Best Home Security Monitoring Services of 2019 (Including Nest Secure)
Since 2016, we've 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. For a self-monitored, self-installed, no-contract system, check out our DIY home security review.
Frontpoint's versatile approach to home security can meet each home's unique needs, making it a good security monitoring choice. Call 844-227-9574 to speak to a Frontpoint representative about options.
Brinks Home Security
Brinks Home Security has more installation flexibility and a better return policy than most competitors. However, its starting costs and contract terms are unremarkable. Call (785) 290-1628 to speak to a Brinks representative about options.
ADT gives you six months to return equipment after starting your contract, which is longer than any other security company. Unfortunately, you need to call a salesperson to get pricing information. Call 855-255-3803 to speak to an ADT representative about options.
Frontpoint's reliable home security monitoring covers nearly all of your monitoring and equipment needs with its array of services, equipment and customer support.
This company does not offer professional installation, instead relying on customers to install equipment. This helps keep costs down and eliminates the need to wait for a technician to comes to your home. However, if you have problems with your system, you won't be able to get in-home assistance as you'll need to use Frontpoint's support website.
Frontpoint uses wireless equipment, and you can customize your system to include as many or as few devices and features as you want. For home-intrusion protection, the company has cameras, door and window sensors, glass-break sensors, motion sensors, garage door sensors, and ear-piercing sirens. With a wide variety of security devices, this home monitoring company can help you create the best security system for your needs, though each additional device increases your overall costs.
Best Smart Home Compatibility
Brinks Home Security, formerly known as LiveWatch and MONI, is an excellent home monitoring system with flexible installation options and a great return policy.
When you purchase monitoring services from Brinks Home Security, the company gives you two installation options: self or professional. The professional option adds to your starting costs but means someone will come install your equipment and explain its functions. If you want to install your own equipment, Brinks will program it and send it to your home with tutorials – you only have to place it and turn it on. A lifetime warranty comes with the professional installation, but you pay $49 to add it to self-installed systems. There's also a third installation option – DIY – if you choose to get a Nest Secure system with optional Brinks monitoring. Brinks is the only security company with self, professional and DIY installation options. The contract you sign when you subscribe to monitoring services lasts three years, the same as most competitors. Unfortunately, the early-termination policy requires 80 percent payoff of your account balance, which is the second-highest in our comparison. For no-fee cancellation, you can return equipment within 30 days of when you sign your contract. The company's cheapest monitoring plan, Brinks Home Complete, costs $29 a month, which is more affordable than the $37 average among home security providers. This plan charges $399 upfront for basic equipment. These are relatively high upfront costs compared to the competition. Brinks also offers GreenSky financing to spread equipment costs out across your contract.
Best Return Policy
ADT has excellent customer support services you can contact 24/7 to get help from knowledgeable staff when it's most convenient for you. Additionally, ADT gives you six months to cancel your plan and return equipment without fees. This is the longest return policy in the industry.
The minimum monthly monitoring fees for ADT’s service start at $28.99 with a $25 activation fee. This fee will likely increase as you add equipment to your plan because ADT doesn't disclose its pricing like many home monitoring companies. Instead, you need to call a salesperson to customize your system. Because this is the cheapest plan ADT 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.
Although you can't see prices online, ADT has a helpful Legal Information section on its website where you can read the entire contract. ADT is a traditional home security company, which means it has a lifetime warranty and professionals install your equipment. This also means you sign a three-year contract and must pay a fee of 75 percent of your remaining account balance if you cancel early. Although 75 percent is a lot to ask, it's competitive in the industry, especially compared to companies with 100 percent pay-off policies.
If you don't want professional installation or a contract, you can also get ADT home security monitoring for the ADT Home Security Starter Kit, a DIY system from SmartThings.
Frontpoint is a versatile and well-rounded home security system with excellent security monitoring. It also has an easy-to-install wireless system, multiple sensors to place throughout your home, and great customer support.
Standard contracts with this home security company run for three years and have a starting cost of $130.95. However, you can pay equipment costs upfront in exchange for a shorter contract. Regardless of the contract term you choose, the company charges $44.99 for monitoring on its Interactive plan, which is one of the highest monthly prices in our comparison.
