Seeing your credit score and viewing your credit reports has become a necessity in this day and age. Everything is becoming digitized, and new websites are launching all the time. But it can be hard to know if sites and apps like Credit Karma are safe or if they are a scam.
For those pursuing early retirement or financial independence, understanding and managing how your credit data gets used and ensuring the information is accurate is critical.
Credit Karma offers a free credit report and an easy way of viewing your financial history. I discovered Credit Karma earlier this year, and it has drastically simplified my life. Part of what we’ll explore in today’s post is whether the credit reporting promised is really free.
It’s always wise to confirm the company you are using is legitimate and safe before jumping in.
The reality is that you should be paranoid about giving any person or company your social security number. If the wrong people get that info, that can easily lead to identity theft or having your financial accounts drained.
Or they might show up at your house asking for money. And nobody wants that.
Before we dive into talking about whether Credit Karma is safe, let’s first look at why you should want to view your credit report.
Your Credit Score Matters A LOT. Here Is Why:
When you borrow money, companies need a way to figure out if you will pay back the money or not. They do that by diving into your financial past to see if you have any monsters lurking.
Do you make payments on time?
How much debt do you currently have?
Are you currently trying to spend money like a Kardashian?
Have you defaulted on any loans in the past?
Are there other reasons someone should be concerned about lending you money?
Your Fico score and reports help fill this void. The Fico score uses a scoring model that analyzes lots of information including credit usage, age of accounts, number of accounts, and how often users apply for new credit. It provides a high-level summary of your financial situation and past.
But with that said, having a high credit score doesn’t necessarily mean you are great with money or have a strong financial foundation. The primary questions your credit score attempts to answer: “Is this person financially reliable and are they currently overextended?”
If you want to get a loan, whether for a home, car, credit card, etc. you want to have as high a credit score as possible. Rates and credit limits are determined by your credit history and credit score. So it is in your best interest to make sure you stay on top of your financial picture.
Be Aware of Inaccuracies
If there is incorrect information in your credit report, this could hurt your credit score. But you can’t fix what you are unaware of. That’s why it is crucial to view your credit score and credit reports periodically. Third parties like credit card companies have ways of getting information about you to know whether you are a bad credit risk. Of course, they want to lend money to the opposite kinds of borrowers – those considered good credit risks.
If you need a credit card or loan for any reason, it’s important to keep your credit report up to date and accurate. Why?
It would be a shame to apply for a home mortgage, only to find out you’ve been denied for the loan. You also may find yourself applying for a job, and the prospective company pulls up your credit report.
At the very least, having a stellar credit score ensures that you’ll qualify for the lowest interest rates possible, potentially saving you thousands of dollars in interest payments.
Ignoring your credit score is an oft-overlooked part of the best practices in personal finance. Don’t be taken off guard! Check your credit score and report regularly.
Do Your Research
Before I sign up for any new service or offer, I make it a point to read reviews. And make sure these are user reviews, not from folks with a vested interest in recommending that service. I read reviews on several credit reporting services. It came down to the choice between Credit Sesame and Credit Karma. Both had reasonable reviews. I liked the simplicity of Credit Karma, which is why I chose to use their service.
Credit Karma was created in 2007 to provide consumers with their credit scores for free and on-demand.
A summary of what they provide is the following:
View credit scores from Equifax and TransUnion (using VantageScore 3.0)
Access Equifax and TransUnion credit reports
Quickly view the accounts you have opened or have closed, with the balances reported on your credit reports
Provides a way to dispute errors on your credit report
Easily signup for new credit cards, loans, and insurance policies, which are recommended based on your credit score
Other features that aren’t as prominent include:
Viewing an estimated value for your vehicles
Seeing your “insurance score,” which can be used in calculating your chances in lowering your car insurance rate
Comparing home loan rates with what you are currently paying
Get estimated rates and approval estimates on personal loans
See which credit cards you have a high likelihood in qualifying for
Free tax filing service
View and post reviews of credit cards
It’s Free – No Really!
And one of the best features of Credit Karma? Their service is 100% FREE. Seriously. There are no strings attached and no hidden costs.
Ever since I started using Credit Karma, I’ve made it a habit of logging in once a month. I love being able to quickly pull up my credit score and see how things have changed over time. This feature is an excellent reason to signup for the service ASAP, as you can see how your credit score changes over your financial history. Each time you pull up your score, it will keep that info in their database that you can access at any point.
As part of our strategy in playing financial catch-up, we plan on continuing to use Credit Karma and feel the service provides incredible value.
