Get Free Credit-Monitoring Services

Most adults will be able to take advantage of this offer from TransUnion as part of the credit bureau's settlement for violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

I heard about a settlement worth $10 billion with the credit bureau TransUnion that is supposed to give millions of people access to free credit-monitoring services. That sounds too good to be true. How can I find out if I am eligible? If so, should I sign up? Sometimes these class-action settlements are more trouble than they're worth.

You're almost certainly eligible to get the services, and they're worth signing up for.

TransUnion agreed to offer free credit monitoring to more than 160 million people as part of a preliminary lawsuit settlement. The suit claims that TransUnion violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act by selling lists with consumers' personal and financial information for marketing purposes. TransUnion discontinued that business several years ago.

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The settlement applies to everyone who had an open credit account or open line of credit from any lender from January 1, 1987, to May 28, 2008. Anyone with a credit card, car loan, mortgage, student loan or any other loan qualifies, which means most adults do.

To sign up, go to from now until September 24 and click on the register for benefits link.

You have two options. If you sign up for six months of free credit monitoring, you may also receive a cash payment if there is a cash distribution. And you could still file an individual lawsuit against TransUnion. If you sign up for nine months of "enhanced" services, you won't receive any cash payment and you can't file a lawsuit against the company. (See the Summary Notice on the Web site or call 866-416-3470 for more details). A court hearing is scheduled for September 10, and you likely will get your benefits soon after that.

The credit-monitoring services being offered by TransUnion can be very valuable, especially when you don't have to pay. With the six-month option, you get unlimited daily access to your TransUnion credit report and your TransUnion credit score (which is different from the more widely used FICO score), as well as 24-hour e-mail notification of any "critical" changes in your credit report. The service retails for $59.75.

The nine-month service, which retails for $115.50, also includes a suite of scores calculated by insurance companies, plus a mortgage simulator to show how lenders would rate you. TransUnion won't collect credit-card numbers upfront and won't continue providing the service for a fee after the initial period ends, unless you request it.

Steven Katz, TransUnion's director of consumer education, says the company's offer "is consistent with TransUnion's commitment to providing consumers with tools to help them be active managers of their credit health."

Kimberly Lankford
Contributing Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

As the "Ask Kim" columnist for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Lankford receives hundreds of personal finance questions from readers every month. She is the author of Rescue Your Financial Life (McGraw-Hill, 2003), The Insurance Maze: How You Can Save Money on Insurance -- and Still Get the Coverage You Need (Kaplan, 2006), Kiplinger's Ask Kim for Money Smart Solutions (Kaplan, 2007) and The Kiplinger/BBB Personal Finance Guide for Military Families. She is frequently featured as a financial expert on television and radio, including NBC's Today Show, CNN, CNBC and National Public Radio.