Credit Karma Review: Is It Free? Whats The Catch? Trust Worthy?
When I graduated from college I was confused as to how to manage, check, and even understand my credit score.
I found the idea of a credit score very confusing and scary, I knew I needed to get my score to get my first apartment and to open new lines of credit, and I was worried about some medical bills and student loans on my report.
When it came time to check the score, I had no idea where to start. Credit Karma might have made life a little easier for me at that time.
Credit Karma is a platform that allows you to check your credit score for free.
It offers a selection of credit and financial resources. Credit Karma collaborates with financial partners to offer products that can provide value to users.
If you’re looking for savings, rewards, or help with debt relief, you may find Credit Karma useful.
We all have the same questions when we are looking for credit solutions and when entering our personal information online.
We want to beware of scams and unpleasant random charges on our accounts from credit monitoring services that claim to be free. You may be wondering- “Is Credit Karma Safe?” and “How accurate is Credit Karma?.”
YOU’RE IN LUCK….In this Credit Karma review I will answer these questions and include some additional details about how Credit Karma works, this should help you decide if Credit Karma is right for you.
What Is Credit Karma?
Credit Karma is an online platform that offers free monthly credit scores.The site offers additional services including free credit and identity monitoring, federal and state income tax preparation, and credit card & loan resources.
Credit Karma has been in business since 2007, they use a three step business model:
- 1You get your scores and reports
- 2Credit Karma makes recommendations
- 3Credit Karma gets paid by the bank or the lender
Anyone who is looking for their credit score, or looking for recommendations and financial resources could be a potential Credit Karma user.
You don’t need a credit card or bank account to get started, just your personal information, including your social security number.The signup process requires you to create an account with your email address, provide personal information, and verify your identity.
In minutes you’ll have access to free credit monitoring.
You can even take it one step further and sign up for one of the credit card, mortgage, or loans offered on the site.
Things To Consider Before Choosing Credit Karma
The main appeal of Credit Karma is the ability to access your credit score for free. (*Credit Karma is one of the first platforms to offer a 100% free credit score option.)
They model themselves as more than just a credit score platform, but as a multi service credit resource.
If you’re looking to get/ track your credit score, or find a credit card or loan, Credit Karma may be beneficial to you.
Credit Karma provides users with the VantageScore 3.0.
A score developed in 2006 by the Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion credit bureaus as an alternative to the FICO scoring model. The Vantage Score model uses alternative data and looks back 24 months for activity.
While FICO 8, the most widely used version, looks back only six months. The Vantage score is also useful to consumers who can’t be scored by FICO because of little to no credit history, it takes into consideration small bills and utilities that show your credit eligibility.
The only issue you may have with the Vantage score model is that most financial institutions use the FICO score to determine your credit eligibility.
If you are looking to check your score immediately before applying for a new line of credit or getting a new apartment, you may need to refer to your FICO score instead of the Vantage score provided by Credit Karma.
Credit Karma’s monthly monitoring however does reflect the fluctuation and activity of your credit score, which would be more useful on a long term basis.
Lets Get To It!
How Does Credit Karma Work?
Credit Karma works through a 3 step business model.
Customers sign up and get their credit scores from Credit Karma
Credit Karma evaluates customer’s profile and makes recommendations that will help you save money.
When customers sign up for any of the recommended products, Credit Karma gets paid by the partners and lenders.
Credit Karma Pros:
- Credit Karma offers free credit scores and credit monitoring.
- You can log in and check your credit score at any time. (updated once a week)
- Credit Karma offers additional financial resources including free tax services, loan resources, and credit card recommendations.
- Credit Karma mobile app is available so you can access your score from your mobile device.
Credit Karma Cons
Credit Karma will get you your VantageScore 3.0. Score, but it does not provide the FICO score which is the gold standard for financial institutions.
You cannot access your full credit report through Credit Karma, only your score and basic information.
Does not offer money management tools.
Credit Karma Features & Benefits
The Credit Karma site is pretty easy to navigate, which is nice when you are confused about how a credit score works.
The site layout is clean and user friendly.
You can dive right in and click “see my scores,” or you can navigate to the top of the page and click into the Credit Cards, Loans, Auto, Resources, and Tax tabs.
Credit Karma offers a clear explanation of the company mission and business model, you can learn more about Credit Karma by viewing the “How it Works” tab on the homepage.
All you need to do to get started is follow a three step process:
- Create an account that includes creating an account,
- Enter your personal information
- Confirm your identity.
Note: You do not need to enter any credit card information to get started with Credit Karma.
Once you have completed the steps, Credit Karma aims to add value to customers by:
- Using data tools to analyze your credit profile and
- Making product recommendations for credit cards, loans, and additional resources.
