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Check Your Credit Score Online for Free: Credit Karma Review

by Shawanda Greene

Have you been to AnnualCreditReport.com to order a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus?

If you haven’t, you should do so once a year.

If you have, then you’re aware that AnnualCreditReport.com does NOT offer a free credit score along with your free credit report.

Lenders use credit scores to make several decisions–everything from how much interest to charge to the size of your down payment to the length of the loan period.

Check the details in your credit report periodically, but don’t ignore your credit score as it reveals a clearer picture of how lenders see you.

Too often, “free” scores come at a hefty price. Many companies claim they’ll let you check your credit score online for free IF you sign up for a trial membership. After the trial period ends, you’re charged a monthly fee.

Fortunately, a handful companies offer a no strings attached, complimentary credit score. Credit Karma is one of them.

It’s not perfect, but in my opinion, Credit Karma is the best free credit score site.

What’s to like about Credit Karma?

Totally free. Register for a Credit Karma account, and leave your credit card tucked away in your wallet. You won’t need it.

As you may already know, countless credit scoring models exist. Therefore, your score depends on the algorithm used to calculate it. When you sign up for a Credit Karma account, you’ll gain access to three different credit scores: a TransRisk New Account Score, a VantageScore, and an auto insurance score.

  • The TransRisk score is computed by TransUnion using their own proprietary scoring system.
  • The VantageScore was created by the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). According to Experian.com, “VantageScore is the most consistent, predictive and accurate measure of consumer creditworthiness in the market.”
  • The Auto Insurance Score was designed to predict the likelihood that you’ll file a claim against an insurer. Believe it or not, people with mediocre credit cost insurance companies more money than those with stellar credit.

Personalized advice: Credit Karma not only gives you free credit scores, but it tells you how to improve them.

One of my favorite features of the web site is the Credit Report Card–an easy-to-read summary of your credit report.

Based on your credit score, you’ll receive an overall letter grade ranging from A to F.

Additionally, factors that impact your score such as your percentage of on-time payments, number of applications for new credit, and  average age of credit lines are given their own letter grade.

Below is an example of my Credit Report Card.

Snapshot of my Credit Report Card

Use the My Credit Simulator to predict how certain actions will affect your credit score.

Let’s say I close my oldest credit card which happens to be with Bank of America because I hate them. Although the simulator estimates my score will only drop eighteen points, the move would put me dangerously close to the “B” credit range. As much as I despise BoA, I’ll leave the account open until they charge an annual fee.

Close your oldest credit card account

Daily credit monitoring: Credit Karma will email you if there are any significant changes to your TransUnion credit report. Address issues immediately if you’re notified of suspicious activity.

Unlimited credit scores: Check your credit score as many times as you like. Inquiries on your credit report only hurt your score when you apply for credit. So don’t worry about how often you view your credit score.

Safe and Secure: Credit Karma uses bank-level security to protect your personal information.

What’s not to like about Credit Karma?

Uses information from only one of the three major credit bureaus: Credit scores provided by Credit Karma are based off of information on your TransUnion credit report only. Some creditors report to one or two bureaus. Without scores from Experian and Equifax, you’re left with an incomplete picture of your credit risk profile.

Provides lesser used credit scores: According to Zillow.com, 70% to 80% of lenders use a version of the FICO scoring model to make credit decisions. As mentioned earlier, you’ll receive three credit scores, none of which are a FICO score.

Need to provide your social security number: I don’t know about you, but I’m stingy with my social security number. I’ve heard too many horrifying stories about people who were victims of identity theft. But honestly, I signed up for a Credit Karma account on October 18, 2008, and no one has stolen my identity.

In relation to how your social security number is used and stored, Credit Karma has the following to say:

In order to retrieve your first credit score, we must use your social security number. We only use your SSN for this first score retrieval, and we do not store it in our database. After this one-time use, we will not need your SSN again and it will not be stored on any of our systems.

So, how does Credit Karma make money?

Similar to most for-profit businesses, Credit Karma likes to earn money. Instead of charging consumers for their services, they use information available in your credit report to recommend targeted offers supported by their advertisers.

The Verdict

If you borrow money or plan on borrowing money, sign up for a Credit Karma account.

Even though the company has a few shortcomings, I’ve been happy with their service for almost four years.

Track your score on Credit Karma’s web site, and follow their suggestions to improve your credit history over time.

When you’re in the market for a loan, go to MyFico.com to pull your TransUnion and Equifax FICO scores. I didn’t forget Experian. Shamefully, they don’t make FICO scores available to consumers.

Disclosure: If you sign up for Credit Karma using a link on my web site, I’ll receive a commission and fully appreciate the love. :)


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{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Modest Money July 5, 2012 at 1:12 PM

Considering it’s a free service, I think it would be worth signing up. Sure it doesn’t check all 3 credit bureaus, but at least it provides some level of protection. If you want a credit score from the other bureaus, you typically have to pay for that service. I do like how it lays out what kind of things may be limiting your credit in an easy to understand format.
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