Equifax: Debt Wise™ Credit Monitoring Service

Creator/Provider:   Equifax
Review Updated:   January, 2010
Website:    Equifax Debt Wise™
Phone:  (877) 474-8273
Price:   ~$14.95/month

Equifax Credit Bureau

Now that all the credit bureaus have created services to help consumers monitor their credit scores and reports (for a nominal monthly fee, of course), you'd expect to see the bureaus try to differentiate their services from each other.

Debt Wise™ is Equifax's new entrant to the monthly-monitoring circus. And it's pretty obviously designed to help set them apart from the other guys by focusing on an aspect that's so near to my heart:

Debt reduction.

Equifax Finds an Angle

Look: All three bureaus (plus untold other companies) now offer some form of monthly credit monitoring. Their prices are all similar.

Personally, I'm sold on TransUnion's TrueCredit™ (review) service, having been a subscriber for years now. I value TrueCredit™ so much that I've recommended it to all my friends and family whenever the topic has come up. (I pay for my mom's subscription to the service, too. Seems the least I could do, given all the years she put up with me!)

However, Equifax, with their Debt Wise™ service, really caught my attention.

Readers of IYM and my Money Musings blog know that I'm all about working toward debt freedom. The Debt Wise™ service purports to not only provide continuous monitoring of your Equifax credit report and FICO score, but it also adds something called a "Fast Pay Plan," designed to help subscribers pay their debts down quicker and save on interest.

Debt Wise is the first bureau-sponsored service of which I'm aware to promote this angle. (If it's not the first, then I apologize to whatever bureau was first. But they really should advertise more.)

 

Debt Wise™ Features

Here's a rundown of the features provided by Debt Wise:

  • Daily monitoring of your Equifax credit report for changes
  • Credit-report changes result in an email alert hitting your inbox within 24 hours
  • Ability to receive wireless/cell phone alerts when your credit report changes
  • Ability to customize various aspects of credit-report change notifications
  • View your FICO® score and Equifax credit report at any time; updatable four times per year
  • FICO® Simulator gives you an idea how specific actions will affect your FICO
  • Unique "Fast Pay Plan" creates a plan, in as little as 10 minutes, to pay down your debt
  • "Fast Pay Plan" lets you choose debts from your Equifax Credit Report AND add debts not in your credit report
  • "Fast Pay Plan" is easy to update if you need to modify your plan
  • Automatic tracking of your progress as new changes are reported to your Equifax credit report
  • "Spend Right" tools and tips help you stay on track
  • $25,000 of Identity Theft insurance w/no deductible
 

Debt Wise™ Sign-Up: Really Easy

Signing up for Debt Wise was a snap. Two pages of personal-info questions (name, address, SSN, and so on), and then one page with two verification questions (e.g., "What company holds your mortgage?"), and that was all.

Total sign-up time, including page loads, was less than three minutes.

Thumbs-up on this aspect.

Logging In: Screenshots & Such

Here's what I saw when I first logged into Debt Wise (aside from the modified FICO score, of course):

Debt Wise Splash Screen

The first of my four-per-year FICO updates was already waiting for me on the right side of the screen.

FICO score available immediately

Didn't have to do a thing to initiate that, which was nice.

Credit Alerts & Customizations

There's a standard batch of occurrences (i.e., changes to your credit report) which will trigger Equifax to send you email alerts:

  • New credit inquiries
  • New accounts
  • Changes to existing accounts
  • Name change
  • New or changes to bankruptcies
  • Change of address
  • New or changes to collection accounts
  • New or changes to suits, liens or judgments

Obviously it's important to keep on top of those items, as any one could be an indication that your identity is being tampered with by the Bad Guys. (Could also be caused by someone fat-fingering a data input at a bank in Poughkeepsie, too. Point is, you don't know 'til you know.)

In addition, Equifax's Debt Wise also allows you to customize a few other credit-alert specifications. For instance, you can tell Equifax to notify you when your card-balance amounts change by some specified amount or percentage. You can also set an alert range for card inactivity:

Alert customization inputs

As an example, I told Equifax to alert me when any of my card balances dropped by a specified percent. Several weeks later, after I'd made a payment-in-full to one of my cards, I received an email confirming the change. And a section appeared in my Debt Wise home page, like so:

Alert Example

FICO® Score and FICO® Simulator

The Debt Wise service allows you to update your FICO score (shown above) four times per twelve-month period. You're then able to view your last-updated score every time you log in. Actually, you can't help BUT view your score every time, as it's always shown in real-big, real-bright font on the top right of your screen!

Equifax also offers their FICO Simulator service with Debt Wise. Here you can enter different scenarios ("What if I pay off all my cards in six months?") and the simulator will suggest, via returning a FICO score range, what effect those changes will have on your FICO.

FICO Simulator

There's also a section which summarizes your FICO standing and explains the factors affecting it:

FICO Summary Screen #1

One related feature that I like is the "Average Score Summary." Here, Debt Wise uses your FICO score to give you an idea of what rates you'd currently pay for various types of loans. You simply input your state and city so that the data returned is as on-target as possible:

'Average Loan Rates' Tool

That particular tool is found under the "How Lenders See You" subsection of the FICO Simulator.

Viewing Your Equifax Credit Report

Debt Wise offers two different "views" of your credit report. Both are organized very well.

In the "Summary" view, all your report data is nicely "summarized" for you in the space of just over one computer screen's length. As Equifax describes it:

Your Credit Summary highlights the information in your credit file that is most important in determining your credit standing by distilling key credit information into one easy-to-read summary.

There's a section showing account summaries, balances, debt ratios, and so on:

Credit Report - Account Summary

And other summarizing your report's aging, inquiries, and public information:

Credit Report - Age / Inquiry Summary

You can also view your full Equifax credit report by clicking on an expandable menu bar on the left side of the screen. This will pull up info regarding all your accounts and everything else contained in the report — the standard sort of thing we've all grown used to seeing in this age of credit-based, check-your-report-every-year living.

When you select PRINT CREDIT REPORT from the upper right side of the screen, you'll get the more-data-than-you-ever-wanted version of your credit report.

Debt Wise "Fast Pay Plan"

Ah yes ... the centerpiece of Equifax's Debt Wise service: the "Fast Pay Plan" feature. To kick things off, here's how Equifax themselves promote the product:

Debt Wise Promo

The "Fast Pay Plan" is powered by something called "Debt Stacking." (Sounds rather debt-snowballish, doesn't it?)

You can see a short demo of "Debt Stacking" by clicking this image:

Click for 'Debt Stacking' Demo

Boy, that's exciting ... or not. Perhaps it's just me and my money-dorkdom, but I wasn't aware that creating and tracking a debt paydown plan was all that difficult. I mean, there's this neat program called Microsoft Excel — maybe you've heard of it? — and it can crunch nasty debt numbers at an ungodly rate. (Note please ExcelGeek's Rapid Payoff Calculator as a sparkling example.)

Anyhow, back to Equifax and their Debt Wise "Fast Pay Plan."

'Fast Pay Plan' Wizard - Start

Click that START WIZARD button, and you're off to the races.

'Fast Pay Plan' Start Setup - Click to Expand

In Step 1, Debt Wise pulls up a list of your current debts from your Equifax credit report, and you'll select the ones you wish to build your Fast Pay Plan around. You'll also tell Debt Wise whether you'd like to add other debts which might not be found on your Equifax report.

Next, Equifax asks for details about each of your debt accounts:

'Fast Pay Plan' - Add Account Details - Click to Enlarge

I made up a few accounts and numbers...

Sample Debts

...and plugged them into the Fast Pay Plan...

FPP Wizard - Account Details Summary

...which then tallied nicely at the bottom, leaving me with just one more bright red button to click:

FPP Wizard - Account Details Summary

And click the button I did. After a few moments, Equifax presented me with a summary of the savings I'd earn if I followed their Fast Pay Plan.

Fast Pay Plan Savings - Click to Enlarge

Golly gee! I could save myself $54 in interest with the Fast Pay Plan, and pay off my fictional debts one year sooner. Note, please, the blurb Equifax displays on the enlarged screenshot above:

The magic of the Fast Pay Plan is in paying off your debts in an optimal order, making the same total monthly payment even after you pay off debts and, applying the amount you were paying to closed debt to a Target Account in your plan.

