What is Credit Sesame and How Does It Compare to Credit Karma?
Do you know what your credit looks like? If not, there are now several completely free services that will not only give you a peek at your credit score but can also give you guidance on how you can improve it. One such offering is Credit Sesame.
A while back I signed up for Credit Sesame, not so much to learn about my own credit, but to see how their product compared to other options like Credit Karma. Before I dive into that part of my review, let me first explain how Credit Sesame works, starting with how to sign up.
How Credit Sesame Works
As advertised, Credit Sesame is completely free to sign up for. Thus you won’t have to enter a credit card number or worry about canceling some subscription you don’t want in order to get your score. However, you will need to enter your typical info such as name, address, etc. as well as the last four digits of your social security number.
After entering your information you are then required to take a quiz of sorts, answering questions related to your credit history in order to prove your identity. Once you pass that test, it’s off to the races.
One more thing to note is that, if you currently have a security freeze on your credit reports, you’ll likely need to temporarily “thaw” them in order to complete the Credit Sesame sign-up process. However, once you’re set up, you can refreeze your reports without issue. Additionally using Credit Sesame will not affect your credit scores.
Navigating Credit Sesame — Your Dashboard
First of all, Credit Sesame’s website received an overhaul a while back, leading to some major cosmetic and navigational changes. I personally prefer this look for the platform and the functionality remains in place. With that in mind, let’s go through it all.
The dashboard — dubbed My Overview — isn’t tremendously different from the older version and remains pretty straightforward. When you first log in, you’ll see a score displayed along with an adjective to let you know where you stand (e.g. “excellent” or “poor”). Next to your score will be a chart showing the fluctuations over time — a handy feature for those wanting to monitor their progress.
Now is also a good time to mention what these scores represent. First, this particular score is from TransUnion, one of the three major credit bureaus. Something else to note is that, like with other free credit sites, Credit Sesame uses the VantageScore 3.0 model to provide scores as opposed to the FICO models utilized by most creditors. As a result, these “educational scores” may differ from what creditors will see — although the discrepancies shouldn’t be too drastic in most cases.
Anyway, a bit below your score and chart, you’ll see two tabs: “What’s impacting my score?” and “View my credit report.” Clicking “What’s impacting my credit score?” will transport you to a page where you’ll be able to dive into the various credit factors and how you rate. For example my payment history, credit usage, credit age, and credit inquiries were all graded ‘A.’ However my account mix was a ‘D’ since I currently only have revolving credit and no installment loans.
Clicking each of the aforementioned ratings will also give you greater insight into why the site graded you the way it did. This not only includes helpful information, such as what your actual credit utilization is, but also provides tips and best practices to help improve your score if you’re not ‘A’ rated.
For example, when it comes to credit utilization, it shows that it rated me at a ‘B’ because I was currently using between 11% and 30% of my total credit limit. It then suggests that my goal should be to bring that figure under 10% in order to bump up to an ‘A.’ On that note, I also like how it lists all of your credit accounts and displays your current utilization for each.
Other interesting tidbits include a look at the average age of your credit, which is something you’re unlikely to know offhand. While your rating is based on the average length of your credit, the site breaks out what your oldest and youngest accounts are as well. Once again they also offer insight into your rating, noting that, “By keeping your average account age over 5 years, you are showing creditors and lenders what they like to see.”
As for the “View my credit report” tab, this page is, unfortunately, less useful for most people. Here you won’t actually find your credit report but, instead, the opportunity to sign up for Credit Sesame Premium. That subscription will give you monthly access to credit reports from all three bureaus (among other features) for $15.95 a month.
Back on the homepage, above those two tabs is Debt Analysis. This is where you can see all of your outstanding debts and calculate your debt to income ratio. As a result, this section could likely be helpful for someone working their way out of debt and who wants to monitor their progress. Similarly those monitoring their credit utilization and spending might also find this section of interest.
Moving away from My Overview for a moment (although Actions will appear on your dashboard as well), My Actions presents you with different options related to your finances, such as “Make sure you have enough credit to cover unexpected expenses” and “Reward yourself with miles, points, and cashback.” In reality, each of these options will simply take you to landing pages where you’ll see some credit card suggestions. While that’s a bit disappointing in my opinion, I will say that I like how Credit Sesame not only offers your approval odds for each card but also a potential credit limit. How accurate those guesses are is hard to say but it’s a nice touch nonetheless.
Under Offers, you’ll find info on a number of products, from credit cards to loans and insurance. For credit cards, recommendations are also broken down into sections. Alternatively, you can click “See All” and then sort cards by Approval Odds, Features, Reward Type, and Issuer. Naturally, for each you’ll find important information, such as the regular APR, annual fee, etc.
As for the other products, options like Personal Loans and Auto Loans will mostly display like the credit cards did, allowing you to alter your filters — although Credit Sesame may ask you a couple of questions ahead of time to help serve you the right offers. Meanwhile, other sections feature additional resources. For example, under Home Loans, you can access a monthly payments calculator as well as some educational articles regarding mortgages.
Finally, the bottom tab on Credit Sesame’s site is your profile, which also includes your account settings. This is mostly the standard stuff — the ability to change your password, edit your address, etc. — but does include some useful options. Among them is the Notification Settings where you can opt-into different types of alerts.
Unfortunately, it seems that Credit Sesame did away with some of its notification options when it switched to its latest site. Previously, you could set up custom alerts, including the ability to be notified when your score fell below or climbed above a certain level. For the life of me, I can no longer find such an option and, instead, there are just three types of emails you can elect to receive. That’s a little disappointing but c’est la vie.