The basic Protection plan offers alerts for such things as intruders, fire, medical emergencies and environmental hazards like gas leaks. The Interactive plan has all of those plus email and text alerts, lighting control, and remote access via apps or the internet. The plan also offers a feature called Crash & Smash, which detects if someone tries to tamper with your home alarm system. The Ultimate plan is the most expensive, and it includes wireless video and advanced home automation features.
You can contact Frontpoint’s customer support reps through social media, email and phone, though the company’s support hours aren't as long as those of the competition. We found company representatives to be knowledgeable, pleasant and able to answer questions quickly. You can also make use of the website's extensive FAQs section. The equipment warranty runs for three years, which is standard in this industry. Frontpoint doesn't offer support over live chat.
Link Interactive is the best value among home security monitoring services because of its low monitoring fee. You pay $35.99 a month for a plan with basic mobile app control, which is less than the industry average of $37. If you commit to a three-year contract, you get a free control panel, though 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 lasts 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 Premium System
We chose Vivint as the best premium option because it makes its equipment rather than relying on a third-party manufacturer.
Vivint has monthly monitoring prices as low as $39.99 for its basic plan. However, you must pay for your equipment either upfront or throughout the contract term, which is the same price in the long run. We evaluated Vivint's equipment costs spread throughout the contract, bringing the monthly total to $49.14. There is a $198 installation fee which goes up depending on the equipment you choose. The equipment that Vivint offers is excellent, and the company designs its most useful security equipment in-house. Our favorite equipment from Vivint is the company's Doorbell Camera, which connects to your control panel and the Vivint app to see to who's at your door. Vivint has also embraced third-party smart home devices better than many monitoring services. For example, you can connect popular smart home products like the Nest Learning Thermostat, Amazon Echo, Philips Hue and Google Home to your Vivint system. Vivint's contract term is five years, the longest in our comparison, and you must pay the full balance if you cancel early. When you factor this into the monthly monitoring fees and equipment costs, Vivint is the most expensive home monitoring system we reviewed. Vivint backs up its equipment with a generous lifetime warranty and 24/7 customer support.
Because Protect America doesn't use professional installers, it can offer an excellent lifetime warranty without any additional fees, which most security providers charge for their lifetime warranties.
Protect America lets you install your own equipment, which helps cut down on costly installation fees. The company doesn't have starting costs and includes basic equipment for free with your monitoring plan. However, you can expect to pay more if you get equipment beyond the basics listed on the Protect America website. The equipment is easy to install and the company has helpful instructions to help you through the process. Monitoring services though the company cost $41.99 a month, slightly above average for the industry. Despite its excellent warranty and equipment, Protect America has the highest fee for early termination that we've seen: 100 percent. This means you pay for your entire account balance if you choose to cancel before your three-year contract with Protect America ends. The company does not offer in-home repair or service calls, instead sending you a replacement to install on your own.
Lowest Monitoring Fees
LifeShield has affordable monitoring services and no contract, but its warranty and smart home options are limited.
Because LifeShield has designed its own equipment, the company is able to offer its services for much less than most other security services. One of the great things about LifeShield is the interactive access. Most companies, such ADT and Frontpoint, require you to pay extra for a mobile app to control your security system. With LifeShield, the app is free, and so is the ability to access your system remotely.
Latest News, Updates & Deals (February 2019)
*On February 11, 2019, ADT announced that it had acquired LifeShield in a move to expand its products. This acquisition is strikingly similar to Monitronics’ 2015 purchase of LiveWatch, now known as Brinks Home Security. LifeShield will operate as a separate division within ADT, led by LifeShield’s CEO, John Owens. As such, we will continue to maintain separate reviews for ADT and LifeShield until further notice.
*On Feb. 4, 2019, Nest announced that it’s bringing built-in Google Assistant voice controls to Nest Secure via a software update to the Nest Guard base station. Although this functionality doesn’t completely make up for Nest Secure’s high starting costs, it makes the device a little more appealing. It can be used to arm your security system, but it doesn’t have a voice-activated disarm option, which intruders could manipulate to enter your home. The Nest Guard's ability to serve the same role as a Google Home Mini makes it an excellent option for controlling other smart home devices that are compatible with Google Assistant. Nest Secure is compatible with optional Brinks monitoring.
UPDATE: Since the announcement, Google has been criticized for not disclosing the Nest Secure’s built-in microphone when the device was first released. Google has apologized for this by indicating it was unintentionally left off the unit’s specifications and has corrected the issue on its product page for the Nest Secure. For more coverage, check out this article by our colleagues at TechRadar.
