It’s been quite a while since I last wrote here… Been busy, a lot of things happened. Learned a lot, and will maybe share some of these lessons here.
But here’s one thing that I finally figured out – how to make sure your credit reports are under your control, for free. Sure, you can pay the credit reporting agencies for the right to control your own information, albeit partial and very limited, but shouldn’t you be able to have that control for free?
I think you should.
Some of these agencies make it relatively easy, if you’re willing to tolerate some moderate levels of targeted advertisements. You’re their product, after all, not a customer. Others – not so much. So here’s how I’m able to lock and unlock my credit at will, with relative ease, and for free – with all the three major credit reporting agencies.
TransUnion is the first agency that I found offering the free locking option (which is different from “Credit freeze” option). You can do it quite easily through their TrueIdentity service. It has several tiers, the lowest of which is free (ad-based) and offers, in addition to the ability to lock and unlock the access to your credit file, credit reports from TransUnion, alerting on credit inquiries, very basic monitoring and recovery services. More advanced (paid) tiers also include 3-bureau reports, dark-web monitoring, higher levels of identity theft insurance coverage, etc. Pretty pricey – $29.95 for just one time fetching of all three reports. You can get much better offerings elsewhere, if you’re willing to pay.
TrueIdentity service used to have a mobile app which made it quite convenient to lock and unlock your reports on the go from the palm of your hand, but they deprecated it and are now only offering the web interface.
Equifax also has a free tier service at myEquifax.com. This service also allows locking and unlocking your credit file (including a dedicated mobile app!), monitoring your Equifax credit file, seeing alerts and notifications, and of course – ads. However this service is not a dedicated monitoring offering like TrueIdentity, but rather an interface to your credit file itself. You can use this service to also file disputes and put a full credit freeze on your report from the same interface (only on the web). Pretty useful and convenient.
For the longest time I couldn’t find a way to control access to my credit file with Experian for free. Sure, I could pay them, but I feel that paying the credit reporting agency for the right to control who gets to see information about me feels like extortion of a kind. The CreditLock product they have is not free, and in fact is quite expensive: $29.95/month last I checked. The free tier exists, but doesn’t allow locking the credit file, only monitoring (and, similarly to Equifax, filing and managing disputes). That is unfortunate.
However I finally found a solution which ended up free for me – have someone else pay for it.
If you read my blog, you’re probably also familiar with various blogs that discuss the credit card point bonuses and other ways to earn benefits from various providers if you’re financially conscious. So, let me introduce you to the American Express Morgan Stanley Platinum Card. The Amex card itself has nothing to do with it, actually, it’s just how I ended up finding the free benefit of controlling my Experian credit file: Morgan Stanley identity protection benefit (https://www.morganstanley.experiandirect.com), which is a free benefit for the Morgan Stanley CashPlus account holders. While I opened that account to gain the “free” Amex Platinum card (as described in the post I linked above), I also discovered the additional credit monitoring benefit sponsored by Morgan Stanley and provided through Experian. That service provides a pretty comprehensive monitoring and alerting, including 3-bureau reports (once a month), high levels of identity theft insurance coverage, monitoring additional information like your email or phone number, etc – services that usually cost quite a bit elsewhere are provided for free, courtesy of Morgan Stanley.
To have access to these services you’ll need a CashPlus account. For a Platinum account, if you want all that for free you’ll need to commit at least $25K deposit + $5K incoming funds every month to Morgan Stanley, otherwise the CashPlus Platinum account can be costly at $55 monthly maintenance fee. But with all its benefits (including the Amex card), if you have the funds to meet the fee waiver criteria – it is definitely worth it. Premier CashPlus account requires less monthly income to waive the fee ($2.5K), and the fee itself is only $15 (compare to the $16.99 monthly cost of the CreditSecure service, a similar credit monitoring offering from American Express, which doesn’t include the Lock option).
So here it is – I’ve got all the credit files locked, and under my control, all for free.
Keep safe out there!
Your Little Advisor.