It is somewhat uncanny just how much information credit bureaus have on us. In fact, every time that you apply for or obtain a financial product that is linked to credit, you can be sure that you leave a footprint on your credit report. This virtual footprint includes everything from credit cards, loans, mortgages, store cards, lines of credit, and some cases – a bank account application.
As a result, the importance of keeping tabs on your credit score should not be understated. After all, this is the main metric that lenders will look at when they decide whether or not to approve your application for credit. Moreover, the health of your credit profile will also determine how much interest you pay on the respective credit product.
As such, it is crucial that you regularly check your credit report to assess whether or not there is anything you can do to improve your score. One such provider in this respect is Credit Karma. The online platform claims to provide a free avenue to check your credit score at any time without paying a single cent. Sound too good to be true? Actually, no – everything available at Credit Karma is, in fact, free at the point of use.
Nevertheless, if you want more information about what the platform actually offers, be sure to our comprehensive Credit Karma review. Within it, we’ll explore what Credit Karma is, what the website allows you to do, what information you’ll be privy to, and more.
What is Credit Karma?
- 1 What is Credit Karma?
- 2 What Does Credit Karma Offer?
- 3 Free Credit Score
- 4 Free Credit Report
- 5 Free Credit Report at Credit Karma
- 6 Credit Monitoring
- 7 Credit Monitoring at Credit Karma
- 8 Is Credit Karma Really Free?
- 9 What Else Does Credit Karma Offer?
- 10 Credit Karma: The Bottom Line?
- 11 Credit Karma
- 12 Pros
- 13 Cons
Founded back in 2007 just before the midst of the financial crisis, Credit Karma is an online platform that claims to “make financial progress possible for everyone”. The overarching concept of the platform is that everyday consumers have the chance to check, analyze, and subsequently improve their credit profile as and when they see fit.
Led by CEO Ken Lin, Credit Karma also aims to provide its user with simple tips to keep their financial standing in good order. This could include an incorrect entry on your credit report (which is more common than you think), or a particular credit product you have outstanding that is attached to an above-average APR rate.
Although there are now heaps of online platforms that allow you to access your VantageScore and credit report, many of these websites charge a monthly or one-time fee. On the contrary, the key attraction of using Credit Karma is that the platform is completely free.
Instead of charging its users money to access their financial standing, Credit Karma makes its money via third-party advertisers. Furthermore, as you’ll be presented with a range of deals on loans, credit cards, and other financing products – if you decide to take one out, the underlying provider will pay Credit Karma a small commission fee at no extra cost to you.
It is also important to note that unlike other free credit score platforms operating in the market – which often limit you to the number of times you can access your report, Credit Karma gives you access whenever you want.
Even more crucially, not only will you be able to retrieve your current credit score with the likes of Equifax and TransUnion, but you’ll also get your fully-fledged credit report. This arms you with all of the tools that you will need to engage in a credit rebuilding exercise.
Finally – and to illustrate just how popular the Credit Karma fee-free platform now is with consumers, the company claims to now have more than 100 million members under its wings.
So now that you know what Credit Karma is, in the next section of our review we are going to explore what information you are able to access as a free member.
What Does Credit Karma Offer?
While the platform offers a variety of free services throughout its site, Credit Karma is behind three core features – access to your credit score and credit report, and the ongoing monitoring of your financial standing.
Let’s break these three services down in more detail so you know exactly what you are getting.
Free Credit Score
Before we unravel the fundamentals of the free credit score offering available at Credit Karma, it is important that you first understand how your credit score actually works. Otherwise, the information presented to you via the Credit Karma website will be of little value if you don’t quite have a firm grasp of what the score means.
First and foremost, there are three leading credit rating bureaus in the US. This includes TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. Each credit bureau operates independently of one another, meaning that they each have their own way of collecting data, and evaluating the current strength of your financial standing.
Most notably, this includes the way that your credit score is calculated. Here’s a breakdown of how the main three credit agencies quantify your credit score.
- Equifax: 300 (bad) to 850 (excellent)
- Experian: 0 (very poor) to 1,000 (excellent)
- TransUnion: 0 (bad) to 710 (excellent)
As you can see from the above, the credit rating space is somewhat fragmented, not least because each agency will have a slightly different viewpoint as to how healthy your financial standing is. In order to create a more aligned credit rating system in the US, the three leading bureaus subsequently created the ‘VantageScore’. As the VantageScore is what you will be provided with at Credit Karma, it is highly relevant that we briefly explore how this works.
What is a VantageScore?
