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How to Stay on Top of Your Credit Without Paying a Penny

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Published: August 18, 2014

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Selling consumers their credit scores and reports is a very lucrative business. Everyone is doing it, nowadays, it seems, but do you really need to shell out from $10 to $50 a month to stay on top of it? For many, the piece of mind might be worth it. Identity theft is thriving, and people are rightfully concerned about the risk to become a victim of this heinous crime. However, before you sign up for an expensive credit monitoring plan, you need to know your options.

There used to be times when everything about credit was a well-guarded secret. People had no idea what was going on with their credit and what actions would or would not adversely affect their credit score. These times are gone now. Even FICO, Fair Isaac Corporation, which is the founding father of the modern credit scoring model, wants to give people their information for free. So, here are your options.

Annual Credit

The federal law mandates that once a year, credit bureaus must provide consumers with a free credit report. These credit reports do not include the score, but they do report everything else, so when you find inaccuracies (and if you are like the most Americans, you will) you have a chance to request corrections. All three major credit bureaus participate in this venture: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

Barclay and Discover Credit Cards

The Barclaycard and Discover made a deal with TransUnion to provide their customers with a genuine monthly FICO credit score for free. If you hold a credit card from one or both of those companies, you can access your score every month.

Credit Sesame

Credit Sesame is a free credit score and credit monitoring service that goes one step beyond simply telling you what your score is. You can set it up so it alerts you to changes in your credit profile; for example, new accounts, new balance changes, etc. It is very useful because if something bad happens to your credit, Credit Sesame will alert you, so you can act fast.

You can also check your credit score once a month, but be aware that it is not a genuine FICO score, but rather a so-called FACO score based on the Experian proprietary formula. It can be very close to your FICO score or far apart-it depends.

Credit Karma

Credit Karma is similar to Credit Sesame in the way that it monitors your credit and alerts you when something bad happens. The difference between Credit Karma and Credit Sesame is that Credit Karma allows you to check your score whenever you want, and that it's score model is based on the TransUnion's formula, not Experian's. It is still a FACO score, though.

Even if you have one of the credit cards that offer you a free monthly score, it still makes a good sense to subscribe to one or both of these services, especially since the price is right: free.

This is a post by Andy Shuman, a credit and travel expert who blogs at He writes and blogs during and between trips that he enjoys free of charge mostly due to creative use of credit card offers. He believes that credit cards are much more than just a convenient way to pay for a purchase, and that the benefits of responsible credit habits can go far beyond getting the best rates for loans and mortgages.

Andy is the author of bestselling books from Lazy Traveler Handbook Series available on Amazon. When he's not traveling, he lives with his beautiful wife and daughter in Brooklyn, NY.

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