For this update we spent 40 hours researching credit reporting services and speaking with representatives of the companies. We compared the credit reporting tools offered by each of these services, looking at how frequently you get your report, what scoring model they use and the cost. We also looked at the features these services offer to prevent fraud and protect your identity. Our pick for the best overall credit reporting service is Identity Guard, which has monthly credit reports from all three bureaus, a credit simulator, tools to send disputes directly to the credit bureaus and strong ID protection.
With Identity Guard you’ll get monthly updates on your credit report and be able to monitor your credit and get alerts if your identity is compromised.
If you need ID protection in addition to your credit monitoring, IdentityForce offers the best package with fraud monitoring and recovery assistance in addition to three-bureau credit reports.
Credit Karma is a free service that gives you anytime access to your credit report. It only provides access to two of the bureaus, but if cost is your main concern it can’t be beat.
|Product||Price||Overall Rating||Credit Reporting||Fraud Protection||ID Protection||Three-Bureau Reports||Free Option||Report Frequence||Credit Score Simulator||Credit Score Model||Cost||Mobile App||Child Protection||Resolution Assistance||Lost Wallet Protection||Text Alerts||Send Disputes||Email Alerts|
|Identity Guard||View Deal||4.5/5||8.8||10||10||✓||-||Monthly||✓||Credit Xpert||$24.99||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|Experian||View Deal||4.5/5||9.5||10||7.3||✓||✓||Quarterly||✓||FICO 8||$19.99||✓||✓||-||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|PrivacyGuard||View Deal||4/5||8||10||7.3||✓||-||Monthly||✓||Credit Xpert||$19.99||-||-||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|Credit Sesame||View Deal||4/5||10||5.5||7.3||✓||✓||Monthly||✓||VantageScore 3.0||$19.95||✓||-||✓||✓||✓||-||-|
|TransUnion 3-in-1 Credit Report with Free Score||View Deal||4/5||8.3||10||5||-||✓||Anytime||✓||VantageScore 3.0||$9.99||✓||-||✓||-||✓||✓||✓|
|Credit Karma||View Deal||3.5/5||8.8||8.3||2.5||-||✓||Anytime||✓||VantageScore 3.0||$0.00||✓||-||-||-||-||✓||✓|
Best Overall Credit Report Service
Our choice for the best overall credit reporting service is Identity Guard. This company provides monthly credit reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, depending on the plan you select.
To get the credit reporting features, the Platinum plan is the best option. This costs $20.83 and includes the standard Identity Guard ID protection features in addition to credit monitoring.
You’ll also be able to check your credit scores for each of the three bureaus. Identity Guard uses the CreditXpert model, which is slightly different from the FICO or VantageScore models that lenders base their decisions on. Still, this score is a good approximation of what lenders will look at. Identity Guard also offers a score simulator that lets you see how opening new lines of credit or making other financial decisions will affect your scores.
The Identity Guard mobile app will alert you if any changes to your credit file are made. This includes new applications for credit cards, mortgages or other loans. It will alert you immediately if your identity has been compromised. You can also send disputes to the three bureaus directly through the Identity Guard dashboard.
Identity Guard’s ID monitoring includes lost wallet protection that will help you replace the contents of a lost wallet. It also monitors personal information such as your Social Security number, name and address.
Best for Identity Protection
Many of the credit reporting services we reviewed also include identity theft protection services.
Some companies, like IdentityForce, offer separate ID protection plans. IdentityForce has the best combination of credit protection and ID protection.
The Ultrasecure+Credit plan, which costs $19.95 a month and includes a 30-day trial, includes three-bureau monitoring with quarterly updates on your credit reports. While we prefer more frequent updates, getting a quarterly report is still highly useful. IdentityForce also has a credit score simulator that lets you see how a new credit card or other financial decision would affect your TransUnion score.
One excellent feature that IdentityForce offers is the ability to send disputes directly through the dashboard. If you notice an irregularity on one of your reports, you can click a link from the dashboard and begin the dispute process, a timesaving feature that keeps you from having to go to each of the bureau’s websites.
Identity monitoring through IdentityForce tracks all of your personal information and sends you alerts if someone has used your SSN or other identifying information to engage in fraudulent activity. If your identity is compromised, you’ll be put in contact with an agent from IdentityForce’s restoration team who will help you file police reports and work on recovering your identity.
Credit Karma’s credit monitoring is completely free; there’s no cost to sign up.
Another advantage that Credit Karma offers is you can check your scores and reports anytime. Some other companies offer monthly or quarterly credit reports. The Credit Karma app is a useful way to keep tabs on your scores and get alerts when significant changes affect your score.
Credit Karma offers a lot of useful educational resources to help you understand what goes into your scores and how you can improve them. Each item is color coded – green is good, red is bad – so you can tell at a glance what needs to be worked on.
One of the drawbacks of Credit Karma is that it doesn’t include information from all three bureaus. You’ll only get credit reports from Equifax and TransUnion. Generally this isn’t an issue since all major financial institutions report to all three bureaus. Smaller credit unions and local lenders may not, however, so depending on where you live, your scores may vary. Credit Karma uses the VantageScore model to create its score. This is a model developed by the three bureaus and is often used by lenders when making decisions.
Best Three Bureau Reports
Credit Sesame is one of the best options for getting credits reports from all three bureaus because of its low cost and regular updates.
