Credit Karma Personal Review – Free Really Means Free

I first became interested in my credit score a few months before looking for my first apartment. Before then, I knew very little about credit reports, what they meant, and how my financial decisions could impact my score. I ended up signing up for a paid service to get access to my credit score and help me monitor it, which was extremely helpful, but years later, I realized there were quite a few free options available.
Credit Karma, which touts free credit scores and credit monitoring, has received a lot of attention so I decided to give it a try. After all, it was free, so there wasn’t much that I could lose by trying out this service, right?
I had my reservations, but after a few months of using Credit Karma, I decided not to renew my paid credit score subscription any longer. Credit Karma offered everything I needed, for free, and has been one of the best tools for improving my financial health.
I’ll take you through everything you need to know about Credit Karma, what features it offers, explore the pros and cons, and let you know what types of customers will benefit most from this platform.

What is Credit Karma?

Credit Karma is a free platform designed to help users make better financial decisions. While this website is best known for offering free credit scores, Credit Karma goes well beyond this feature, providing financial recommendations, resources, free tax filing, and savings accounts and tips.
Credit Karma’s main offering is its free credit score and report option. By signing up, you’ll receive full access to your TransUnion credit score and report, as well as your Equifax credit score. These can be viewed at any time. Credit Karma offers your VantageScore — one of the two main credit scoring models — but does not provide your FICO score, which is the second main scoring model.
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Credit Karma Features

Credit scores

Credit Karma allows you to view your credit score from two of the three main credit bureaus — TransUnion and Equifax. These scores are updated regularly and when you login, you’ll gain access to any changes that may have caused your scores to increase or drop. You’ll also be able to see when your scores were last updated and when your next scores will be generated. You can toggle between the two crediting bureaus and dig into any changes to confirm accuracy.
You’ll also be able to view a timeline of your credit score, as well as a credit score rating to give you a quick snapshot of how you’re doing financially at any given time.

Credit report

Your credit score is just a representation of your credit health. It’s a good idea to review your full credit report from time to time to make sure there are no mistakes reported and especially to watch out for any fraudulent activity like a credit card you didn't open, thus helping you stop identity theft before it becomes a bigger issue. Credit Karma makes this easy by offering you access to your TransUnion credit report whenever you need it.

Account balances

One of my favorite features of Credit Karma is the access it provides to all of your crediting accounts and balances. When you log in, Credit Karma will bring you to your Account Summary page, where you can view all of your credit card, personal loans, student loans, auto loans, mortgages, and any collection accounts in one place. It’s a great way to ensure you have a plan to pay down all of your debt, by showing you all of your balances in one easy-to-access screen rather than having to go to each of your account websites and log in separately. You’re also able to dig into any account to find out your total overall credit access, credit limits, last reported balance, and payment history. Keep in mind, many of these accounts will be updated monthly, so if a balance looks off to you, check when it was last updated.
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Credit card recommendations

If you’re working on improving or building your credit history, then finding the right credit cards may be important to you. Credit Karma offers recommendations based on your credit habits and will even show you the odds of approval before you apply for a card. (This is how it can provide its services to you for free. It makes money from the companies it recommends.) You can easily view and compare cards and check out other Credit Karma users’ reviews before selecting an offer to apply.
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Loan recommendations

In addition to credit card recommendations, Credit Karma will also offer you personal loan suggestions — especially if the platform thinks you could save money in interest by consolidating some of your debt onto a personal loan. Credit Karma will show you the top options available to you (including current loan interest rates) and let you know your approval odds in advance. This is free to you; Credit Karma doesn't make a cent from you and is only paid by the lenders if you do end up going for a loan.

Auto insurance & loan options

As your credit improves, it becomes easier to obtain more affordable car insurance rates. Credit Karma will show you the cheapest options available to you within your current credit score range. In addition, if you’re looking for a new car, Credit Karma will also offer you access to auto loan lenders and give you an indication of your approval chances. Again, this is free to you.

Mortgage and renter services

If buying a house is a current goal of yours, Credit Karma can help by providing access to top mortgage lenders, showing you your approval chances, and current interest rates, just as it does other lenders. This platform also allows you to view refinancing offers, view homeowners insurance options, and connect with real estate agents. One of my favorite tools that Credit Karma provides for home buyers is their future home calculator, which allows you to better understand how much house you can afford.
Not in the market to buy? Credit Karma also offers help for renters, including renters insurance quotes and tips on paying for utilities and better-affording rent costs.

Financial relief programs

By answering a few questions (location, household income, employment, etc), Credit Karma can connect you with financial relief programs in your area that you might qualify for if you need help. Whether you’re out of work or struggling to make ends meet, this platform will create a financial roadmap tailored specifically to your situation.

Free tax return filing

I’m sure we’ve all started filing our taxes with a “free app” only to find out later on that in order to file some sort of fee was required. Credit Karma offers a relatively new tax preparation option called Credit Karma Tax that allows you to file your taxes for free — even if you’re self-employed, as I am. And I mean free. This includes filing state taxes and federal taxes. There are a few situations that this platform can’t handle (income in multiple states, filing as a nonresident, claiming foreign income, or multi-business member filing), but these situations won’t apply to most taxpayers.

Savings account

If you’re thinking about opening a high-yield savings account, Credit Karma provides one for free for members at 0.27 APY. While not as high as other online savings accounts, there are no monthly fees, no balance requirements, and your money is insured up to $5 million. On the downside, you’ll need an outside bank account in order to transfer money to your Credit Karma savings because it does not offer checking accounts.

Financial resources

Lastly, Credit Karma offers a variety of financial services and resources free of charge for members. You’ll gain access to debt repayment, mortgage refinance offers, and simple loan financial calculators, amortization estimates, credit score simulators, identity monitoring, and a network of blogs, articles, and reviews of financial products.