I recently closed a few credit card accounts, and I noticed my credit score started going down a few points. I expected this to happen, and I’m relieved that Credit Karma is pulling in my real credit report.
Is My Info Safe In Credit Karma?
When you are entering your private information, one vital aspect is how safe your data is in their system.
The great news is that Credit Karma has taken the necessary steps in keeping your personal information safe. They currently have around 85+ million members and are growing at a rapid pace.
Being such a massive company, you know the government is keeping a close eye on how they are using data. They also cover the main things you would expect a major company to do to keep things secure:
They use a DigiCert EV SSL certificate, which is the highest grade authentication available
128-bit encryption and they limit who and how your SSN is accessed
Credit Karma will not sell your personal information to 3rd parties
They regularly go to 3rd parties to run security audits
A bug bounty program that pays people to find vulnerabilities and issues in their system
Be Smart With Passowords
But even though Credit Karma has top-notch security practices, it doesn’t mean someone couldn’t get access to your account. That’s why you should ensure you are using a secure password and setting answers to your security questions that people can’t guess the answers to.
If you look at the Credit Karma IOS app, you’ll notice they have 130,000 reviews with an average of 5/5 stars. I’m not the only one who loves Credit Karma!
Credit Karma’s mobile app is fantastic. They make you set a security pin, and on my iPhone, I can enable Face ID to make it fast and straightforward in logging into my account. They prioritize security and the amount of effort in making every aspect of their system user-friendly shows when you start using their service.
Just like any other site or service, Credit Karma could come under attack and have their systems compromised, but it’s clear to me that they are very proactive in doing everything they can to avoid that.
But How Does Credit Karma Make Money?
It would be a huge red flag if a company was collecting your most personal information, and it was unclear how they made money.
That is not an issue with Credit Karma.
It is true their services and website are 100% free. The way they make money is from the products and services they recommend once you log in. Any time someone signs up for a credit card, loan, or service through the Credit Karma website, they earn a hefty commission.
And given how many people use their platform, you know they are probably bringing in big bucks. According to this article, the company had over $500 million in revenue in 2016. The amount of money they bring in is excellent news because you know security has to be a top concern for Credit Karma. And this confirms they have plenty of money to make sure your data is safe and secure.
But with that said, there are no guarantees that a data breach can’t happen in the future. But from what I can tell, I don’t think the risk of this happening with Credit Karma is more significant than any other large company or bank. Most of the danger lies in someone guessing your password, so make sure you are using a secure password.
The Pain Of Viewing Your Credit Score And Credit Report Before Credit Karma
Before Credit Karma, I was accessing my credit reports for free through AnnualCreditReport.com. This site allows you to view your credit report from the top three companies once a year for free.
The issue in using AnnualCreditReport.com is that you don’t get access to your credit score, and you can only view your credit reports once per year.
I was also accessing my credit scores through my credit card websites that provided a credit score feature. This process worked okay, but each of them would use a different score, and it was time-consuming pulling each one up. In most cases, they only update your credit score once per month.
I’ve also used other companies in the past that allow you to pull up your credit score and reports, but they often came with significant monthly charges. Before I found Credit Karma, I was seriously contemplating signing up for one of these services.
Credit Karma’s philosophy is that they want to give everyone access to their credit score and reports for free. The more information you have about your financial picture, the more you can make informed decisions about your future. You can use this information in helping put together a livable budget that is sustainable and realistic.
Credit Karma Provides Much More Than Your Credit Score
At first, you might think the main benefit of Credit Karma is to view your credit score.
But the best feature of Credit Karma is that it also has a credit monitoring service (which is also FREE). Once enabled, you will get notified when there are significant changes to your credit report.
In other words, you immediately get minions working for you that send notifications any time something significant happens on your credit report.
Those notifications are a huge deal.
Let’s say someone manages to get your info and signs up for a new credit card. The only way you would know this happened is by manually viewing your credit report, or getting something in the mail about a new account that you didn’t open.
With Credit Karma, you would get an email (or mobile notification) when that new account shows up on any of your two credit reports. This notification allows you to jump onto this identity fraud ASAP.
A few weeks ago, I was able to test out this feature. I signed up for a new credit card, and a few days later, I ended up getting two emails with the new account that showed up on both of my credit reports in Credit Karma. Ask anyone who has had their identity stolen, and they will scream this is a massive benefit.
Their credit card monitoring feature is another reason you might want to consider opening up a Credit Karama account ASAP. Before, to get this service, you would have to pay a monthly fee. But not anymore!
Do I Have To Use Credit Karma?
