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The personal information of 143 million people was compromised in the recent Equifax data breach, and since then it seems like everyone and their dog is talking about protecting themselves with credit monitoring. If only it were that simple.  

Credit monitoring services, like any service, have their pros and cons. Before you enroll in a monitoring service or decide to take it upon yourself to monitor your credit, check out the following 10 things to know about credit monitoring.

Not All Credit Monitoring Services Are Created Equal

It should go without saying, but some credit monitoring services are better—and cheaper—than others. Spend the time to research the service you’re interested in so you don’t end up with a headache over something that should be giving you peace of mind.   

You Might Be Able to Monitor Your Credit for Free

You don’t always have to pay money for basic credit monitoring. For example, you can join a free budget service with credit alerts, like Mint.com, or sign up for free, albeit somewhat basic, credit monitoring from sites like Credit.com.

Be Careful about Sharing Your Personal Information

You’ll need to provide personal information to use any credit monitoring service, but a good service won’t sell your personal information without your permission. Make sure you read through the privacy policy before signing up for any service, no matter how trustworthy it may seem.   

Free Trials Do Come to an End

Some credit monitoring services will try to entice you with a free trial, and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with free trials, they do come to an end. We’ve seen credit monitoring services charge as much as $30 a month, so make sure you understand what you’ll be paying for when the free ride is over.

You’ll Still Need to Be Diligent

No credit monitoring service is foolproof. The best way to protect yourself is to check your statements and accounts for any suspicious activity on a regular basis.

Your Credit Card May Have Free, Basic Credit Monitoring

Select credit card companies offer free, basic credit monitoring. For example, Chase includes a free monthly update of your FICO credit score for cardholders. It doesn’t hurt to check with your credit card company to see if any credit monitoring services are offered for free or at a discount.  

You’re Entitled to Free Credit Reports

Thanks to federal law, you can get a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months from each of the big three credit reporting companies (Transunion, Experian, and Equifax).

You can submit your request for a free copy by going to AnnualCreditReport.com.

Not All Credit Scores Are the Same

Just a heads-up that if you’re using a credit score from a free website, it might not be 100% accurate. It’s likely to be close, but most of the time, free websites provide credit score estimates, and not actual scores from a credit reporting bureau.  

Credit Monitoring Has Its Limits

Credit monitoring can alert you to credit fraud or identity fraud, but only after it’s occurred. Protecting yourself means you’re responsible for taking the proper actions should an issue arise.  

Watch out for Free Credit Report Impostors

There is only one website authorized by the government to provide free annual credit reports. It’s AnnualCreditReport.com. There is no other website that will provide a no-strings-attached, free credit report.

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Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

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The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

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We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

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Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

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