- Offering savings, rewards from creditors, and help with debt relief.
- Giving you access to view your credit score at any time
Credit Score Simulator The CK Way:
The Credit Karma Credit Score Simulator is an educational tool powered by TransUnion. The Simulator compiles information from your current TransUnion credit report and demonstrates how changing this information could affect your credit score.
The Credit Score Simulator should not be is not 100% accurate, all of the information provided is hypothetical, its built to help you consider different ways to manage your credit and financial status. Using the Simulator won’t actually affect your credit score in any way.
The Simulator allows you to change one scenario at a time to give you an idea of the possibilities of how your credit can fluctuate.
This is super helpful as a tool but keep in mind that in real life multiple scenarios can occur at once, causing your score to change more rapidly than it would reflect on the Simulator.
The Credit Simulator, like all the scores provided on Credit Karma, uses the VantageScore 3.0 model to calculate your hypothetical credit score.
Credit Cards Through CK:
The credit card features on Credit Karma could be super beneficial to you if you’re lost in the vast world of credit card options. Credit Karma breaks down credit cards into categories to make your life easier.
You can search low interest, student cards, reward cards, or whatever you are looking for. Credit Karma offers suggestions for the best credit card for you based on your credit score status, using a scale of new, poor, fair, good, and excellent.
Choosing credit cards can get tricky, Credit Karma could help you decipher which one is best for you. Credit Karma’s business model thrives on consumers connecting with their offers and credit solution options.
They pinpoint products from their partners and advertisers that match with your credit profile. The credit card section provides a breakdown of credit card features and pros and cons specific to your current credit status.
The matches show you if the card offer has a high APR, annual fees, rewards programs, and access to higher credit lines. You are given multiple suggestions so you can compare and find the card that work best for you.
Loans Options and Such:
Like the credit card feature, Credit Karma breaks down loans by categories and offers incite on which loans may work best for you.
You can choose from personal, home, student, auto, and business loans. You’ll need to enter more personal information to get a loan quote from Credit Karma, but that’s pretty much how it works anywhere.
Credit Karma even offers help for loan refinancing and auto insurance.
The site allows you to choose what you want to do when you are looking for the loans. You can filter the page to match your personal situation.
For example, when you click into the “personal loan” section you can filter the results to options that will help you pay off credit card debt, compare new personal loans, or refinance a new existing loan. Credit Karma’s personalized search options could make the loan hunt process much easier than using a regular search engine.
Life Is A Business- Taxes:
Credit Karma offers free Tax preparation services, its one of their newest features added in 2016. They offer filing for multiple types of federal and state taxes, including itemized deductions, capital gains and losses, and self-employment income.
Even if you work as an independent, you can still file with Credit Karma.
Credit Karma’s tax filing capabilities is similar to the Turbotax, or other online tax filing platforms.
They walk you through all of the forms which could help if you are new to doing your taxes. Unlike many other tax filing portals, Credit Karma allows you to keep your whole refund without any upsells or fees.
You can contact the Credit Karma support team if run into any problems filing taxes on the site.
There are minimal situations in which they can’t file your taxes on Credit Karma, but they include details on these unsupported tax forms instances on their site. If you’re looking to file your taxes 2017 taxes for free, you might want to check out Credit Karma.
Credit Karma offers resources in addition to the free credit monitoring service. The “Resources” tab on the Credit Karma page includes links to multiple free credit management tools.
There is a “Community” portal to get feedback from real users. There are also identity monitoring tools that will help you manage your identity security. You can track your digital database for breaches, set up a defense, and learn about preventative measures that may keep you protected in the future.
Credit Karma has a team of writers and editors that scours the financial word for informative topics and content, which is available on the Credit Karma site under articles and tools.
There is also an “unclaimed money” tab in the resources section that allows you to search for any government funds that may be owed to you. You can use the tools section under resources for access to financial calculators that can help you calculate interest rates, debt repayment timelines, loan payment breakdowns and more.
The resources section also includes a blog that breaks down how Credit Karma can help you in real life situations.
How Accurate Is Credit Karma?
As previously mentioned, Credit Karma uses the VantageScore 3.0 scoring model, its a generic score developed by TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian.
There are dozens of scoring models, but the vantage score model was created in hopes of providing more consistent scores.
You will receive an accurate Vantage score from Credit Karma, but you will not receive your FICO score, which is the model used by most financial institutions.