- Frontpoint has overhauled its equipment options since our last major update by introducing the Frontpoint Hub and Frontpoint Keypad. We’ve contacted Frontpoint for more information and will update our comparison and the Frontpoint review when we hear back.
- In December 2018, Brinks added a GreenSky financing option that allows you to pay $0 upfront for equipment, provided you meet the credit requirements. Rather than pay upfront, the price of equipment is added to your monthly monitoring fees. This financing option doesn't charge interest throughout the three-year contract. If you don't qualify for financing, Brinks requires payment upfront for its starter kits.
- In June 2018, LiveWatch and MONI Smart Security recently merged and rebranded under the name Brinks Home Security.
Why Trust Us
Top Ten Reviews has reviewed home security monitoring services since 2010. Over the last three years, 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. 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 comparison. 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.
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.
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 fees, 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 to read, it's sometimes worth the time it takes to understand 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.
How Much Does Home Security Monitoring Cost?
Monthly monitoring fees range from $25 to $54, with the average contract lasting three years. You can also expect to spend an average of $120 on one-time starting costs that cover equipment, installation and activation when you begin a new contract. Unless your home matches a company's starter packages, you will pay more than this.
For the most part, this is a quote-based industry, so equipment prices will vary. 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. For example, large homes often need more equipment than small homes.
Homeowners Insurance Discounts
Despite paying a monthly fee, home security monitoring can save you money on your homeowners insurance. This is because burglars tend to avoid homes with security systems, reducing the likelihood your insurance company will need to intervene to cover costs.
You can save between 5 and 20 percent of your insurance bill, depending on the insurance company and the type of equipment you have in your system. While insurance discounts won’t pay for your security system entirely, they can make it more affordable. You should check with your insurance provider to see if your system qualifies you for any discounts.
What to Expect From Home Security Monitoring Services
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 a month-to-month basis without cancellation 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 contract. 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 means a stronger signal. In customer service, more support channels and useful operating hours lead to a better customer experience.
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.
Security cameras can enhance the effectiveness of your home monitoring system since they provide crucial information to help identify trespassers and the items they take. You can also use the camera to check in on your loved ones while you're at work.
Security companies generally reserve security cameras for premium monitoring plans. As such, if you choose to get a security camera in your system, your security provider will charge more in monitoring fees, usually $5 to $10 more a month, to cover server and cloud video storage costs.
It's best to put security cameras by the exterior doors to your home. While you can place a camera on the inside of the door, an outdoor camera can deter intruders before they break in. Common areas inside your home are also good locations, but you shouldn’t put cameras in bedrooms or bathrooms. In most cases, a security provider does not have access to your camera’s video feed.
Smart Home Devices
Most home monitoring providers also sell smart home equipment such as smart speakers, smart locks, lighting controls, video doorbells and thermostats. This equipment usually requires an intermediate- or premium-level monitoring plan, which can be $5 to $10 higher than base monthly monitoring fees.
Home security monitoring systems often work with retail smart home devices, including the Amazon Echo, Google Home Mini, August Smart Lock, Ring Video Doorbell 2 and Nest Learning Thermostat. Check with the provider to see what devices it supports.
Specialized Security Devices
In addition to the standard security features that come with every system, home security monitoring companies often sell other safety and security devices with specialized features and functions. While none of these devices or features are essential for securing your home, they can add extra layers of protection for your unique needs.
- Smoke & carbon monoxide detectors – These may be preferable to your current smoke and carbon monoxide sensors if you have hearing problems, a sleep condition or limited mobility that keeps you from reacting when an alarm sounds.
- Pet-immune motion detectors – These can help reduce pet-triggered false alarms by ignoring animals under a certain size. Many motion detectors have this function built-in, so you should check with the provider to verify this functionality.
- Glass-break sensors – Burglars that enter through a broken window won’t set off the entry sensor. In these cases, a glass-break sensor can help detect an intruder.
- Flood sensors – These sensors detect water leaks that could potentially damage your home and are best used in bathrooms, basements, kitchens and utility closets.
- Key fobs – If you don’t want smartphone controls, these are a good way to save on monitoring fees and still remotely arm and disarm your system.
- Panic buttons – These devices immediately signal an emergency to the monitoring station, informing them to send help to your home, which can be useful if you live alone.
