credit reports, and you can do it easily online:

Credit Bureau Fraud Alert Center
Equifax Fraud Alerts
Experian Fraud Alerts
TransUnion Fraud Alerts

You may prefer fraud alerts to credit freezes, depending on how worried you are about identity theft. Credit freezes are the strongest security measure you can take if you want to completely stop lenders from issuing new cards or loans in your name, but you’ll have to unfreeze your reports whenever you actually do want to apply for credit. Fraud alerts are a more convenient but less secure option.

Want to learn more about your credit, including how to increase your credit scores? You’ll find more credit resources in our Insider Academy.
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