Fees & Policies
Service & Support
Best Home Security Monitoring
Why Buy Home Security Monitoring Services?
Editor's note: LiveWatch and MONI Smart Security recently announced plans to rebrand under the name BRINKS Home Security. Once this rebranding is complete, we will review the changes to contracts and pricing and update our reviews accordingly.
Over the last year, we spent over 680 hours researching and contacting 20 home security providers. From those 20 companies, we selected seven that passed important transparency requirements. In our evaluation of each service, we looked at costs, contract terms and customer service. Based on our analysis, LiveWatch is best home security monitoring service for most people. It sets a high standard with its outstanding contract terms and innovative alerts.
LiveWatch is our pick for the best home security monitoring service because it has an excellent contract that only lasts one year – most monitoring services require a three-year commitment. Although the contract lasts a year, there are no fees if you choose to cancel early. The company also lets you return your equipment for up to a year, which is the longest return policy we've seen.
The monitoring fees you pay for LiveWatch are competitive, costing $34.95 a month for the cheapest plan with a mobile app. This isn't the cheapest plan we've seen, but it is less expensive than the industry average of $40. You can expect to pay around $118.95 upfront for basic equipment and an activation fee when you start your contract, which is slightly above average for the industry. You also pay upfront for any additional equipment you choose that's not included with the contract.
The company uses an innovative approach to alerts, called ASAPer. This feature notifies you and your emergency contacts at the same time instead of going through a list one by one, which cuts down the response time.
Expect to install your LiveWatch equipment on your own, as the company keeps costs low by not offering professional installation. However, the company shows you how to install everything.
LiveWatch doesn't offer 24/7 customer support, but you can contact the company Monday through Saturday. The service’s two-year warranty is shorter than that of most competitors.
Link Interactive is the best value among home security monitoring services because of its low monitoring fee. You pay $30.99 a month for a plan with basic mobile app control, which is much less than the industry average of $40. If you commit to a three-year contract, you get a free control panel, but you pay for other equipment upfront.
Paying upfront for equipment can be a burden, but Link Interactive's online shop lets you see the total cost before purchasing. This is different from most other security companies that list equipment prices online, because those services still ask you to call their sales teams.
In addition to an industry-standard three-year contract, Link Interactive has one- and two-year contracts. However, you need to call the company's sales team to get these options, since three years is the default contract term. Link Interactive requires you to pay 75 percent of your account balance upon canceling early, which is the lowest cancellation fee we've seen (apart from no fees). The equipment return policy last 30 days, which is better than that of most other monitoring services.
After you purchase your equipment, Link Interactive pre-programs the system before shipping it to your home, where you install it yourself using online tutorials. You can contact the company for customer support, but it's not available 24/7 as with some larger security companies. Equipment comes with a three-year warranty, which is average among home security monitoring services, though not as good as lifetime warranties from some competitors.
Best Customer Service
MONI Smart Security, formerly Monitronics, has excellent customer support services you can contact 24/7 via social media, phone, live chat and email. Since MONI offers continuous customer support, you can get help from knowledgeable staff when it's most convenient for you.
MONI is a traditional home security company, which means it installs your equipment and covers it with a lifetime warranty. This also means you sign a three-year contract and must pay a fee of 80 percent of your remaining account balance if you cancel early. Although 80 percent is a lot to ask, it's competitive in the industry, especially compared to companies with 100-percent pay-off policies.
The minimum monthly monitoring fees for MONI’s service start at $39.99 with a $99 activation fee. This matches the average for home security monitoring companies, though it's not the most affordable plan we've seen. Because this is the cheapest plan MONI offers, it doesn’t include mobile app control for the system; you must purchase one of the company's more expensive plans to use this feature.
If you don't want professional installation or a contract, you can also get MONI home security monitoring for the Nest Secure, a DIY system from the maker of the popular Nest Learning Thermostat. A Nest Secure starter kit costs $499, but you can expect to pay more for add-on sensors.
Why Trust Us
Top Ten Reviews has reviewed home security monitoring services since 2010. Over the last year, we logged more than 680 hours researching 20 monitoring companies. We contacted sales and customer support representatives to verify each company's most recent contract terms.
Before choosing similar monitoring plans from each company, we excluded services that don't reveal prices and contract terms online in some way. We also eliminated companies that don't offer service across all 50 U.S. states so you know that a company offers service in your area. This narrowed our initial 20 companies to seven.
If you've noticed similarities between this guide and our coverage on home security systems, it's because both use the same research data. In fact, this guide is a simplified version of our home security systems review. Here we purposely focus on each company’s pricing, contracts and customer support, while placing less of an emphasis on what equipment comes with the system and compatible third-party devices.
Through the course of our research, we also consulted information from the Federal Trade Commission, as well as the Electronic Security Association's Alarm.org informational website.