When you get a security system, you can expect one of three types of installation: professional, self-installed and DIY. While some security providers offer multiple installation options, most usually rely on one type.
- Professional – With professional installation, a company technician comes to your home to install and program the system. There’s usually an installation fee with this type of service. You can expect professional installation from small local installers as well as the largest national security companies such as Brinks Home Security, ADT and Vivint.
- Self-Installed – Self-installed systems are delivered to your home, and you place the sensors and control panel where you want them. The equipment in self-installed systems comes programmed, so you don’t need to set it up in most cases. There are often no fees with this type of install, though a small activation fee may be required for some customers. You can expect self-installation from security providers that primarily do business online, such as Frontpoint, Link Interactive, Protect America, LifeShield and Brinks.
- DIY – DIY systems require you to program and install components but come with detailed tutorials to show you how to do it. You can usually find DIY systems in retail stores, and you don’t have to sign up for a contract. There are no installation fees with this type of service. Of the home monitoring providers in this comparison, only Brinks and ADT offer a DIY option, though you buy the equipment from third-party providers such as Nest and Samsung SmartThings.
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.
As with any service that requires you to sign a long-term contract, you can expect the security provider to perform a credit check when you sign up for service. This is mostly to see if you have the means to keep up with monthly payments until your contract is up. Security providers usually perform a soft inquiry with only one of the three credit bureaus, which focuses on your current credit score rather than your credit history. You shouldn’t have any problems qualifying for a system if you have good credit (a score of 600 or higher).
While it’s possible to qualify for a home security monitoring contract with poor credit, you should consider looking for a no-contract option like SimpliSafe, Nest Secure or Scout Alarm. With these systems, you pay more upfront for your equipment but pay for monitoring month to month, negating the need for a credit check.
If you already have a security system in your home and want to switch providers at the end of your contract, you might be able to keep your equipment and use a different company for monitoring services. However, this only works if a provider offers such a service and if your equipment is compatible with the new provider. In many cases, a takeover provider will install or provide an adapter to make your system compatible. Among the providers in our comparison, ADT, Brinks, Link Interactive and Protect America all offer takeover monitoring while Vivint, Frontpoint and LifeShield lack such an option.
Monitoring for DIY Security Systems
Although it’s common to get equipment directly from home security monitoring companies, there are a few DIY systems on the market that support professional monitoring from a traditional security provider. The two most notable examples of this are Nest Secure and the Samsung SmartThings ADT Home Security Starter Kit, which you can buy through retail.
- Nest Secure has optional professional monitoring that you can get through Brinks Home Security. Monitoring for Nest Secure costs $29 per month without a contract or you can pay $19 a month with a three-year agreement. The equipment in the Nest Secure starter pack costs around $400.
- The ADT Home Security Starter Kit has three no-contract monitoring options with monthly fees ranging from $14.99 to $34.99. The equipment in this starter kit costs around $200.
Can Security Systems Be Hacked?
Yes, it’s possible to hack into a security system. According to Vivint’s guide How to Prevent Wired, Wireless Security System Breaches, the most vulnerable point in a wireless system is its wireless connections, which a hacker may attempt to access via your Wi-Fi network or by jamming the signal from a nearby location. However, you can close gaps in your security by ditching the default settings in your wireless network in favor of a strong password for your Wi-Fi network and by enabling encryption through your wireless router.
With wired systems, the biggest vulnerabilities come from the wires getting cut or the improper security settings, especially in older systems. Vivint also suggests locking doors and windows, keeping valuables out of sight and not saying you’re out of town on social media.
Finding a Local Monitoring Provider
Our comparison focuses on large, national companies for a simple reason: It’s not practical to research every security provider in the United States. That said, there’s a good chance you can find a local security provider that’s equal to or better than a company with a larger coverage area. The advice we shared above also applies to small, local services, though you might consider a few extra factors:
- Reputation - Examine the company’s reputation using local review platforms such as Yelp and Google user reviews, making note of any contract terms and pricing you come across. You should also ask your friends and relatives about the systems they have.
- Licensing - Check to see if your state requires security companies to be licensed. Look for a company’s license number on advertising materials or online, and compare this with state records if possible.
- Read the contract before signing - Contracts are boring, and we don’t read them as a result. However, this doesn’t make them any less important. By reading the whole contract, you learn about fees, how fees change over time, duration of service and early termination policies.