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Is credit monitoring a bad idea?

I’ve used a credit monitoring service for a number of years. Sometimes I check it religiously every month, other times I go six months without even thinking about it. I’ve used it a lot recently to clean up inaccuracies in my credit report, and I like the fact that it sends me an email any time there’s an inquiry or a change. The service I use does provide credit scores, but I’m more focused on the full report than the number. I pay less than $8/month for this service and overall it seems worthwhile.

There’s a school of thought, however, that says credit monitoring is unnecessary and a complete waste of time and money. Some people maintain that keeping a close eye on your credit report is pointless because you don’t actually need the information more than once every few years. You can get a free copy of all three credit reports once a year, and that should be enough to take care of any glaring issues. Or, if you’re getting ready to buy a house or a car, you can check your report then and clean up anything that’s out of line before making your purchase.

The larger argument, though is that it’s a bad idea for people to get too wrapped up in their FICO score, and on a fundamental level, I agree. Monitoring your credit every month has been called a symptom of Credit Score Hysteria, which causes people to make major life decisions based on how it impacts their credit score. Dave Ramsey calls the FICO score an “I-Love-Debt Score”, because it doesn’t factor in your income, savings accounts, or sense of integrity…and if you buy into the debt-free lifestyle, you should never need credit anyway. Overzealous monitoring can turn into obsessive navel-gazing for some people, and it can perpetuate a vicious cycle of debt for others who acquire stacks of credit cards in the name of increasing their ratings.

I believe in and aspire to the goal of being completely debt-free. I still believe that credit cards are fundamentally evil. However, the reality is that most of us non-millionaires need to have a healthy, accurate credit report, and not just for making major purchases on credit every five or ten years. My insurance company and wireless phone providers both check my credit a couple of times a year. Every time you move, utility companies inquire to be sure you can pay your bills. Many employers check credit, and anyone who needs a corporate credit card for travel could find themselves out of a job if they can’t qualify — and could also be a target for identity theft, if they travel frequently. Renters need to know where they stand before applying for housing…the list goes on. And for people like me who have just gone through bankruptcy, there’s a very real need to keep an eye on inaccuracies so they can be cleaned up, and to be sure they don’t pop back up after disputing.

For now, I think I’ll keep my credit monitoring service. While there are some good reasons not to monitor credit, moderation is the key. My credit score doesn’t define me and I don’t lose sleep over it. There are a handful of different scoring systems, so I use the “score” numbers only relative to themselves. Will I keep monitoring forever? Probably not. But as long as I have bankruptcy-related issues to take care of, credit monitoring gives me a quick and easy way to be proactive about problems and alerts me to potential issues — before they keep me from doing something I need to do.

 

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