New iPhone SE, 3 Apple Watch models coming? Moderna booster shot and omicron Popeye's meme kid now state football champ Squid Game: Most trending TV show in 2021 Best Christmas gifts 2021 PS5 restock tracker
CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you apply through our links, we may get a commission. Advertiser Disclosure

The best credit monitoring services in 2021: Experian, FreeCreditReport.com and more

These tools can do more than monitor your credit score. They can help you protect your identity and secure your financial data.

Data breaches have become frustratingly commonplace. With hackers infiltrating companies from DoorDash to Equifax to Facebook, it's increasingly likely that you -- or someone you know -- has been impacted. And if it was your financial data that was floating around the internet, you may have learned the hard way how important it is to keep an eye on your credit report in order to protect yourself -- and your finances -- from the modern plagues of credit card fraud and identity theft.

The first step to taking control of your credit is familiarizing yourself with your credit score. As the bedrock of your financial standing, a good score will improve your chance of being approved when you apply for a credit card or personal loan or a major purchase, like a new home. But monitoring your credit score can also help you play defense, putting you in position to respond quickly if you're involved in a data breach or your identity is stolen

Read more: The best credit cards

If you don't have the bandwidth to check your credit score on a consistent basis -- or you're looking to add an extra layer of protection -- consider signing up for a credit monitoring service. These services keep an eye on your accounts, let you know when someone opens a line of credit with your Social Security number and can help protect against fraudulent activity like identity theft and credit fraud. 

There are a lot of options out there. Some companies offer a free credit report and then require your credit card for add-ons like basic credit monitoring and flagging suspicious activity and unauthorized use of your Social Security number. So, if you're ready to get started, keep reading our list to find the best credit monitoring service for you.

Read more: The best identity theft monitoring services

Screenshot by Katie Conner/CNET
  • Free 30-day trial
  • Price: $20 per month
  • Offers tool to help boost your credit score
  • Includes identity theft monitoring
  • Says it will address fraud if your identity or personal information is stolen
  • Shows your FICO scores for all three bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax)
  • Monitors your credit

Experian (download the app for iOS or Android) is one of the major credit monitoring services that offers your FICO scores for the three bureaus. Experian can help you boost your FICO score by using utility bills that you're already paying to apply to your credit. Your new credit scores will immediately take effect.

The company monitors identity theft and conducts daily scans of dark web pages to detect if your information has been stolen. If anything is detected, Experian says its support team will help.

Screenshot by Katie Conner/CNET
  • $25 per month
  • Includes free identity protection
  • Unlimited score and report access
  • Credit Lock Plus
  • Up to $1,000,000 in ID theft insurance

Also among the top three major credit monitoring services is TransUnion (download the app for iOS or Android). With TransUnion, you can check your credit score report as often as you'd like to see if your score has changed.  

Identity protection is included through Javelin, an identity protection service provider. Your monthly fee includes credit monitoring, instant alerts if someone applies for credit in your name and up to $1,000,000 in ID theft insurance. TransUnion Credit Lock is a service that keeps your credit profile on lockdown until you unseal it. For example, if a criminal applies for credit in your name, the lock will prevent them from stealing your credit information.

Screenshot by Katie Conner/CNET
  • $20 per month
  • Shows your Equifax three-bureau credit scores
  • Includes identity protection
  • Sends alerts about suspicious activities
  • Monitors credit and Social Security number

The third main credit bureau in the US, Equifax (download the app for iOS), suffered one of the worst data breaches in 2017 affecting more than half of all Americans. Equifax has a multiyear plan to earn back your trust. If you were affected by the data breach, you still can file a claim (it's in the extended claims period now, so you'll need to file ASAP) for reimbursement on time spent recovering from identity theft or out of pocket losses due to the data breach.

If you're feeling forgiving, Equifax's services are on par with competitors. It provides a copy of your Equifax credit report and monitors your credit and Social Security numbers by scanning websites where consumer information has been sold. Equifax also sends alerts about suspicious activities, like someone applying for credit in your name on the other side of the country.

Screenshot by Katie Conner/CNET
  • Free
  • Check credit score for free
  • Monitors credit
  • Shows credit factors and how they affect your score

Credit Karma (or download the app for iOS or Android) is a personal finance company. You can use it to check your credit scores as often as you'd like for free. You can also access your credit scores from TransUnion and Equifax, but not from Experian. Credit Karma monitors your credit and sends weekly updates and will notify you if there's any change to your credit score.

The site also shows you your score and credit factors that affect your score, like if you're using too much of your credit card limit, derogatory marks and hard inquiries.

Note that Intuit is acquiring Credit Karma, which if you're concerned about your privacy and the security of your data puts a lot of your personal financial information into one company's hands.

Screenshot by Katie Conner/CNET
  • Free
  • Check your credit score for free
  • All personal information is encrypted 

Mint (download the app for iOS or Android) is a free service for managing your personal finances. In addition to tracking your payments, you can use it to find out where your credit score is lacking, like not having a long credit history, and where it's doing great, like paying bills on time. Mint shows you your on-time payments, credit usage (so you can see if you're reaching your limit) and average age of credit on one screen.

After you verify your identity, Mint will send you credit report summaries and credit monitoring alerts if your score goes up or down.

Screenshot by Katie Conner/CNET
  • Free
  • Check your Experian credit report
  • Report information updates every 30 days
  • Monitor credit usage, hard inquiries and late payments

FreeCreditReport.com is a pared-down service provided by Experian to access your credit report for free. The company provides you with an updated credit report every 30 days. You'll have access to your account history, like real estate and credit accounts. FreeCreditReport.com shows you hard inquiries on your account, tracks your credit usage and shows any potential marks against you, like late payments.

Note that this only shows your credit report and not your credit score. In order to see your score, you'll have to upgrade to Experian CreditWorks Premium. You can get a one-month trial for $5.

How is a credit score calculated? 

Your credit score is a three-digit number that's calculated based on your credit report. Both FICO and VantageScore -- the two major credit scoring models -- range from 300 to 850. When applying for credit, lenders check your credit report and corresponding score to determine if you're worth lending money to. Some factors that affect your score include "hard inquiries" like applying for credit (your credit is under review); "derogatory marks" like paying a bill late (these can keep your score down); and how much of your total credit you're using (the less you use, the better). Your FICO score is integrated into reports from the three major US credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax.

Will checking my credit score affect my credit?

Many people believe checking their credit score will ding their credit report -- but that's not true. Checking your own credit score is considered a soft inquiry and won't affect your credit. However, if you're applying for a loan or credit card and a company runs a credit check on you, that's considered a hard inquiry, which can bring your score down several points.

How can I find out I've been impacted by a data breach?

For more details on data breaches that may have affected you or someone you know, check out CNET's list and timeline of data breaches.

Now playing: Watch this: What to do if your personal information is part of a...
2:42

Mixing and matching services may help cover more ground

When it comes to checking your credit, there are a lot of ways to go. You can select one service, or pair free services together to access your FICO score from all three major bureaus. However, if you go that route, keep in mind that you won't have the promised credit protection and monitoring that Experian, TransUnion and Equifax offer.

Disclaimer: The information included in this article, including program features, program fees, and credits available through credit cards to apply to such programs, may change from time-to-time and are presented without warranty. When evaluating offers, please check the credit card provider's website and review its terms and conditions for the most current offers and information. 

Read more: Best 0% APR credit cards for May 2021

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.