Jump-Start Your Credit: How to Monitor Your Credit for Free

Bev O'SheaFeb 8, 2021

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Your credit history can affect how much you pay for car or home insurance, your ability to rent a house or an apartment and even your chances of getting some jobs. That's why it pays to work on your credit and build it up.

Monitoring your credit can be a little like checking your blood pressure to see how your new exercise program and diet are affecting it. You’re unlikely to see steady, unbroken progress, but it can let you know if you’re on the right track.

Credit monitoring is simply checking your credit report and/or score for changes. It can help you connect how you’re handling credit with changes to your score. That’s especially useful when you’re building credit because seeing progress encourages you to keep going.

It can also help you quickly spot problems or signs of fraud. Credit monitoring may alert you to:

Credit expert John Ulzheimer recommends checking monthly. That’s how often your creditors report your account activity to credit-reporting agencies.

There may be times when you want to check your credit frequently. Credit bureau TransUnion says those include when you plan to apply for new credit or you are searching for a new job. But there is no need to check daily — that can lead to needless anxiety.

Credit monitoring should make your life simpler. To that end, use it to confirm that your credit report is as you expect it to be.

Expect your credit scores to fluctuate — they are calculated on demand, so they’ll change a bit depending on the data that’s in your report at the time a score is requested. You are looking for overall trends or a big, unexplained change that could suggest identity theft or fraud. There is no need to explore tiny changes in your score to try to figure out what happened.

You may be able to control the number and types of alerts you get. Limit them to ones you really need. Too many emails and texts can lead you to delete them unread.

If you see information on your credit reports that you don’t understand or don’t recognize, investigate. If you see an error, in question. Check the other two bureaus, too, to see if they have the same mistake needing correction.

Credit monitoring won’t prevent someone from using your credit data — it just lets you know what has already happened. It’s still up to you to do the things that build and protect your credit, such as:

The simplest way to avoid worrying about an application you did not make or new credit opened in your name is to seal off access to your credit information by . That way, if someone attempts to apply for credit using your information, the would-be creditor can’t access your credit reports, and the application likely won’t be approved.

Several companies offer paid credit monitoring, but before you commit to paying, compare the service to . You may have memberships or employee benefits that include identity theft coverage — and credit monitoring is generally included. If your personal data has been compromised in a data breach, you may be offered monitoring coverage at no cost to you.

If you decide to pay for monitoring, pick a service that covers all three major credit bureaus so you have a comprehensive view of your credit. But if high debt is holding your score down, that money might be better spent reducing that debt.

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