If you’ve done much searching around for free credit monitoring, you know there is no shortage of services out there offering free access to your credit reports and scores all year long.
Unfortunately, your options are more limited if you have a credit freeze on your reports (as it is now recommended we all have in the wake of the Equifax hack). Thankfully, there are some exceptions, meaning you need not sacrifice the free credit monitoring you need – for credit repair efforts and beyond — just as much as you need your credit freeze.
About free annual credit reports
Before we delve into the specifics of free, year-round monitoring of your credit, it is important to distinguish it from the free credit reports you can get once a year through AnnualCreditReport.com.
By law, you are entitled to see your credit reports for free every 12 months from all three of the major credit reporting agencies – TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. To that end, the credit bureaus created AnnualCreditReport.com, a one-stop shop, of sorts, where you can request copies of your reports from all three bureaus all at once (or stagger them throughout the year).
While AnnualCreditReport.com is a free service that you should absolutely take advantage of, seeing your credit reports just once a year is simply not enough. On the contrary, you need to be able to see your credit reports all year long so that you can be on the lookout for:
- Fraudulent accounts opened in your name
- Inaccurate reporting on your credit accounts
In either case, the sooner you catch this kind of activity on your credit reports, the sooner you can dispute these listings and minimize the damage.
Bottom line, you need to see your credit reports regularly, which is where free credit monitoring services come into play.
You can get free, year-round access to your Equifax and TransUnion credit reports through Credit Karma. Of all the free credit monitoring services, Credit Karma is the one we recommend most. Not only because it allows you access to two credit reports, but also because it is so user friendly. And now, of course, there is the added benefit of being able to use the service even when a credit freeze in place.
As stated on Credit Karma’s website, “Once you’re already registered [for Credit Karma credit monitoring], you can add a security freeze to your reports without affecting your Credit Karma account. Security freezes only block your access to Credit Karma during the registration process.”
How to use Credit Karma for Equifax and TransUnion credit reports and scores
1) Lift your credit freezes (if applicable). This is necessary to allow Credit Karma access to your credit files. Once access has been granted, you can then re-freeze your reports. Depending on the state you live in, this process of unfreezing then refreezing your credit may come with a nominal fee. (A temporary lift or bypass code will not work on Credit Karma.)
2) Sign up. You will be asked for the personally-identifying information necessary for Credit Karma to access your credit files.
3) Sign in and go to Score Details. You will find this option under My Overview in the top navigation menu.
4) Select Credit Report.
5) Toggle between your Equifax and TransUnion credit reports.
You’ll see your credit report information presented as follows:
- Personal information
- Names reported
- Employers reported
- Addresses reported
- List of your accounts (which you can select to reveal account details)
- Creditor name
- Highest balance or credit limit
- Monthly payment
- Date opened
- Last payment
- Current payment status
- Worst payment status
- Account status
- Type of credit
- Individual or joint
- Remarks (if applicable)
- Number of times late
- Whether it is open or closed
- Hard inquiries (if applicable)
- Collection accounts (if applicable)
- Public records (if applicable)
6) Check out your Equifax and TransUnion credit scores. You can’t miss them, displayed in a line graph right across the top of the page. You’ll not only see your score today, but also its history dating back three months. (Note, the score you see is a VantageScore. Most creditors use your FICO Score, but knowing your VantageScore can still give you a good idea of where your credit stands overall.)
Learn more about VantageScore vs. FICO Score in Making Sense of Credit Scores Once and For All.
7) Take a look at Credit Factors. This gives you a breakdown of various factors as a means of showing you where you have room for improvement. These factors include:
- Percentage of credit you are using
- Percentage of payments you have made on time
- Number of derogatory marks
- Average age of your open accounts
- Total open and closed accounts
- Hard inquiries
You’ll also see credit card offers. While they may be a good fit for you, never apply for credit before shopping around (using sites like Bankrate or Nerdwallet).
Experian CreditWorks Basic
You can get free, year-round access to your Experian credit report through Experian CreditWorks Basic.
How to use CreditWorks Basic for Experian credit report
1) Sign up. Before Experian will allow you access to your credit report, you will need to provide them with personal information to verify your identity. Note, you need not lift a credit freeze when using Experian to monitor your credit.
2) Sign in and go to Reports and Scores.
You’ll see your Experian credit report broken down into sections that you can select via tabs:
- Open credit cards
- Open retail cards
- Open real estate loans
- Total open accounts
- Accounts ever late
- Collections accounts
- Time since negative
- Average account age
- Oldest account
- Overall credit usage
- Credit and retail card debt
- Real estate debt
- Installment CPN loans debt
- Collections debt
- Total Debt
- Number of hard inquiries
- Number of public records
- Public records
You will also see options to view your Equifax and TransUnion credit reports. But as you will see, if you click on those tabs, the only way to view those reports is to pay for it. The only free reports through Experian CreditWorks Basic is the one from Experian.
As for your Experian VantageScore, you won’t see that displayed either. We used to recommend that you get this from Credit.com. While this free credit monitoring service won’t give you access to your actual Experian credit report, Credit.com will show you what’s called a Credit Report Card, which includes your Experian VantageScore, as well the Experian National Equivalency Score.
Unfortunately, you cannot use Credit.com’s free credit monitoring if you have a credit freeze on your reports. Even if you are signed up for Credit.com before you place the freeze, the service stops working once a freeze is in place (as is the case for some other free credit monitoring services).
If you really want your Experian VantageScore, you can get it through Experian directly, but you’ll have to pay $7.95 for it. But the thing is, you can probably get a good enough idea of what your score is based on the VantageScores you see from Equifax and TransUnion (through Credit Karma). The only exception would be if what’s on your Experian credit report is drastically different from the other two.
Other free credit monitoring options
Before the necessity for permanent credit freezes, we recommended Credit Karma, of course, but also several other free credit monitoring services. We reached out to each of them for comment about using their service when a credit freeze is in place and here is what we found:
- Quizzle – Will work when a credit freeze is in place (provided you unfreeze it to sign up and refreeze afterward); allows you access to your TransUnion credit report and VantageScore
- com – Will not work when a credit freeze is in place
- WalletHub – Will not work when a credit freeze is in place
- myBankrate – We have not heard back as of this writing (will update when we do)
- CreditCards.com – We have not heard back as of this writing (will update when we do)
Equifax credit monitoring
As part of its response to the hack, Equifax is offering free credit monitoring to consumers for up to 1 year (enrollment period ends January 31, 2018). Its TrustedID Premier includes monitoring of your Equifax credit file, as well as Experian and TransUnion.
Other ways to get free credit reports
Besides AnnualCreditReport.com and the free credit monitoring services referenced above, there are several special circumstances in which you are entitled to a free credit report.
You may be able to see a credit report for free if:
- A change is made to a credit report due to a dispute
- You have reason to believe that the report is inaccurate due to fraud
- You are unemployed and looking for work
- You are receiving public welfare assistance
- Your state offers a free credit report
How to see your FICO Score for free
As helpful as it can be to see your VantageScores, it is your FICO Score that lenders use most, so it helps to know it. Many credit card companies provide FICO Scores to customers with monthly statements. If yours does not (or you don’t have a credit card), get yours free through Discover’s Credit Scorecard.
Want more options?
Check out 22 ways to monitor your credit, which includes paid options.