My Experience Using Credit Karma

As I mentioned, after using Credit Karma for a few months, I closed my paid credit monitoring subscription with another service and began using just this platform to monitor my credit score and credit accounts.
Overall, I’ve found this platform to be extremely intuitive, easy to use, and helpful for anyone looking to learn more about their credit habits and boost their credit score.

Signing up for Credit Karma

I found the signup process for Credit Karma very straightforward, but you will need to provide the platform with some personal information. Since Credit Karma will need to match your identity with your TransUnion and Equifax credit scores, you’ll need to verify your identity.
This means providing the platform with:
  • Your full legal name
  • Current and former addresses
  • Your date of birth
  • The last four digits of your social security number
Providing additional information, such as your household income, location, and job type, Credit Karma will enhance your online experience.

How I’ve used Credit Karma to improve my credit

When I first signed up with Credit Karma, the platform did not provide nearly as many resources as it does now. My only goal was to keep an eye on my credit accounts and to continue to pay down debt. I have not used many of their loan recommendations or financial calculators, but anticipate using their mortgage resources in the future when I look to buy my first home.

Filing a dispute

One feature I’ve used a few times on Credit Karma — with effective results — is its dispute functionality. The first time I used it, I had recently moved to a new address and found a collections account popped up on my account. After doing some digging, I realized this account was for a medical bill that I had paid through the hospital's billing office as soon as we were able to straighten out my new mailing address. I filed a dispute with the credit issuer through Credit Karma, which led me to TransUnion’s dispute portal. The process was quick and easy and within 30 days, the error was removed from my report.
It’s always free to file a credit dispute, but Credit Karma makes it easy to select the exact account you’re looking for and leads you to the correct dispute portal with a few simple clicks.

Monitoring my credit accounts

When I was paying down credit card debt, I liked to keep a spreadsheet of anticipated payments and projected payoff dates so I could redistribute funds to other debt once a credit card was paid off. During this process, I relied heavily on Credit Karma to keep an accurate listing of all of my accounts. Logging in monthly and seeing my debt decrease, my utilization percentage reduce, and my credit score shoot up was extremely motivating.
While most of my debt repayment came out of my account automatically, checking in with Credit Karma regularly allowed me to ensure there was no debt I was not factoring into my repayment plan and offered me peace of mind, knowing that I was on track with my repayments.

Credit card recommendations

I also used (and continue to use) Credit Karma offers to help me find new credit cards that will be valuable to my financial goals. For instance, I live 600 miles from most of my family, which means (in non-pandemic conditions) I travel quite a bit throughout the year. Finding a credit card that offered great rewards in terms of miles, travel benefits, and mileage discounts helped me save hundreds a year on air travel.
It was also refreshing to know ahead of time what my approval odds were with different travel credit cards, so I was able to apply to one and get approved instantly. Of course, approval isn’t guaranteed, but I felt better knowing I was less likely to be declined and take a ding to my credit report by applying to more than one creditor.

Credit Karma Pros and Cons

Pros
  • 100% free. Having no membership charge makes owning a Credit Karma account a no-brainer for me. Anyone looking to understand their credit score better or wanting access to free credit monitoring tools will likely enjoy this platform.
  • Simple interface and digital app. Credit Karma has a simple design that’s easy to navigate, whether you’re using the desktop platform or digital app.
  • Personal identity monitoring. Credit Karma lets me know whenever there’s a personal information breach that may impact me. At a minimum, it allows me to know it’s a good time to update my digital passwords.
  • Robust resources. Credit Karma has continued to expand its resources, becoming a financial powerhouse capable of helping you navigate just about any financial decision in your life.
Cons
  • Targeted advertisements. Credit Karma uses your data and personal information to serve you targeted ads from its advertisers. Credit Karma does not sell your information (without explicit consent) but will use this information internally to serve you ads that are relevant to your financial needs. Clicking on these offerings will earn Credit Karma money.
  • No Experian data. While Credit Karma offers access to two of the three main credit reporting agencies, it does not have access to Experian information.
  • No FICO score access. While the two main scoring models have similar methodologies, it is possible to have different score ranges and you won't see your FICO score.

How Credit Karma Stacks Up Against Competitors

PlatformCostCredit ReportsCredit Score
Credit KarmaFreeTransUnion, EquifaxVantageScore
Credit SesameFreeTransUnionVantageScore
TurboFreeTransUnionVantageScore

Credit Sesame

Credit Sesame is another free option for monitoring your credit score that uses the latest VantageScore model and TransUnion data. Credit Sesame does not offer as many free robust tools like Credit Karma and does not provide Equifax information for free.
On the other hand, Credit Sesame does offer fee-free checking accounts and identity theft protection. In addition, Credit Sesame also has access to paid memberships that will allow you to view data from Equifax and Experian, starting at $9.95 per month.
Overall, Credit Karma offers more in terms of free membership, but if you want access to all three agencies ’ data, Credit Sesame can provide this for a fee. However, you can obtain this information for free, by using different credit platforms.

Turbo

Turbo, a credit monitoring platform from the makers of TurboTax, also uses the VantageScore model and provides access to TransUnion’s credit information. This app is completely free and allows you to set financial goals. It then provides professional advice to help you meet these milestones and makes recommendations along the way.
The only real downside to using Turbo is that it does not offer as many features as Credit Karma and does not provide TransUnion and Equifax scores. However, Turbo has a companion budgeting app, Mint, that will allow you access to more resources and is also free.

The bottom line

If you’re looking for the most comprehensive free credit score platform out there, Credit Karma is easily one of the top choices. This platform provides access to TransUnion scores and free credit reports, as well as Equifax scores. In addition, you’ll receive credit card and loan recommendations, financial calculators, money resources, and free tax filing options.
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