Everyone knows it’s important to have good credit.
Your credit affects your chances of buying a house, taking out a loan, opening a credit card and even getting a job. Good credit makes all that easy. Bad credit, on the other hand, can make your life a lot more difficult.
Many things go into your credit score: how many credit cards or loans you have, the balance on your accounts, your payment history and even the “age” of your accounts.
But something else that can affect your credit? Identity theft. Hackers and cybercriminals can damage your credit score by stealing your information and using it to open credit cards, make purchases and even take out loans.
The first step to getting (and keeping) good credit? Knowing what your credit is, and continually monitoring it. There are many online resources that can help you monitor your accounts and maintain your good credit.
Online credit monitoring
There are several different methods of online credit monitoring. Which one is best for you? That depends on your needs.
A credit estimate is one of the easiest ways to check your credit score. It’s not exact, but it can be a good way to get a quick picture of your credit. Try the simple 10-question estimates at MyFico.com and Money.MSN.com.
A credit estimate won’t, however, be able to tell you if your credit has been affected by identity theft, since you’re only entering your own (legitimate) borrowing and repayment information.
A credit report is another way to check your credit score. It’s more accurate, but it takes time. And it can also cost money — you’re only allowed one free credit check per year. Save these for when you really need to check your credit — and use a reputable, government-authorized service, like AnnualCreditReport.com.
Credit monitoring services
Credit monitoring services are the most expensive option on this list. But they’re also the best way to keep an eye on your credit in real-time — and prevent identity theft from ruining your credit score. The “Big 3” credit agencies — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — all offer credit monitoring services for a monthly fee.
Identity protection services
Identity protection services like LifeLock and TrustedID also offer a level of credit monitoring. They keep tabs on your identity, so they’ll be able to notify you if and when your information is being used suspiciously. You can also find credit monitoring with similar free services like AllClearID and CreditKarma.