Equifax FTC settlement: How to pick between the free credit monitoring or $125 cash

Take the money, right? Or is 10 years of free credit monitoring the smarter choice?

Clifford Colby Managing Editor
Clifford is a managing editor at CNET, where he leads How-To coverage. He spent a handful of years at Peachpit Press, editing books on everything from the first iPhone to Python. He also worked at a handful of now-dead computer magazines, including MacWEEK and MacUser. Unrelated, he roots for the Oakland A's.
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Clifford Colby
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If you're reading this, then you -- or someone you know -- was probably affected by the 2017 Equifax data breach that exposed personal data of 147 million people to hackers. (To check if you were part of the breach -- and therefore eligible to file claims to recover expenses and losses -- go to the official data breach settlement website, where you'll enter your last name and last six digits of your Social Security number in the online form.) And if your data was exposed in the breach, you probably know you can submit a claim as part of the class action settlement between Equifax and the Federal Trade Commission to be compensated for expenses and time spent recovering from the breach.

Through the settlement, you can submit claims for multiple benefits, so filing for one doesn't prevent you from receiving others. And you have until Jan. 22, 2020, to file. (The FTC said fake settlement sites are popping up, so be sure you are at the real one.)

While the other claims you can request are straightforward, one offers you a choice: Request $125 or 10 years of credit monitoring. You may be tempted to take the cash payment, but consider your options first -- especially with the FTC saying that because of the overwhelming response to the settlement, the amount of cash you receive to cover the cost monitoring may be much less than $125.

Watch this: Equifax breach: Find out if you can claim part of the $700 million

Should you take the $125 or free credit monitoring?

You can submit a claim to receive 10 years of free credit monitoring or -- if you're already using a service that provides credit monitoring when you apply -- you can instead file for a $125 payment. Here's what to consider when choosing.

Option 1: Take the money after signing up for six months of monitoring, and keep whatever is left over after six months. To request the $125, you need to certify you are using a credit monitoring service on the date you submit your claim and will keep it for six months. Credit-reporting services can cost $10 to $30 a month -- or you could use a free service like the one from Credit Karma -- but if you choose one of the lower-priced services, you can walk away with $60 or so. Note: The FTC said last month that you may get much less than $125 because of the enormous response to the settlement.

Option 2: Sign up for 10 years of credit monitoring and sleep better. $125 is a good sum. Ten years of a credit monitoring service could add up to $1,200 up to $3,600 total over time. Which is a larger sum. And the FTC strongly recommends you pick the 10 years of free crediting monitoring over the cash.

Which choice you make, of course, is completely up to you. We can't make it for you.

If you're the type who likes to hedge your bets, perhaps signing up for a service for six months and then requesting the payment would be good. And if fear of identity theft and fraud keeps you up at night, 10 years of free monitoring might be the choice that provides peace of mind. Whichever way you go, your choice doesn't preclude you from filing claims for other benefits.