In its most basic form, your VantageScore is a collective credit score that is taken from the scores held by the three main credit bureaus – TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. This isn’t to be confused by your FICO score, which is a completely different rating system. However, both VantageScore and FICO now utilize the same credit score range – which starts from 300, up to a maximum of 850.
This covers a credit score of very poor (300-579), fair (580-669), good (670-739), very good (740-799), and excellent (800-850). The importance of your VantageScore should not be understated, as it is estimated that more than 6.4 billion scores were requested by US lenders in 2017 alone.
With that being said, we will give you a full breakdown of the many factors that can hurt or improve your VantageScore further down in our review. After all, there is no point in having access to your VantageScore if you don’t understand what you need to do to improve it.
Free VantageScore at Credit Karma
To make things even more complicated for you, it is important to note that your VantageScore might differ slightly between the main three credit bureaus.
Although the VantageScore ensures that all three agencies use the same formula to determine your credit score, they could still well differ for number of reasons. Firstly, when lenders report your repayment performance, they might choose to report it one, two or all three bureaus. This means that one bureau might have more information on you at any given time.
Furthermore, even if all three bureaus do have the same information on you, the frequency at which the respective agencies update their scores might differ slightly. Nevertheless, when you become a member at Credit Karma, you will have ongoing access to your VantageScore as per TransUnion and Equifax. As such, you won’t have access to your VantageScore with Experian – although the aforementioned bureaus are just as dominant in the US credit space, so this shouldn’t concern you.
Most importantly, as Credit Karma updates its system on a daily basis, you can effectively check your updated VantageScore on the platform every day – free of charge.
Free Credit Report
As noted in the above section, having a firm understanding of what your current score is via the VantageScore system is of utmost importance. However, if you are really serious about getting your financial standing in good order and thus – make frequent assessments of what your credit profile looks like, you also need to review your credit report.
In its most basic form, your credit report takes things one step further, insofar that while your credit score will notify you of your specific score, your report will give you a full breakdown of each entry that constitutes your score.
For example, every time that you apply for a new loan, credit card, or other financing product – and the lender performs a ‘hard enquiry’, then the application will appear on your credit report. As we will discuss further down, making too many applications for credit can have a detrimental impact on your credit score, so be wary of this.
Note: It is important that you understand the difference between a ‘soft’ enquiry and a ‘hard’ enquiry. In a nutshell, a soft enquiry is when lenders are able to extract information from your credit report without the search appearing on your report. However, when lenders need a more comprehensive extraction of your data, they will then perform a hard enquiry. This will then appear on your credit report.
On top of applications and previously obtained credit products, your credit report will also contain your historical payment performance. This includes payments that have been made on time, as well as missed payments and defaults. Furthermore, your credit report will contain information linked to your personal identity, such as your current and previous addresses, date of birth, and what bank accounts you currently hold.
Ultimately, your credit report contains a significant amount of information about you, meaning that you need to know what is on there. Even more importantly, there is always the chance that some of the information on your credit report is incorrect or out of date. Regarding the former, this could be a black-listed address that you have never lived at. And the latter, this could be a loan that is still listed as being in default, even though you have now cleared it in full.
Free Credit Report at Credit Karma
Much like in the case of your free VantageScore, Credit Karma will give you fully-fledged access to your credit report from both TransUnion and Equifax. Once again, if you need to view the information held on you by Experian, you will need to obtain this elsewhere. In fact, it is highly advisable that you understand your financial standing with all three credit bureaus, as there is always the chance that some of the information being held is incorrect.
Nevertheless, your TransUnion and Equifax credit report will be updated once per week at Credit Karma, which is great. Moreover, the report that you are able to get as a free member is the very same report that the respective credit bureau will charge you for if you went directly to their website. This is in stark contrast to other free platforms out there, which typically offer you a watered-down version of your report, and then ask you to pay a fee to gain full access. This further highlights why Credit Karma is now super popular with consumers in the US.
Furthermore, in order to cater to those with little understanding of how credit reports actually work, Credit Karma will highlight the most important information held on the report. As such, if there is a particular entry or section on your report that the Credit Karma algorithm believes requires further attention, you’ll be clearly notified of this.
So now that you have a firm grasp of how your credit score and credit report works, we are now going to explain the importance of ongoing credit monitoring. In a nutshell, it is all good and well if by checking your current financial standing you find out that you are in possession of a good credit score – however, this isn’t to say that your good score will remain in-tact indefinitely.
On the contrary, your credit score can go up or down at any given time. While the adjustment of your score might well be valid, this isn’t always the case. As we noted above, there might come a time when an incorrect entry is posted to your credit report.