If you have other ways of viewing your credit score and credit reports, don’t feel like you have to use Credit Karma. By now, it’s pretty clear that I think it’s safe to use Credit Karma, but they aren’t the only place where you can get your credit reports for free.
As long as you are periodically viewing this information to make sure it is accurate, the way you do this doesn’t matter. But there are services out there that charge a fee and don’t provide the benefits Credit Karma does, so it is worth taking a close look to see which is the best option.
Credit Karma is not only safe, but it is more usable than many other “premium” credit card monitoring services I’ve used in the past.
The minimum you should do is view your credit reports for free on AnnualCreditReport.com once per year. You aren’t going to be able to view this information more than once per year, but it is better than doing nothing. And you can access all three credit reports.
Negatives In Using Credit Karma
Credit Karma is a legitimate and safe company that provides enormous value, especially considering it is free. I couldn’t find any information that inferred that your personal information is at risk using Credit Karma.
But there is one downside to Credit Karma. They only give you access to your credit score and report from two of the three major credit bureaus. You can access TransUnion and Equifax credit reports, but not Experian’s.
In most cases, any changes to your Credit get reported to all three credit agencies. But there is a chance something could only go to one report, and so I would suggest pulling up Experian’s credit report once per year from AnnualCreditReport.com. This plan ensures that if there is some unique discrepancy with that credit report, you can catch the error.
Is this a big issue? Yes and no. Something unique could show up on Experian’s credit report, but in most cases, it will end up showing up in the other reports as well. But it is better to play it safe and cover your bases.
Outside of this one issue, Credit Karma is a fantastic service that is incredibly safe and reliable.
Credit Karma’s UI Is Increasingly Optimized To ‘Sell’ You Products
One thing that you should be aware of is that over time the UI or user interface (what you see when using the service) is increasingly tailored to increase the number of people that sign up for credit cards, loans, and other products via their service.
As I mentioned earlier, this is how the company makes sense.
The reason that matters is if you are the kind of person that makes impulsive decisions and signs up for a new credit card after seeing one ad for it, then spending time on a site that continually highlights those products might be risky.
While your personal information will be as safe as possible with Credit Karma, that doesn’t mean your financial foundation will be secure if the platform pushes you to take our loans you don’t need. However, if used correctly, it can make you much more aware of how to improve your finances.
Credit Karma Is A Great Tool In Creating A Strong Financial Foundation
Credit Karma isn’t going to improve your credit score or credit history magically.
But it does provide a fantastic bird’s eye view of your financial picture.
If you are you trying to become credit card debt-free, you can use it to ensure your payments end up showing on your credit card reports. Over time, your credit score should increase.
I also found it valuable to see the average age of all my credit card accounts. This info is a crucial data point that is used in generating your credit score and is useful in figuring out if you should close individual credit card accounts. You might not want to close your oldest credit card, for example, as that could drastically reduce the overall average.
You also can see how much debt you have, relative to the amount of credit you have available. Take a look at the image below for an example in how this looks:
All the data I can access from the desktop browser is accessible in their mobile applications. It’s refreshing to see how much info you can access at any point in digging deep into your financial history.
If you have ever taken a close look at a full credit report, they usually aren’t easy to work through. You might be looking at a long list of accounts, and it is hard to make sense of all of the info.
Credit Karma easily and safely makes the details of your credit report accessible in your account in an incredibly intuitive way.
I’m amazed at the amount of clarity I now have about my credit history. I now look forward to seeing my credit score and credit report! I’ve never been this excited about my credit report in the past. It always felt like a chore. But now I’m passionate about digging deep into the details, and ensuring the information in my credit reports is accurate.
If you are married, make sure that both you and your spouse signup for accounts. There might be something unique in one of your credit reports. And since each Credit Karma account is free, there hasn’t been a better time to make sure your whole financial house is in order.
Entering your social security number and personal information into a website form can be incredibly scary. Given the history of Credit Karma and the lengths they have gone into securing your data, you can feel confident that your info is safe. But like anything in life, especially on the internet, there are no guarantees, and most of the risk involves the strength of your password, the answers to your security questions, and making sure your email account is locked down.
I highly recommend giving Credit Karma a try. I’m confident my info is safe, and it provides useful information I can access at any time.
Chris is a financial blogger who loves to be transparent about money-related issues. He’s paid off massive amounts of credit card debt and is the blog author of Money Stir. His main focus on Money Stir is talking about how money relates to our relationships, personal development, and how to plan for the future we want. He’s been quoted on Market Watch, The Ladders, and other publications.