The Platinum Protection plan costs $19.95 and gives you monthly updates on your Experian, Equifax and TransUnion credit files. Having frequent updates lets you spot errors before they can linger, and Credit Sesame is one of the services that combines this frequency with a low price. It also includes identity monitoring and alerts you about credit activity. However, if you have disputes, you must file them directly through the bureaus. Credit Sesame also has a free option, which gives you your monthly TransUnion score.
Best Fraud Response
Experian’s fraud response is one of the best of the credit report services we reviewed.
If you find an error on your Experian file, you can quickly fill out a dispute through the Experian dashboard. You can also freeze your credit file, which prevents anyone from making inquiries against it until you unfreeze it. You can only do this for your Experian account, though it provides help in contacting Equifax and TransUnion. The Premium plan costs $19.99 a month and includes reports and scores for each bureau. One drawback to using Experian is it only updates information on a quarterly basis.
Why Trust Us? (What we looked for)
We’ve been reviewing credit reporting services for nine years. In that time, we’ve seen free services for checking your credit scores become more commonplace. Data breaches and hacks have become a seemingly everyday occurrence. To get more context we spoke to Terry Clemans, executive director of the National Consumer Reporting Association, a non-profit that provides training to professionals and resources to consumers about credit reporting and other financial matters.
Mr. Clemans told us that the credit report, and not the score, is the most important thing to pay attention to. He cautions against agonizing about the score, and instead paying attention to the data on your report, because that data is the only thing you can do anything about. If you change that data, your score will follow suit.
The bureaus weigh the past 12 months of activity highest, so the further back your problems are, the better your credit will look. This assumes, of course, that you’ve taken steps to correct those problems. It’s important to remember that just because something has happened that’s left you with bad credit, that doesn’t mean you’ll have bad credit forever. After three to four years, there’s little impact on your history. The NCRA provides a series of educational videos that give additional information about common credit issues.
How We Tested
We researched each of these companies to see what credit reporting services they offered. We considered how frequently you can view your report. Remember, the Fair Credit Reporting Act entitles you to a free report a year, and if you dispute anything on a report, you get another free report.
We also looked at the tools each service offers to combat fraud. The best allow you to send disputes directly from the service’s dashboard or app. This saves you time and makes what can be an aggravating process much simpler. We also like services that send you alerts about updates to your credit file and especially about new applications for lines of credit in your name.
Due to the recent data breach, we opted not to include Equifax on this update. Currently it’s only offering a basic service that doesn’t have the same scope as the other products we reviewed.
How Much Does Credit Reporting Cost?
There are many free credit reporting services available, but usually you only get access to reports and scores from one or two of the credit bureaus. Many services offer access to all three bureaus for $10 to $30 a month, with many of the more expensive services including ID theft protection on top of credit reporting. By law, you’re also allowed one free credit report from each bureau once a year.
What Goes Into a Credit Score
Credit scores can seem mysterious and daunting. But once you learn what goes into making them, they’re not as scary. There are five factors that make up your credit scores.
Payment History: This looks at how on time you make your payments. This makes up about 35 percent of your score.
Amount Owed: The amount you have available on revolving accounts like credit cards is weighed especially heavily. This usually makes up about 30 percent of the score.
Length of Credit History: This is the length of time each account has been opened for and accounts for 15 percent of your score.
Types of Credit: This looks at the types of debt you’ve had and the accounts you’ve successfully paid off. This is about 10 percent of the score.
New Credit: This section of your score looks at new inquiries and accounts. It makes up around 10 percent of your score.
One confusing aspect of tracking your credit is that there are numerous scoring models. FICO is the most common, but even within FICO there are different versions that may be used by lenders for specific purposes. If you’re applying for an auto loan, there’s a specific score the lender will use that’s different from the score a lender looks at when you apply for a mortgage.
There are also educational scores, which are sometimes called FAKO scores. These use the same 300 to 850 scale FICO and other models use, but are calculated differently and may not necessarily be the same score a lender looks at.
If you keep a watch on your credit report for inaccuracies and errors, as well as maintaining good financial habits, you should see an improvement in your scores.
Experian and FICO Debut New Ways to Improve Credit Scores
It can be difficult to get approved for a loan or credit card when you have a low credit score. Having a low score isn’t necessarily the result of poor money decisions – in some cases, you may not have a long enough credit history to get approved. Generally, lenders look at how long you’ve had credit cards or loans, so if the accounts on your file are relatively new, you’re less likely to be approved.
FICO and Experian have developed new enhancements to their respective scores that will consider other types of data and help borrowers who may not be approved because they have insufficient credit.
FICO developed an alternative score it calls UltraFICO. This score, which will become available last year, is different from traditional FICO scores, which look at your credit history, how much available credit you use and other factors. Instead, UltraFICO looks at your savings and checking history to determine if you’re on sound enough financial footing to get approved.
Once available, if you have a low traditional FICO score, you can opt to have it recalculated with UltraFICO. UltraFICO will look at your savings and checking account to make sure you haven’t had any negative balances and that you’ve maintained an average savings balance of over $400.
Experian’s new feature, called Experian Boost, is similar. It's an optional service that allows Experian to look at your utility and other bill payments and include them in its credit score calculations. Like UltraFICO, the aim is to help borrowers with thin credit files who are on solid financial footing get approved. To use Experian Boost, you need to give Experian access to your online bank accounts.