However, the process of monitoring your credit goes above and beyond just checking to see if there is an invalid line of your report. Instead, you need to be made aware if a particular action you have taken has had a negative impact on your credit score. In fact, you would be surprised as to just how easily this can happen, which is why you need to make regular checks.
The good news for you is that Credit Karma can make the credit minoring process super easy for you, insofar that the system will send you automated notifications when something out of the ordinary arises. This could include a situation where you have applied for too many credit products in a short period of time and thus – your credit score has taken a hit.
Credit Monitoring at Credit Karma
As is the case with both the VantageScore and full credit reporting service offered by Credit Karma, the platform’s free credit monitoring feature covers both Equifax and TransUnion. As such, Experian has once again been left out.
Nevertheless, the credit monitoring service at Credit Karma is not periodic, meaning that you will only receive notifications if something out of the ordinary arises.
Is Credit Karma Really Free?
With heaps of credit reporting websites now in circulation, you may well know that ‘free’ often doesn’t mean free. For example, a lot of platforms will ask you to enter your credit card details before you are able to receive your report. In fact, this is a tactic often implemented by the main credit bureaus themselves!
While you might not be charged upfront, you’ll likely need to sign up to a subscription service that, if you don’t cancel before the free trial expires, will be taken directly from your credit card. In other instances, although some crediting reporting services will provide you with a free credit report, much of the information is restricted. As such, the only way that you can access your full report in its entirety is to pay an additional fee.
However, in the case of Credit Karma and its free credit reporting services, the platform is 100% free. There is never any requirement to enter your credit card details, nor will you ever be asked to pay an additional fee to receive your full report. This is why the platform has attracted more than 100 million members since its inception in 2007.
If you’re wondering how Credit Karma is able to offer something for free when other credit reporting websites don’t, this is because the platform makes its money through advertising. The vast bulk of this comes in the form of loan and credit card deals that it offers throughout its site. If you proceed to take one of these financing products out by clicking on the link via Credit Karma, the platform will receive a small commission fee at no extra cost to you. In this sense, it is a win-win situation for both you as the consumer and Credit Karma alike.
What Else Does Credit Karma Offer?
On top of its three core credit data services – which consists of free credit scores, credit reports, and credit monitoring – Credit Karma offers a range of other free services that you might find of interest.
Below we have listed a quick breakdown of what these services are and how they work.
If upon browsing through your TransUnion credit report you notice an entry is incorrect, invalid, or out of date, then Credit Karma allows you to submit a dispute directly through its website. Ordinarily, you would need to take this up directly with TransUnion, which can be a highly cumbersome process.
As great as this is, it is a shame that you cannot repeat the same process with either Equifax or Experian, meaning that you’ll need to take any disputes up directly with the respective credit bureau.
While it is somewhat true that the internet is now jam-packed with third-party websites that offer credit-based product recommendations, it could be argued that Credit Karma takes this to the next level. The reason for this is that the product recommendations that the platform puts your way will be based on your underlying credit profile.
For example, if you are currently in possession of a bad credit score, Credit Karma is likely to recommend a credit product that will allow you to rebuild your score. At the other end of the spectrum, if you are in receipt of an excellent credit score, but the Credit Karma algorithm believes that you are holding outstanding balances with too many lenders, then the system might recommend a suitable balance transfer credit card that comes with a super-long 0% interest-free period.
For those of you that prefer to perform life admin duties via your mobile phone, then you’ll be pleased to know that Credit Karma now offers a fully-fledged mobile app. The app is available to download free of charge via both the Google Play and Apple stores.
In doing so, you will have access to all of the same account features as found on the desktop version of the site. However, the mobile app is even more useful if you are looking for real-time credit monitoring notifications, as the updates can be sent straight to your mobile device, as opposed to having to check your email inbox.
Credit Karma: The Bottom Line?
In conclusion, it is clear to see why Credit Karma has attracted more than 100 million members to its platform.
Consumers finally have a go-to place to check their credit score and credit report free of charge, with no requirement to enter any financial information.
Moreover, the credit report that you are able to obtain from both TransUnion and Equifax is available in its full form, as opposed to the snippets that other credit reporting websites offer.
We also really like the ongoing credit monitoring notifications that Credit Karma will send to you if something untoward is posted to your credit report, as well as the Direct Dispute feature that allows you to query incorrect entries to TransUnion. Once again, all of this can be achieved without paying a single cent in fees, which is great.
However, if we were to pinpoint a slight flaw with the Credit Karma platform, it is that you will not be able to obtain any of the information held by Experian. As one of the main three US credit rating bureaus, it is fundamental that you access both your credit score and full credit report with Experian too, meaning that you’ll need to do this externally from Credit Karma.