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Many consumers are eligible for free credit monitoring, thanks to high-profile data breaches. If you aren't eligible for any but breaches like this have you worried, you could instead purchase credit monitoring.
But for everyone, the wisest course is to go beyond monitoring — which alerts you to signs of trouble that's already happened — and proactively .
If your data has been compromised, it doesn't necessarily mean your information has been used by identity thieves. You do, however, face a lifelong risk of because your data and numbers are out there. Your best protection is freezing your credit, but layering on free monitoring could also help.
Credit monitoring watches your credit reports and alerts you to changes in them. If someone tries to use your data to open a credit account, you will know right away rather than months or years later, when there is more damage and undoing it is more complicated.
You can purchase monitoring if you choose to. Many credit monitoring companies charge monthly fees that can be upwards of $30. Before signing up, review the services included, when and how you can cancel, and what your rights are if the service doesn't protect you.
Be aware that you can do most credit monitoring services on your own for free. Here’s how to protect yourself:
Maybe you know you won’t follow through on do-it-yourself monitoring or are willing to pay for extra protection. If so, that offers three-bureau credit monitoring and a full suite of theft alerts.
The cost makes sense if:
Look for a service that specifically promises "three-bureau credit monitoring" — if a service covers only one credit bureau, you’re paying for partial protection.
If you are buying credit monitoring, NerdWallet recommends avoiding the offerings from credit bureaus themselves. Here's why:
The inability to sue is particularly bad in case of a data breach, such as the 2017 Equifax incident, because a credit bureau could fail you in two ways: by not providing adequate monitoring and by failing to safeguard the consumer information it collects on you.
Credit monitoring services often market themselves as safeguards of your credit profile. But that’s not quite the case.
Here’s what even the best credit monitoring companies can’t do: