Following the October security breach at the S.C. Department of Revenue, which exposed millions of taxpayers’ financial information to data thieves, I signed up for the free credit monitoring service offered by the state.

I’ve just had my first real-time experience with how ProtectMyID works, and how it compares to a rival credit-monitoring service I subscribe to, and I’ll tell you what I learned.

But first, have you signed up yet for a free year of ProtectMyID from Experian? If you filed an S.C. tax return since 1998, you’re eligible because your data was likely hacked.

The deadline is March 31, and the year of free coverage begins when you sign up. At last check, nearly 2.5 million people who could sign up have not.

There’s no reason not to take advantage of the offer, and you’re already paying for it if you’re a South Carolina taxpayer because the state is paying Experian regardless. (See below for enrollment details.)

So, what happens when ProtectMy ID is monitoring your credit? Here’s my experience.

A few weeks ago, I filled out a loan application, which triggered what’s know as a “hard” credit inquiry to all three major credit bureaus, as the lender probed my credit reports.

The same day my reports were accessed, I received an email from ProtectMyID alerting me. This is a key feature of credit monitoring because a fraudulent attempt to obtain credit in your name should generate a similar alert.

The alert I received from Protect MyID was followed by a reminder email the next day, urging me to log in to my account and make sure the credit inquiry was legitimate (it was).

Checking my account showed when my credit reports had been viewed and by whom.

I also received email alerts from Citi ID Monitor, a competing service to which I’ve been subscribing. The first alert arrived about four hours ahead of ProtectMyID, but it arrived shortly before 4:30 a.m., so I saw emails from both companies at about the same time. Two follow-up emails followed.

Now, here’s where differences between the state-paid Experian service and the one I’ve been paying Citibank for became evident.

With Citi ID Monitor, you can review all three of your credit reports and your credit score as you like. Of course, the service costs money, currently $12.95 a month.

With the state-paid ProtectMyID service, the credit monitoring is free for one year, but you don’t get access to your credit reports or credit score.

The consumer-paid version, costing $15.95 a month, does include access to those reports and your score.

What you do get after logging in to the state-paid version of ProtectMyID’s is a pitch for you to pay for access to this information: $9.95 for your Experian credit report and score, or $31.95 for all three major credit bureau reports and score.

ProtectMyID did just as well at alerting me to changes in my credit report as the service I’ve been paying for. Since ProtectMyID is free for a year, and I’ve recently reviewed my credit reports and score, I’m going to drop my paid service and save a little money.

However, when my free year of ProtectMyID expires, I’ll probably switch back to Citi ID Monitor because it costs a few dollars less each month and seems to do the job. There is legislation in the S.C. Senate that would extend the state-paid service to 10 years, but for now it expires after one year.

Also worth noting: You don’t need to pay ProtectMy ID $31.95 to see your three credit reports and credit score. You’re entitled to review the reports for free every 12 months under federal law. To access your credit reports at no cost, visit annualcredit, or call 877-322-8228.

There is a charge to get your credit score, which is typically $6 or $7.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.