The cost of the services mentioned below are up-to-date at the time of publication.
Credit monitoring services can provide you with early notice of potential fraud on your credit report, so you can take steps to protect your personal information. While these services can't actually prevent identity theft, they can keep you informed so you can take action if you notice something is wrong.
Many services scan the dark web for your information and keep track of your public records, which isn't easy for individuals to do on their own.
There are two types of credit monitoring services: basic and premium. Basic services are free to use and don't require you to enter a credit card at sign up, whereas premium services cost anywhere from $8.99 to $39.95 per month. When deciding between free and paid credit monitoring services, it's a trade-off between opting for a free service with limited coverage or a premium service with extensive protection.
Before you pay for a service, consider if you qualify for a free credit monitoring program. As the result of a number of settlements from high-profile data breaches, including Equifax in 2017 and Capital One in 2019, millions of Americans have access to free credit monitoring services. If you were affected by a data breach, you can submit a claim for free credit monitoring through the company's settlement website.
Here's what you should consider before signing up for a credit monitoring service:
To determine which credit monitoring services are the best, CNBC Select analyzed and compared 12 services that offer a variety of free and premium plans that provide different levels of credit protection based on the features mentioned above. (Learn more about our methodology.)
While these services can alert you of changes to your credit file and help you fix any errors, it's important to understand what credit monitoring can and can't do. You still have to be proactive in taking steps to prevent identity theft.
Below, CNBC Select reviews the top six credit monitoring services that can help you keep track of your credit and get alerts on potential fraud.
If you're not willing to pay money for a credit monitoring service, you can consider one of these free options. While there are many benefits to signing up for a free service, including regular credit score updates, you won't have access to triple-bureau credit monitoring and identity theft insurance, among other premium perks.
TransUnion and Experian
Who's this for? CreditWise® from Capital One is a free credit monitoring service that doesn't require you to enter a credit card number to sign up and provides a great range of features.
Plus it's open to anyone — regardless of whether you're a Capital One cardholder. If you're a Capital One customer, CreditWise features are integrated into the Capital One mobile app, so there's no need to also download the CreditWise app.
Consumers receive an updated VantageScore credit score from TransUnion every week and credit report updates from TransUnion and Experian in real time. Unlike other free services, CreditWise stands out by offering dark web scanning and social security number tracking.
As an added tool, you can use the credit score simulator to check the potential effect that certain actions, such as paying off debt or closing a credit card, may have on your credit score.
Who's this for? Experian also offers a free credit monitoring service that allows you to sign up without providing a credit card number and offers a variety of helpful features that are similar to some that you find in the premium Experian IdentityWorks℠ plans (more below), making this a great no-cost alternative.
With this service, you'll receive real-time alerts about new inquiries and accounts opened in your name, changes to your personal information and suspicious activity detected on your Experian credit report. Plus users get an updated Experian credit report and FICO credit score every 30 days.
Unlike CreditWise, Experian's free service doesn't offer regular dark web scans, which is the primary reason it ranks No. 2. However, upon sign-up you receive a one-time dark web surveillance report that searches over 600,000 web pages for your social security number, email or phone number.
In addition to credit monitoring, you can take advantage of Experian Boost™, which lets you add positive payments for phone and utility bills to your Experian credit file, potentially increasing your credit score.
If you want a more comprehensive credit monitoring plan, consider one of the paid plans below. By paying a monthly fee, you'll get more comprehensive protection, including triple-bureau credit monitoring, extensive fraud alerts and identity theft insurance up to $1 million — which aren't available with free plans.
Who's this for? IdentityForce® UltraSecure and UltraSecure+Credit offer the most extensive security features that monitor your information on a variety of sites and services, including the dark web, court records and social media (checks if your accounts on sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have inappropriate activity that may be perceived as profane or discriminatory).
Consumers receive alerts for potential fraud on your bank, credit card and investment accounts, as well as the use of your medical ID, social security number and address.
For a complete credit monitoring and identity protection service, opt for UltraSecure+Credit. This plan provides the added benefit of three-bureau credit monitoring and credit score updates. You can also track how your score changes over time and simulate how certain actions can impact your score (though you can do this with some free services, like CreditWise).
When you sign up for any annual plan (UltraSecure or UltraSecure+Credit), you'll receive two months free. There's also a shorter 30-day free trial for the monthly UltraSecure plan.
