Should You Apply for Offers on Free Credit Monitoring Sites?
Written by: Kristy Welsh
Last Updated: October 2, 2017
As helpful as it is to get credit monitoring for free, sites like Credit Karma do come with a catch — enticing credit offers at every turn. On the one hand, we need these offers to keep the services free, as these companies make their money when users apply and are approved for offers through advertising partnerships. On other hand, it can be hard to resist these tempting offers. While they could help you repair your credit, depending on how you manage them, they could do you more harm than good. So before you apply, ask yourself these important questions first.
Do you know the terms of the offer?
If it’s a credit card, make sure you know the:
- Application fee (look for no application fee)
- Annual fee (look for no annual fee)
- Interest fee
- Balance transfer fee
- Cash advance fee
- Foreign transaction fee
- Late payment fee
- Over-the-limit fee
- Returned payment fee
Check too for cash-back bonuses and rewards categories.
If it’s an installment loan, make sure you know:
- The interest rate
- The monthly payment
- How long it’s going to take you to pay it off
- How much you will have paid by your pay-off date
Also, keep in mind that, for any type of credit, you should expect the lender to report your payment history (good or bad) to the credit bureaus.
Have you compared the offer to those on other sites?
While an offer you see on a credit monitoring site may be a good deal, it may not be the best you can get. So as with any other type of financial product or service, shop around before you commit. Check credit comparison sites Bankrate and Nerdwallet. You can also check offers among multiple credit monitoring sites (e.g., Credit Karma, Credit.com, WalletHub).
Are you prepared to be rejected?
While credit monitoring sites do tailor offers to your credit profile, it doesn’t mean you automatically qualify. It works the same way as the pre-screened credit card offers you get in the mail. You meet a certain minimum criteria, but only by applying for the offer can the creditor look at your report to see if you actually qualify. Your chances may be good, but approval is not guaranteed.
Do you have good approval odds for the offer you’re considering?
The best way to protect against rejection is to only apply for credit that you are most likely to qualify for. So pay attention to approval odds of the offers you are being shown on credit monitoring sites. If the odds of approval are anything less than good, don’t bother. And remember, even the best odds don’t mean a done deal.
Has it been a while since you applied for credit?
When you apply for credit and the lender checks your credit file, it’s called a hard inquiry. Just one of these inquiries won’t knock more than 5 points off your credit score. But if you have several hard inquiries over a short of period of time, it can hurt your credit a lot more, as you may look too credit hungry. That means if you apply for an offer through a credit monitoring site, and they see multiple recent inquiries, it could hurt your chances for approval. Plus, the new application through the credit monitoring site will mean yet another hard inquiry added to your credit report.
Are you confident in your ability to handle new credit?
Done right, a new credit account can boost your credit score. Done wrong, it can make things worse.
If it’s an installment loan you’re looking at, make sure it’s for something you really need. Sure, it would help your credit mix, but at what cost?
If it’s a credit card you’re considering, be honest with yourself about how you’ll likely treat hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars of new credit. If you have a history of maxing out credit cards, think twice (especially if you are still paying off outstanding credit card debt). And either way, make sure you know credit card best practices.
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