Yup — they're debt-snowballing you, just as all the gurus and money-bloggers (myself included!) recommend.

At this point, Equifax ushers you back to your Debt Wise homepage, which has now changed considerably. Its focal point is now your "Debt Wise™ Program" and your newly-created Fast Pay Plan. Remember that your initial homepage looked like so:

Debt Wise Splash Screen

With your Fast Pay Plan in place, the setup changes to:

Homepage Changes - Click to Enlarge

The right sidebar of the screen now contains a "Commitment Calculator." This tool allows you to change your monthly payments and/or your desired completion date and see how your plan is affected.

Commitment Calculator

"Fast Pay Plan" Calculations

When creating your Fast Pay Plan, Equifax uses its own calculations to give your debts a specified payoff order. You'll focus all extra funds on one account (Equifax calls this your "Target Account") and make only minimum payments to all other accounts until your Target Account is paid off.

In my sample debts' case, Equifax determined that my Amtrust Finance debt would be my Target Account, followed by Uncle Guido, and then Citibank:

Fast Pay Plan - Target Account

So it appears that Equifax's Debt Wise methodologies mirror those of Dave Ramsey's "Baby Steps" plan: Debts are ordered from shortest- to longest payoff time, rather than from highest rate to lowest. (Paying by rate is perhaps more often suggested.)

Rather than spend a lot of time detailing the methodology here, I'll just let you look at this PDF if you want more information:

Equifax "Fast Pay Plan" Calculations Summary

Making Changes to your Fast Pay Plan

Here's where Equifax's Debt Wise is going to have a really tough time keeping up with spreadsheets like ExcelGeek's Rapid Payoff Calculator. When you need to make changes to your Fast Pay Plan, in quite a few cases, Equifax recommends simply starting over and inputting your current/changed account details all over again. (This wouldn't necessarily be the case with a decent spreadsheet — assuming, of course, that you knew your way around Excel.)

Additionally, Debt Wise doesn't allow you to change the balances of those debts which it pulled from your Equifax credit report. These will update automatically when your card- or loan-account holders report the new balance data to Equifax each month.

Fast Pay Plan - Update Account Balances

One work-around for this: Since you can pick and choose which accounts your Fast Pay Plan includes from your credit report, you could simply ignore the "reported" account selection boxes and enter the same info as one of your "additional accounts."

Identity Theft Insurance

Honestly, I don't know how much "ID theft insurance" is worth to anyone, whether offered by Equifax or any other institution. This isn't because I believe the feature isn't worthwhile — if you need it, it's likely worth every penny.

Rather, my doubts are due to the fact that I've THANKFULLY not had to put the insurance into action on my own behalf. (The attempts that have been made to "utilize" my personal data all have been cut short by TrueCredit and the other ID theft services I employ.)

If you'd like more details on the $25k of identity-theft insurance that a membership in Debt Wise gets you, here's the PDF of benefits, straight from Equifax themselves:

Equifax Identity Theft Insurance Benefits Summary

In all honesty, identity-theft insurance like this is oh-so-common these days. It isn't a big selling point for me, one way or the other. I'm much more interested in the thoroughness and "update-ability" of the credit monitoring and alerts.

Pricing: Is It Worth It?

As of this writing, the Equifax Debt Wise service costs $14.95 per month.

We can assume that roughly $5 per month of that gets you the quarterly credit score, as that's what you'd pay for quarterly score checkups at MyFICO.com. (Or $15 per quarter, if you prefer.)

So we're left with ~$10/month of expense to get us the Equifax credit-monitoring and alerts, plus the ID theft insurance which Equifax provides, plus the "Fast Pay" debt paydown planning features.

Not too bad, I suppose.

Summary

For now, I'm sticking with TransUnion's TrueCredit service.

Since I'm debt-free (other than a mortgage), Equifax's Debt Wise™ feature of a "Fast Pay Plan" doesn't add anything to my arsenal. And it offers me less comprehensive monitoring than does TrueCredit, though I'll admit to preferring the aesthetics and clean appearance of Equifax's layout.

Michael • Updated February, 2010


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