Q: I’m trying to increase my credit score ahead of applying for a large loan, so I’m considering signing up for Credit Karma to track my score. How accurate are the credit scores it shares? Is there anything I need to be aware of before signing up for this service?
A: Credit Karma is a legitimate company; however, for a variety of reasons, its scores may vary greatly from the number your lender will share with you when it checks your credit.
We have answers to all your questions about Credit Karma.
What is Credit Karma?
Credit Karma is an online credit service that operates under the principle that everyone is entitled to a free and honest credit score. To that end, the site allows you to check your credit whenever you’d like without paying any fees. A privilege that can cost you about $20 a month from its competitors. You’ll need to sign up for the service and share some sensitive information, like your Social Security number and your financial goals, but you won’t be asked for any credit card numbers or account information.
Scores are updated once a week, and the company only performs a “soft inquiry” on your credit to get the necessary information.This means your score is never impacted by it checking your credit on your behalf. Credit Karma also offers lots of credit advice, customizable loan calculators and reviews on financial products of all kinds.
Credit Karma earns its profit through targeted ads. As you learn your way around the site and start to frequent it more often, you’ll see ads that are geared toward your specific financial situation. For example, if your credit is excellent and you’re looking for a home loan, you’ll probably find loads of ads from mortgage companies. While this may seem like a breach of privacy, it’s no different than the way much larger online platforms you likely use, including Google and Facebook, earn a profit.
How does Credit Karma calculate my score?
The online credit company uses information from two of the three major credit reporting agencies, TransUnion and Equifax, to give you a VantageScore 3.0. While this type of credit score is gaining popularity among lenders, you may not recognize it-and for good reason. The FICO scoring model is by far the most widely used credit score among financial institutions and lenders across the country, with 90% of lenders using this score to net potential borrowers.
The atypical scoring model used by Credit Karma, coupled with the absence of information from Experian, the third of the three major credit reporting agencies, tends to make Credit Karma scores differ from scores pulled by other companies and financial institutions. The credit service is usually within range and a good indicator of your overall credit wellness. You can also get a report with a thin credit history through this model, which is super-helpful for those seeking to build their credit from nothing.
How do other lenders calculate my score?
Most financial institutions use a FICO scoring model to measure consumers’ credit scores. As mentioned, this number will likely be lower than the score you see on Credit Karma but will fall within the same general range.
It’s also important to note that, each time you apply for a specific kind of loan with an individualized lender, it will likely also use its own customized formula. For example, if you were applying for a mortgage with a home loan company, it would probably use a score that is specifically developed for mortgage loans. Similarly, if you were to apply for a car loan from an auto lender, it will use its own score designed to predict the likelihood of you defaulting on an auto loan. This can result in an even lower credit score from these lenders.
Is there any other way to get my credit score?
If you’re looking for a more relevant credit score, you have several options. You can ask a potential lender to pull your credit, though this might cost you both in fees and in a knock to your credit for the hard inquiry. You can order your free credit report with information from all three credit bureaus once a year, at AnnualCreditReport.com. Lastly, for more frequent monitoring, you can sign up for access to your FICO score and 3-bureau credit report on Experian.com, where packages start at $19.99 a month. There are other similar services out there, but most are not legitimate or are grossly overpriced.