How We Tested
As we researched home security monitoring companies, we paid attention to what matters most for consumers: prices, contracts and customer service. Most of our research involved carefully analyzing each company's contract and website, though we also contacted the security provider directly if we couldn't find the appropriate information or needed clarification on policies and fees.
As we evaluated pricing, we looked at the base rate for cellular monitoring from each company. In most cases, there are two prices you can expect to pay when you sign up: monitoring fees and starting costs. The first of these is a monthly fee you pay for monitoring throughout your contract. The second price, or starting costs, is a one-time fee covering any combination of starting equipment, installation and activation.
Aside from pricing, we looked at each company's contract terms and conditions, with a focus on consumer-specific policies such as contract length, early cancellation, return policies and auto-renewal clauses. We consider these the most important things to know about your contract, which outlines the responsibilities you have, as well as those of the security company. Although contracts can be burdensome, they don't always give the advantage to the business, provided you take the time to read them.
The final part of our research involved evaluating each company's customer support. We focused on the customer support center’s business hours and the ways you can contact the company for assistance. Home security monitoring services that are open longer tend to score higher. Please note that customer support hours are different from the 24/7 monitoring each service offers.
What to Expect From Home Security Monitoring Services
Costs Depend on Your Home
The prices we discuss in this guide are the minimum you can expect from a particular company for cellular monitoring that doesn't use a landline. You also need to consider any taxes, fees and equipment charges that might be part of your monthly bill. These monthly monitoring fees range from $25 to $54.
You can expect to spend an average of $120 on one-time starting costs that cover equipment, installation and activation when you begin a new contract. For the most part, this is a quote-based industry, so equipment prices vary. For example, large homes often need more equipment than small homes.
Contracts Explain Fees & Cancellation Policies
The length of your contract determines your overall costs and cancellation fees. Most home monitoring services require one- to three-year contracts, though five-year contracts exist. The best contracts offer services on month-to-month basis without cancelation fees. In most cases, you can expect the contract to renew automatically on a month-to-month basis when the main term is up.
Perhaps the most tedious part of a home security monitoring contract is an early-cancellation policy that requires you to pay most or all of the balance remaining on your account. While a perfect cancellation policy has no fees, one requiring you to pay 80 percent or less of your balance is better than one requiring 100 percent payoff.
The final policy you should be aware of is the equipment return policy. These let you return your system without cancellation fees during a narrow window right after your contract starts. Depending on the company, equipment return policies end in as little as three days or as long as a year after installation.
Customer service is similar to Wi-Fi, where more bars mean a stronger signal. In customer service, more support channels and useful operating hours lead to a better signal.
We prefer companies that provide support over social media. This is a reliable channel, since a public post or private message on a company’s Facebook or Twitter page often gets a quick response. Other effective support channels include live chat and phone, though phone support is less ideal. Email is the slowest support channel.
Psychological Barriers, Not Physical Ones
Unfortunately, home security monitoring services can't physically stop intruders from entering your home. However, they can be a reliable psychological deterrent by leveraging an intruder's fear of getting caught. In fact, a Cromwell-Olson-Avary study, as cited by Alarm.org, said nine out of 10 criminals avoid homes with an alarm system. This is a main reason security monitoring companies include yard signs and window decals with your system, as a visible warning. If the intruder ignores these, a loud siren provides more incentive to leave.
24/7 Home Security Monitoring
Home security monitoring services watch your home 24/7. For example, if an alarm triggers, the monitoring company contacts you to see if you're okay. If there's no reply, or you ask for assistance, the company contacts the appropriate emergency services.
Security Devices Included
You can expect a basic security system to have at least three devices: a control panel, entry sensors for doors and windows, and motion detectors. Most equipment runs on batteries and wirelessly connects to the control panel. The control panel requires a power cable most of the time but often has a battery backup to keep it working during power outages. Companies might include extra devices as an incentive, but it's not always free.
The best security monitoring services provide cellular or internet monitoring and a mobile app that lets you arm, disarm and control your system with a smartphone. The mobile app may also let you control other device you get for your system such as a thermostat, lights, smart locks and security cameras; however, these features usually require an upgrade to a higher-priced plan.
Warranties usually last as long your contract and can be used to replace defective sensors at no cost. However, some companies charge for shipping the new sensor or the service call to your home. In fact, most service calls require a fee at the time of service or a small monthly fee in addition to your monitoring fee. Most warranties require you use a test mode once a month to look for faulty sensors and dead batteries. These warranties do not cover the cost of new batteries.
Most cities require you to register your security system, even if you install it yourself. The FTC recommends you contact your city's police and fire departments to find out the regulations where you live. By registering for a permit, you agree to pay for false alarms that burden emergency responders. You can also ask your monitoring company for information about permits.