By Elliot M. Kass | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor
6 Min Read | January 31, 2020 in Credit
Credit protection can refer to several different ways of safeguarding your credit and financial assets.
Types of credit protection include credit monitoring, identity theft protection, credit card purchase protection, and credit insurance.
Given the importance of credit in today’s economy, experts suggest most people consider one or more of these options.
What is credit protection—and is it something you need? The answer depends on the type of credit protection you’re concerned about.
People who use the term “credit protection” can mean up to four different but related types of credit protection services:
Let’s take a closer look at the benefits and value provided by each of these types of credit protection so you can consider whether or not they suit your needs:
Credit monitoring and alerts allow you to keep an eye on your credit score and any requests for your credit report, such as those made by lenders when you apply for a credit card or loan. Given the number of businesses that use your credit score to evaluate different kinds of applications, the experts say keeping tabs on your credit is important for virtually everyone.
Monitoring and alert services like those offered by the three national credit bureaus—Equifax, TransUnion and Experian—provide early warnings of inquiries into your credit history and any changes to your credit score, allowing you to respond accordingly if an inquiry appears amiss.
Credit monitoring can be particularly helpful for people who have lower credit scores and are trying to improve them. It can also provide an alert if someone is fraudulently attempting to open an account in your name.1 You may be able to find and use basic credit monitoring services for free, but expect to pay a monthly or annual fee for premium levels of this type of credit protection.
Identity theft protection shields you from cyber criminals attempting to use your name and credit history to borrow money, steal from your bank accounts, or make a purchase. Like credit monitoring, these services alert you to activity on your credit report, so there is some overlap between them. But identity theft protection also monitors many other instances where your personal identity information is either altered or used, such as tax filings to the IRS or requests to change your postal address.
According to a study by Javelin Strategy & Research and Identity Guard, a provider of identity theft protection services, fraudsters stole $16.8 billion from 16.7 million Americans through various forms of identity theft and fraud in 2017.2 Given the scope of this problem and the numerous difficulties people encounter trying to clear up the confusion that identity theft creates, many credit experts say contracting with a service to monitor your identity is worth the expense.
Identity theft protection is usually offered on a subscription basis. Prices vary considerably based on the specific services provided and can start as low as $8.99 a month, although somewhere between $17.99 and $26.99 a month is more typical.3
Purchase protection is another form of credit protection offered by many credit card companies as a benefit of using their card. Under these plans, the card provider acts as your advocate when something you purchased on the card is damaged, unable to be returned or fails to perform as promised. Also known as buyer protection plans, there are three basic kinds:
Since you generally don’t have to pay for these protections, experts urge people to take advantage of them.
Credit insurance covers loan or credit card payments in the event that you’re unable to pay due to a financial setback like losing your job or becoming disabled. Also known as payment protection insurance, it is typically offered as an extra service by the issuer of the loan or credit card.
Most of these programs promise to suspend or cancel your loan payments for a specified period of time if you can document a hardship that limits your ability to pay—such as having a doctor verify that you’re disabled, for example. They generally require that you’re not already behind on payments. Some may also reduce the amount of interest and fees that you owe.
This coverage can be costly, ranging from a monthly charge of 85 to 97 cents for every $100 of your loan balance. In other words, if you owe $5,000, you will pay over $500 a year for this type of credit protection, adding approximately 10% to the annual cost of the loan.4 Instead, most experts recommend using the money you would pay for credit protection to pay down your debt or to help pay for a traditional life or health insurance policy that will help you cover your obligations if something goes wrong.
Safeguarding your credit and maintaining a good credit score is important for most people. To help you do this, credit experts recommend using one or more of the various types of credit protection that are available: credit monitoring, identity theft monitoring, purchase protection and credit insurance.
1 “The 7 Best Credit Monitoring Services of 2020,” The Balance
2 2018 Identity Fraud: Fraud Enters a New Era of Complexity, Javelin Strategy & Research and Identity Guard
3 “Best Credit Monitoring Service for 2020,” The Simple Dollar
4 “The Truth about Credit Protection Services,” Real Simple