best credit monitoring service
Signing up for Credit Karma is easy and requires basic information, including your name, address and social security number. The service states that it does not store your social security number, rather it is only used to retrieve your first credit score. You also have the option of entering your annual household income and monthly household income, which Credit Karma will use to provide you with more tailored report and savings data, plus personalized credit card offers. The last part of the sign-up process is a short survey of multiple choice questions used to prove your identity.
Linking Your Accounts to Credit Karma – Click to enlarge
During sign up, you have the option of allowing Credit Karma to email you special promotions and targeted offers. Thankfully, we did not get massive amounts of emails by checking this box. Whether you select this option or not, you will see all of the credit card offers Credit Karma has for you based on your credit and spending habits on your account dashboard. The service does not share your credit report and score with its partners, but it will match offers from partners with your registration profile. This includes your credit reports and scores along with other targeting criteria. Credit Karma’s customer support explained that this is in order to ensure that users receive offers that are tailored specifically to them.
If you decide to cancel your Credit Karma account, the service does not delete your information outright. Rather, your encrypted information will be stored on secure servers and your account will be inactive and inaccessible to anyone other than Credit Karma authorized personnel. This is not unusual for most credit report providers, but there are services, like TrustedID and PrivacyGuard, that do delete all of your information after you cancel.
You can view your Equifax and TransUnion credit scores immediately after logging into your Credit Karma account. The credit scores use the VantageScore 3.0 model, which has a range of 300 to 850 and uses the usual labels Excellent, Good, Fair, etc. You can also see your Auto Insurance Score and Home Insurance Score. Credit Karma points out that these scores are used primarily by car and home insurance companies to check the likelihood of you filing a claim. Note that the auto insurance score is not based on your driving record.
Equifax and TransUnion Scores from Credit Karma – Click to enlarge
Rather than providing users with a traditional credit report, Credit Karma instead supplies an activity feed, which points out events that occurred on your Equifax and TransUnion credit reports. You can also view balances and limits in your current credit accounts, which are organized for you in a menu on the side of your dashboard. The service focuses more heavily on your “Credit Report Card,” which is a chart it uses to show you how well you are doing based on factors that typically affect your credit score. This includes credit utilization ratio, payment history, age of credit history, total accounts, credit inquiries and derogatory marks. Though this is a helpful, simplified way to see how your credit health is doing, we believe that it is not a substitute for a full three-bureau credit report. Not only do different lenders report to different credit bureaus, but there may also be mistakes and fraud on your credit file reported to one bureau and not to the others.
Financial Tools from Credit Karma – Click to enlarge
As mentioned in the section above, it is risky not to get your full three-bureau credit reports and scores because you will not see a full picture of your credit with just your Equifax and TransUnion information. That said, Credit Karma tries to make up for this by allowing you to link your financial accounts to your profile so it can notify you of any suspicious activity and maintain “credit report accuracy.” Though this is useful, you still will not get a full, accurate picture of your credit health because it is missing reporting from Experian. We recommend more robust credit report monitoring services if you are looking for full identity theft protection. In addition to scanning the Internet black market for use of your personal information, these services also offer resolution experts in the case that you are a victim of identity theft.
Credit Karma only offers email support, which is disappointing considering that most credit report monitoring services have live phone and chat support in addition to email. Our email request was not answered until two days later. We asked exactly how Credit Karma uses our personal information. Unfortunately, the service’s response only reiterated some points we already read about in its FAQ section. It was nice to receive an automatic response after asking a question though, confirming that they received it and reiterating the question we initially asked.
If you just need a quick credit score to get a glimpse of your position on the credit spectrum, Credit Karma is a good service. The free weekly updates of your Equifax and TransUnion credit scores and interpretation of your credit health on the credit report card are a nice visual for how you are doing. On the other hand, if you want a comprehensive look and discussion of your full, three-bureau credit reports and scores, this service will not be enough. Its identity theft protection is lacking, and the array of credit card and loan offers is distracting if you are just trying to monitor your credit.