We'd all like to think that our mobile "smart" devices make us more knowledgeable, efficient, and aware of the world around us. But if you peruse the most popular downloads in any of the major app stores, it's clear that we often just use technology for fun and distraction - to play video games and binge-watch our favorite TV shows & movies.
It's great, really.
But in between marathon sessions of Mad Men and matches of Candy Crush, there's plenty we can do with our phones and tablets to manage our lives and our money.
Enter the Realm of Credit Monitoring Apps
Apps for monitoring your credit can be useful tools for tracking items on your credit report, keeping an eye on your credit score over time, and reporting suspicious activity and charges on your credit card accounts. Credit monitoring is an essential part of being a savvy consumer, and it's possible that using a credit monitoring app could make it even easier to be savvy consumer while on the go.
Before naming my favorite apps, let's break down the categories I used to evaluate them:
- Features - What can this app do? A robust and varied set of features can be crucial for adding more value to the user and longevity on a smartphone.
- Ease of use - Usability is king. An app can have all the bells and whistles in the world, but if it's unstable, slow, and clunky or crashes a lot, what good is it?
- Reputation - Is the app popular? Does it have positive reviews? In general, this attribute is extremely important, but it's doubly important when it comes to credit monitoring apps, where you may need to supply personal information such as your Social Security number and banking credentials.
- Paid/Unpaid - Is the app completely free? Does their paid version offer additional features?
Now let's begin!
Credit Karma is a free and reputable credit monitoring service, and their app carries on that tradition. The app is available for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone devices.
The free app is feature-rich and includes many of the same tools as the website. The app prominently displays your current Vantage credit score (which they pull from TransUnion and Equifax) and contextually presents its other features in an easy-to-understand way. One of my favorites is the Credit Report Card, which not only displays your credit history but also provides insight on how credit bureaus weigh different factors of your credit activity. It allows you to quickly see the impact of that department store card inquiry or lowered overall credit utilization.
Another useful feature is the credit score tracker, which shows a historical line graph of your credit score over time. It's a great way to take a quick glance at your progress.
Overall, it has a solid set of features and also educates users on credit reporting, which is a plus.
Ease of Use:
The tools are laid out very intuitively. The interface mirrors the desktop experience and is clean, easy to understand, and smooth.
The app currently has an average rating of 5 stars from over 73,000 ratings on the iTunes App Store. In terms of apps, this signifies a pretty good reputation.
Billguard is a free money tracking service, similar to Mint, but this app focuses on calling out suspicious charges on your account-what they call "grey" charges. This app is primarily a spending tracker, but it's a great tool for keeping an eye on questionable (or late) charges on your credit cards, which can affect your credit score.
The app's primary feature is the tracking of "grey" charges, which is dependent on the user linking their credit card accounts to the service. The more accounts you add, the more charges it can monitor and the more value you'll ultimately get out of it.
The app will send notifications highlighting charges for your review. The service updates fairly quickly (though it doesn't include pending charges), so it can help you keep up with spending and monitoring any suspicious activity.
Unlike the other apps, though, this is a pretty simple, focused app with not an abundance of features. I wouldn't call it a “must-have,” but it’s definitely a nice supplemental app.
Ease of Use:
This is one of the slicker-looking apps. It's very modern, quick, easy to navigate, and well designed. Inputting account information is painless and selecting notification settings is straightforward.
While Billguard is fairly new in the financial services space, consumers seem to like the app, giving it a 4 1/2 star rating on the iTunes App store from over 5,500 reviews.
MyFICO Mobile app
MyFICO is a well-known service owned and operated by the Fair Isaac Corporation, creator of the FICO credit score. The website provides credit reports and scores from all 3 major credit bureaus (TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax). Their companion app is full-featured, but is best suited for users with a myFICO account, which costs $14.95-$29.95 per month depending on the package you choose. The app is available on iOS, Android and Windows Phone devices.
Their most highly touted feature, of course, is access to the FICO score as well as credit scores and reporting from all 3 major bureaus. We couldn't find another app (or service) that offers that level of aggregate reporting.
Being able to quickly glance at all of your scores is a fantastic feature. Plus, Score Watch™ allows you to visualize your score history in a nice interactive graph.
The Alerts section helps track the balance of your credit products-from credit cards to auto loans-to monitor utilization and payment history. The Alerts section also offers contact information for lenders on your accounts, which can be useful when you need to contact your lender on the go.
Ease of use:
Overall, the presentation is smooth and intuitive, with easy access to credit score information. Again, you'll get the most out of this app with a myFICO subscription, so take that into consideration before downloading.
FICO is a staple in the credit monitoring business and the app has solid reviews as well, holding a 4 star average rating on the iTunes App Store from over 260 ratings. It doesn’t seem to be the most popular app in the world, but the small number of reviews are positive and the firm is trustworthy.
Honorable mentions go to Mint, Check, Credit Sesame, and apps from the three major credit bureaus. Overall, there’s plenty of variety to help you find the app or service that best fits your needs.