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Monitor your credit score

Wednesday, Jan. 6
Posted: 8 a.m.

Bankrate reporter Leslie McFadden contributed this entry.

What does yoga have to do with personal finance? Usually nothing, but at the launch of zendough.com in New York City yesterday morning, monetary bliss took on a literal meaning. Passersby stopped by the event in Grand Central Terminal to stretch on yoga mats while they received financial tips and information about zendough, a new credit monitoring product and personal finance tool from TransUnion, one of the three major credit reporting agencies. You guessed it -- the Web site is saturated by the financial enlightenment theme.

The product is the first from TransUnion to use the VantageScore, as opposed to its own proprietary score called TransRisk, or a FICO score. VantageScore was jointly developed by the three major credit reporting agencies in 2005 and uses a consistent formula. FICO's competitor is used by eight of the top 10 credit card issuers.

In fact, as of Jan. 11, TrueCredit.com, the consumer site for TransUnion, will use the VantageScore in all of its products. VantageScore gives consumers a letter grade, A through F, in addition to a three-digit number, ranging from 501 to 990. As in school, you don't want an "F" on your credit report card.

A zendough subscription costs $14.95 per month after a seven-day free trial. Here's a look at what you get for the money:

After logging in, you see an overview of your personal finance situation -- your account summary, debt-to-income ratio, credit score and report summary, plus an identity risk score.

The other tabbed pages take you to the various sections summarized on the main page. The "My Accounts" tab takes you to a breakdown of your debt by category, such as student loan or credit card.

From the "My Credit" page you can access your three credit reports from Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. Zendough groups relevant sections from each credit report together for easy comparison. For instance, when looking over the account history section, I was able to see that Experian was reporting a credit card account on which I am an authorized user, while the two other agencies were not.

On the "My Identity" page you'll see your identity risk score based on searches of databases. Unfortunately the score is more worry-inducing than actionable. You do receive alerts, however, when your Social Security number becomes associated with a new account.

If you have been a victim of identity fraud, members do have access to a case manager and up to $25,000 of ID theft insurance.

The last tab, called "My Path," provides checklists for common personal finance goals, such as staying on budget or preparing for retirement.

Bottom line: If you are worried about identity fraud or want to track your score movement to plan ahead for a loan application, credit monitoring might make sense. Generally, I think most of us can go the cheapskate route by ordering three free credit reports each year under federal law through AnnualCreditReport.com.

Using Web sites such as Quizzle and Credit Karma, you can get an idea of whether your credit score is good or bad. Bankrate.com also offers a free FICO score estimator.

Through AnnualCreditReport.com you can buy your credit score for a few dollars. A VantageScore credit rating from TransUnion costs $7.95. Experian sells its VantageScore score for $5.95, and Equifax offers a FICO score for the same $5.95 price tag.

At myFICO.com you can purchase your Equifax and TransUnion FICO score.

Readers, what's your take on zendough and other credit monitoring products? Do you find them useful? Write to me at: plastic_rap@bankrate.com.

Read all of the Plastic Rap blog entries.

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