Bethy Hardeman, chief consumer advocate at Credit Karma commented on the Credit Karma model-
“We provide VantageScore 3.0 credit scores independently from both credit bureaus. Credit Karma chose VantageScore 3.0 because it’s a collaboration among all three major credit bureaus and is a transparent scoring model, which can help consumers better understand changes to their credit score. In 2014, over 2,000 lenders, including six of the ten largest banks, used nearly one billion VantageScore credit scores to judge consumers’ creditworthiness.”
It’s being used by an increasing amount of financial institutions and it allows you to monitor your credit more frequently. Credit Karma is transparent about their score tracking model and they pride themselves on being a free service with no hidden fees.
Once you become a Credit Karma member you’ll begin to receive email correspondence prompting you to check your score regularly, you won’t see changes daily because Credit Karma will update your score once a week.
You’ll also receive monitoring messages from Credit Karma alerting you if your credit score has went up or down.
Is Credit Karma Safe?
Credit Karma is just as safe as any other credit score platform.
All financial institutions and web platforms are susceptible to hacking, luckily with Credit Karma you do not have to enter any credit card information, which makes it less likely for you to get robbed. You do have to enter your social security number and personal information to access your score, but that’s true no matter how you access your score.
Here are a few facts about Credit Karma’s security that may help you decide if you feel safe using the platform:
Credit Karma has legally mandated security reviews by the FTC ( Federal Trade Commission) which helps protects users from scams or breaches.
Credit Karma uses Bank level encryption on the site. This makes it virtually impossible to track your information from the site.
All of the information on your credit report has read-only access, which makes it impossible for Credit Karma or any third parties to alter your credit information.
Does Credit Karma Hurt Your Credit?
If it did, that would be pretty bad karma
Credit Karma will not hurt your credit score because when you check your score on Credit Karma it is considered a soft inquiry on your credit report.
Credit inquiries are deciphered between hard and soft, a soft inquiry does not have a negative effect on your score, but multiple hard inquiries in one year may affect your score.
Getting a background check, pre- applying for a credit card, and checking your Vantage Score with credit Karma are all examples of soft inquiries on your credit. Soft inquiries do not affect your credit score, so you don’t have to worry about that when you are dealing with Credit Karma.
A hard inquiry, on the other hand, may impact your credit for up to two years. Hard inquiries occur when people apply for a mortgage, an auto or student loan, or for a credit card or a credit limit increase.
Credit bureaus interpret multiple hard inquiries as showing that the person may be a high-risk borrower. The bureaus suspect that the person may be desperate for credit or was unable to get the credit needed from other creditors.
MyFICO reports that people with multiple hard inquiries are eight times more likely to declare bankruptcy than other people with no bankruptcies on their reports.
Credit Karma offers resources that can help you find loans and mortgages, so if you actually move forward with any of the 3rd party offers on Credit Karma you may eventually get a hard inquiry when you apply, but you will never get a hard inquiry on your credit when you use Credit Karma to check or monitor your credit score.
How Does Credit Karma Make Money?
After you sign up for Credit Karma and check out their resources, they analyze your credit profile and recommend credit cards, loans, and other financial services….
Credit Karma creates personalized offers based on your unique credit profile….
The offers are from Credit Karma’s team of partners and paying advertisers.
Credit Karma prides themselves on bringing value to both the customer and the advertisers equally, they use the revenue from these partnerships to support their free credit score model.
Everytime you, or another user gets one of those recommended products from a Credit Karma partner, Credit Karma gets paid from the bank or institution that they recommended.
Some notable CK partnerships are with Capital One, CitiBank, Google Capital, and dozens more. CK was founded on the basis that consumers should have access to straight-forward credit data for free- so far, they follow through
Thanks to Credit Karma’s partnerships and investors, we’re able to get and monitor our credit scores for free, no strings attached.
What Are The People Saying About CK?
I scoured the internet and found some user reviews that seemed pretty positive.
Most reviewers express that Credit Karma was a decent platform to monitor their credit. Many users found that CK was easy to use and understand.
Users also showed satisfaction in CK consistent monitoring and ability to spot inconsistent or fraudulent activity on your credit.
Some reviewers did mention that Credit Karma may be a little less detailed than other sites, but they were content with the fact that the sign-up process was easy and they were never asked for any card information or payments.
A select few negative reviewers expressed concerns with the ads, offers, and consistent email correspondence from CK. They felt like the offers were too frequent and bothersome.
This is something to consider because Credit Karma gets its funds through partnerships with credit institutions and advertisers.
In order for us to continue to get free scores, Credit Karma needs to continuously send correspondence and advertise these products to their customers.
Credit Karma Alternatives
Credit Karma is not the first site of its kind.
There are many competitor sites with similar business models and credit monitoring offers. Understanding what resources are available online and how the compare to Credit Karma could help you figure out if Credit Karma is right for you.