After the free trial ends, UltraSecure costs is $8.99 per month or $89.90 per year; and $19.99 per month or $199.90 per year for UltraSecure+Credit.
$9.99 to $24.99 per month
Experian, Equifax and TransUnion
Yes, for Identity and Total Protection plans
Yes, up to $1 million for Identity and Total Protection plans
Who's this for? PrivacyGuard™ falls slightly behind IdentityForce due to the higher cost of plans, but it still offers well-rounded coverage that provides alerts from all three credit bureaus whenever there's new information as well as monthly credit score and report updates, depending on the plan you choose.
PrivacyGuard offers three different plans, but you can try the service for $1 for the first 14 days. Then the fee depends on the service you choose.
Basic PrivacyGuard® Identity Protection costs $9.99 per month and includes $1 million identity theft insurance, public and dark web scanning and monitoring for a range of personal details, including your social security number, debit and credit card numbers and full name. This plan doesn't monitor your credit report.
If you want daily triple-bureau credit monitoring and monthly credit score and credit report tracking, you should opt for the mid-tier PrivacyGuard® Credit Protection, which costs $19.99 per month. Take note that this plan doesn't offer public and dark web scanning or identity theft insurance.
The last, most expensive plan, PrivacyGuard® Total Protection, costs $24.99 per month and combines both the Identity and Credit plans at a roughly $5 discount.
$9.99 to $29.99 per month
Experian for Plus plan or Experian, Equifax and TransUnion for Premium plan
Yes, up to $500,000 for Plus plan and up to $1 million for Premium plan
Who's this for? Parents who want a credit monitoring service for the whole family should consider Experian IdentityWorks℠. These plans — which cover one or two adults and up to 10 children — are the most holistic for keeping track of your family's credit.
Experian offers two types of plans: IdentityWorks℠ Plus and IdentityWorks℠ Premium. Both plans come with dark web surveillance, social security number and change of address alerts and identity theft insurance ($500,000 for Plus and $1 million for Premium).
The Plus plan only offers credit monitoring for your Experian credit report. If you want triple-bureau monitoring, you'll need to pay $10 more for the Premium plan.
The costs for one adult and up to 10 children, starts at $14.99 for Plus or $24.99 for Premium. It's $5 more for two adults and up to 10 children, at $19.99 for Plus or $29.99 for Premium. If you don't have a family plan, there's also the option to take out a plan for one adult with a 30-day free trial, then $9.99 for Plus or $19.99 for Premium.
$19.95 to $39.95 per month
Experian for Basic plan or Experian, Equifax and TransUnion for Advanced and Premier plans
Yes, for Advanced and Premier plans
Yes, up to $1 million
Who's this for? FICO scores are used in over 90% of lending decisions making the FICO® Basic, Advanced and Premier services the most accurate for credit score updates. All plans offer access to 28 versions of your FICO score, including scores for credit cards, mortgages and auto loans. Plus you'll receive $1 million identity theft insurance and 24/7 access to U.S.-based identity theft experts who can help restore your identity if your information is compromised.
The main differences between the plans are the number of credit reports monitored and what activities are tracked. The Basic plan monitors your credit at Experian and tracks new account inquiries and openings, balance changes of $1 or greater, change in account status (such as current or late with payments), if your utilization rate exceeds 75% and a few more credit-related actions.
Meanwhile, Advanced and Premier both review reports from all three bureaus and monitor everything included with Basic, plus some additional factors, depending on the credit bureau. These include changes to the name on your credit report (Equifax report only), new employment listed (TransUnion report only) and fraud alert placed (TransUnion report only).
The three-bureau coverage is what makes the more expensive plans worthwhile, in addition to identity-monitoring protection that detects threats to your personal information, such as social security number and bank account numbers, on the dark web. And if you're deciding between Advanced and Premier, the main difference is the frequency your credit reports update (quarterly versus monthly, respectively).
These three plans cost a bit more than the others on this list: $19.95 per month for Basic, to $29.95 for Advanced and $39.95 per month for Premier.
To determine which credit monitoring services offer the most benefits to consumers, CNBC Select analyzed and compared 12 services that offer a variety of free and paid plans.
When ranking the best free credit monitoring services, we focused on the following features:
When ranking the best paid credit monitoring services, we focused on the following features:
Keep in mind that credit monitoring services can only alert you of changes to your credit file, not fix or prevent any errors.