Credit Score: To Monitor or Not To Monitor?

If you’ve stepped into the financial world at all, you’ve probably been bombarded with advertisements urging you to check your credit, monitor it, track it. These advertisements are almost always flashy, obnoxious, and slightly sketchy, depending on where you see them. Your credit health is important, but how much should you really monitor your score, and what services should you trust to do it?

The answer really depends on your personal situation and your interest (or lack thereof) in your personal finances. If you are the average consumer, with average credit and no serious problems, your needs will most likely be satisfied by getting your annual credit report every year at Federal law allows you to get your credit reports from the three major bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) once a year for free from this website. All you have to do is look it over to make sure everything is accurate — this is very important for preventing identity theft or other mistakes that will hurt your credit rating.

But what if you are actively trying to build (or rebuild) your credit? Or what if you just¬†need to know¬†more often than once a year? If you’re just starting to establish a credit history, meaning your oldest account is less than a year old, don’t even worry about monitoring credit yet! You’ll have such a short history that any numerical score won’t mean anything.

If you’re trying to rebuild credit, you might want an option that allows you to track your progress. There are plenty of paid options to do this, including offerings directly from the credit bureaus and even credit card issuers such as Citi and Discover. You can often choose one credit bureau or all three, and monitor changes as often as you’d like. Many of these services will also alert you of suspicious activity and give suggestions for improving your credit that are tailored directly to you. If this option is for you, just make sure the service you use is reputable, and that you know upfront what the monthly cost is going to be.

If you’re not willing to pay for credit monitoring, or if you want to check on it just for fun, there are few decent places to do it. Websites such as Quizzle and Credit Karma will give you a summary of your credit report and a numerical score without requiring you provide payment information at sign-up (the famous “free trial” trap). These kinds of services can differ in various ways. For example, Quizzle uses your Experian report, while Credit Karma uses your TransUnion report. Quizzle allows you to get a free update every 6 months, while Credit Karma will let you refresh it every day if you want. Credit Karma bombards you with ads, while Quizzle has a slick, self-promoting interface. Both websites also have other resources and information. These free options have their limitations, of course, but they are adequate for many people and can be a starting point if you do eventually need something more comprehensive.

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