Credit Karma’s 100% free business model separates it from many other credit monitoring sites, but there are other sites that offer similar models and tools. Personal preference will play a key role in determining which platform is best for you.
This brief overview of four Credit Karma competitors could be useful for you when navigating through digital credit resources.
While CK allows you to get your score at any time, Quizzle only provides a free score and report every three months, the report includes additional details on your score and financial background. Like Credit Karma, you can get credit card and loan recommendations from Quizzle.
One major difference between Quizzle and Credit Karma is Quizzle offers a premium paid option which does require a credit card. You can get unlimited credit monitoring and benefits for $8-$15 a month, with the $15 option including identity theft monitoring.
Credit Sesame also offers the Vantage 3.0 score. The score is updated monthly and there is no credit card needed to get started. Credit Sesame offers other free services like identity theft protection, credit monitoring and mobile apps.
You can get loan recommendations and a financial analysis from Credit Sesame too. Credit Sesame gets money when you get a loan with one of their recommended providers, similar to how CK works.
Both Credit Karma and Credit Sesame include a color-coded system with your scores falling under green, yellow, or red, with red being the lowest scores, green being the highest, and yellow displaying middle scores. If your score is in the red, you can use some of Credit Sesame’s credit repair tools to work on picking it up.
The main difference between Credit Karma and Credit Sesame is that Credit Sesame only offers scores from the TransUnion credit bureau, while Credit Karma Vantage Scores are from both TransUnion and Equifax.
Because there are dozens of scores reported by several agencies, you may benefit more from multiple reports over just one.
Credit Karma and Credit Sesame have similar clean and easy to navigate interfaces that are optimized to be user friendly. There is one element of the Credit Sesame interface that is not included on Credit Karma, it’s the total debt feature.
The total debt portion of Credit Sesame allows you to see a roll up of all of your debt. Total debt includes debt from student loans, credit cards, mortgages, and anything else that you may have.
Credit.com offers you two free scores, your Experian score, and your Vantage 3.0 score. This could benefit you if you are looking for a score more reflective of your FICO score.
No credit card required to get setup, unlike CK, which allows you to check your score at any time, Credit.Com only offers your score once a month.
Credit.com offers tips and resources to improve your credit. Like Credit Karma, Credit.com gets paid when you get the promotions offered on their site.
WH is another site that prides itself on being 100% free.
They offer free daily credit scores and reports, credit improvement resources, savings maximization, and 24/7 credit monitoring, early warning fraud alerts, and credit report error correction tools.
Like CK, WalletHub also provides you with additional resources including calculators, articles and studies, expert advice, ratings and reviews.
The site provides company directories that can connect you to attorneys, brokers, advisers, and other financial professionals. Like Credit Karma, WalletHub offers a community portal referred to as the “Answers” section.
This section allows users to ask finance related questions in a community setting. WalletHub gives you access to your Vantage Score, but it only reports the score from one of the three bureaus, TransUnion, while Credit Karma provides scores from both TransUnion and Equifax.
ACR.com is only a competitor to CK because it is the only site you can get your FICO score free once a year.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) stipulates that U.S. residents may obtain a free copy of its credit reports every year from each of the three major nationwide credit-reporting companies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. You can only gain access to this government mandated privilege on AnnualCreditReport.com.
AnnualCreditReport.com is fully focused on providing your government mandated credit report.
The site does not include the additional offers and for loans and mortgages that you may find on Credit Karma and competing sites.
You will find a large amount of valuable information on how your score works, and information on what to look for on your score. On Annual Credit Report you can request for an instant digital copy of your credit report or have a physical copy sent to you.
This Credit Karma review provides an overview of Credit Karma, its services, risks, benefits, and business structure.
Credit Karma does a great job offering a free credit monitoring service and immediate credit scores. Unlike some of its competitors, Credit Karma is 100% free.
They do not solicit you for any payment information.
The Credit Karma sign up process is very straight forward, you’ll need your basic information to get started, including your social security number which is standard when pulling your credit score.
Credit Karma could be super helpful for you if you are looking for credit card recommendations or if you need help getting started with a loan.
Remember, Credit Karma offers the Vantage score, not the FICO score which is the “gold standard” for scoring, it’s something to keep in mind if you need your score immediately for a big financial move, but Credit Karma’s Vantage score is still a nice alternative for monitoring your score.
Credit Karma is safe, and getting your score from Credit Karma does not have a negative effect on your credit score. If your aim is to monitor your credit activity and find financial resources, Credit Karma could make your life much easier.
What have you tried? Any Experience with CK? Let Us Know.
Cheers! and Good Luck 🙂