The three credit reporting agencies have agreed to provide free credit monitoring services to all active duty members, going beyond the federal government’s requirements, according to two senators who had pushed for broader eligibility.

The free credit monitoring, which often costs $30 a month or more, can help troops keep on top of their finances, with information about new activity on their credit reports. With early detection, troops can take steps to nip fraud and other problems in the bud.

A 2018 law gave the new benefit to service members, but the Federal Trade Commission’s implementation guidelines limited it to those “assigned to service away from the usual duty station of the consumer.” It applied to active duty members and reservists on active duty under Title 10 orders. There are about 1.4 million active duty members, and more than 800,000 members of the Guard and Reserve components.

However, the three credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – have recently agreed to broaden the benefit, to provide the service to all active duty members, according to the two senators from Delaware, who had requested the agencies provide the service to more troops.

“This decision will result in broader financial protection for active service members and make a profound difference in the lives of their families,” wrote Delaware senators Thomas Carper and Christopher Coons, both Democrats, in a Sept. 12 letter to the chief executive officers of the three credit reporting agencies, thanking them for broadening the eligibility.

“We’re happy to provide them with the means to keep an eye on changes to their Experian credit report,” said Experian spokesman Greg Young. Experian officials don’t yet have a specific start date for the new benefit, he said, but when it begins there will be a link to a registration page designed specifically for the offering. Troops will need to renew the credit monitoring service every two years, but that requirement will likely be revisited and evaluated before the deadline for the first two-year renewal, he said.

Information wasn’t immediately available from the other two credit reporting agencies about when the benefit begins, or how service members can request the free credit monitoring.

These credit monitoring services alert consumers about material additions or changes to their credit files, such as new accounts opened in your name; changes to address, name or phone number; changes to credit limits and inquiries or requests for a consumer report, other than for pre-screening or account review. The Federal Trade Commission rule requires that the credit reporting agencies notify military consumers within 48 hours of any of these changes or additions.

The senators noted that the companies have agreed to define “active duty military consumer,” for their purposes in implementing the benefit, as “a consumer who is on full-time duty in military service of the United States, which includes full-time training duty; annual training duty; full-time National Guard duty;” and during attendance, while on active duty, at a service school.

That’s consistent with the Defense Department’s request for a broader definition of those eligible, eliminating the requirement that active duty members and reservists be assigned away from their usual duty station. DoD officials had notified the Federal Trade Commission that the requirement for the military member to be assigned to service away from the usual duty station would be “severely limiting,” because a military consumer is likely to spend most of the active duty career assigned to “the usual duty station.”

Credit files maintained by the credit reporting agencies include information about where you live, whether you pay your bills on time and the amount of debt; whether you’ve been sued or arrested; or filed for bankruptcy. The information is used to make decisions on whether to lend you money, whether to rent you an apartment, and, importantly for many in the military, it’s also used in security clearance determinations.

Under new guidelines, officials are conducting continuous monitoring of financial records of those who roles in national security, including service members. Using proactive measures, consumers can learn early on about potential fraud or problems, and deal with them early.

Military members won’t have to pay to get access to their credit files if they receive notice that there’s an important change. If the credit reporting agency notifies a consumer about a change to the credit file, it must also provide the consumer with free access to the file, according to the final Federal Trade Commission rule.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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