Credit Sesame Premium
As I mentioned briefly earlier, there is a paid upgrade for Credit Sesame called Credit Sesame Premium. With this $15.95 a month subscription, you’ll enjoy such perks as:
- Access to your full credit reports from all three bureaus monthly
- Alerts from all three bureaus
- The ability to report your rent payments to the credit bureaus, earning you up to 24 months of payment history
- And more
Credit Sesame Premium is actually a relatively new development as the site previously had a variety of subscription tiers. In any case, the ability to report rent payments is a pretty cool perk that could definitely be useful for those trying to build credit. That said, I’m a bit confused about exactly what Premium includes. That’s because I no longer see a page promoting it unless I’m logged in. Then, when I am logged in, it only gives me an ad highlighting a special offer with not a ton more info. The good news is that they do have a free trial so you can check it out more in-depth if you’re interested.
Credit Sesame App
Prior to the Credit Sesame site getting a new look, their mobile app got a facelift first. Personally, I find the aesthetics of the app — from the clean navigation to the unique color scheme — to be a great upgrade. Functionally, I think it offers a better experience than the desktop site as well.
Navigating the app
When you open the app, you’ll start on the Overview tab, where you will find your updated score. Next to that is Credit, featuring a graph showing the trajectory of your score over time as well as credit score factor grades. What’s more, tapping one of these grades will provide more info, including some other visualizations. For example, the Credit Usage section plots your utilization from month to month. Similarly, if you look near the top of the screen, you can switch from My Credit to My Debt, which also contains some useful charts.
Following the Cash tab (which we’ll get to in a moment) comes another interesting section: Tips. In addition to a Tip of the Month, this tab will again highlight your grades in the different credit factors and provide a relevant piece of advice. Sure there are also a couple of credit card ads thrown in as well, but the fun illustrations prevent it from feeling like a pure commercial stream.
Lastly, there is an Offers tab where you can search through different card options. Additionally, there are tabs for Auto Loans and Personal Loans. Something that surprised me slightly was that the first lender mentioned under the Auto Loans tab was Carvana — which, as far as I know, only offers financing on cars you buy from them. In any case, this tab can either be helpful or completely useless depending on your current situation.
Overall, I really like using the Credit Sesame app — even after the desktop site’s makeover. I would say it’s definitely worth downloading if you decide to join the service.
Instant Score Update
When you’re on the Overview tab, you may notice a note in the upper left of your credit score showing a date and a refresh button. Previously, tapping this button brought up a paid service where you could pay to get daily refreshes for 7-days or 30-days for a fee. However, it appears this has now been rolled into the aforementioned Credit Sesame Premium. Personally, I’m glad this a la carte service got the boot as I saw it as a total waste of money. At least being bundled into a larger service makes some sense to me.
A couple of years ago, Credit Sesame pulled an interesting move by unveiling its own digital banking offering. Known as Sesame Cash, this free checking account comes with a debit card and a few other typical features. While you can read much more about the offering in my full review, I did want to mention a couple of key things.
First, in a clever twist, you can actually earn cash bonuses by increasing your credit score thanks to Sesame Cash Rewards. Basically, by depositing at least $100 into your account, you’ll have the opportunity to earn up to $100. If you can raise your score by 10 points in a 30 day period, you’ll get $10 whereas those who (somehow) increase their scores by 100 points in that same timeframe will get a total of $100. Admittedly, it’s slightly more complicated than that, so be sure to read over the terms and conditions for full details.
What’s perhaps even better is that you can now use your Credit Sesame debit card to improve your credit score. By activating Credit Builder, Credit Sesame will effectively create a secured virtual card. Then, when you make purchases, it will add to the balance of that virtual card before paying off the balance each month and reporting your payment to the credit bureaus. In turn, you’ll be gaining positive payment history and hopefully improving your scores. So, to recap, Credit Sesame Cash can help you improve your credit and will give you a bonus when you do… pretty cool, huh?
Like I said, there’s a bit more to this account than I can fit here, so be sure to check out my review for all of the info.
Comparing Credit Sesame and Credit Karma
Having reviewed Credit Karma in one of my first Money at 30 columns, I couldn’t help but compare the two products while reviewing Credit Sesame. Unfortunately for the latter, that comparison isn’t quite as favorable as one would hope. For starters, since Credit Karma doesn’t offer any premium, paid services, you don’t encounter upsell pages like you do with Credit Sesame. This might not be a big deal for some but could be a bit annoying to others.
Yet, one thing Credit Sesame does offer that Credit Karma doesn’t is identity theft insurance. In fact, Credit Sesame offers users $50,000 in protection just for signing up. This is even upped to $1 million for Sesame Cash customers. Plus, while Credit Karma now offers a savings account, Sesame Cash has a few more functions than Credit Karma Savings.
However, the biggest difference between the two platforms is how much information you can get for free. First, Credit Karma offers free users two scores (TransUnion and Equifax) while Credit Sesame’s free service only offers one (TransUnion). For the record, my score displayed on both sites did match each other, so that’s a good sign.
Another difference is that Credit Sesame only allows you to buy a copy of your credit report or subscribe to their service. Meanwhile Credit Karma offers much of this info for free and even arranges it in an easy-to-explore format. Having not purchased a report from Credit Sesame I can’t say for sure how it compares but, for free, Credit Karma’s reports are definitely useful.
In terms of looks, I think I actually prefer Credit Sesame’s app to the current Credit Karma app following the update. This isn’t to say that the latter is bad, but I really enjoy Credit Sesame’s color scheme and layout. As for the desktop site, it’s pretty even now that Sesame has rolled out its update.
Lastly it should be noted that both services make money by suggesting credit cards and loans that might appeal to users. Still I couldn’t help but feel like that fact was much more obvious on Credit Sesame than on Credit Karma. That could also be due to the navigation design but there seemed to be an ad at every turn. Because of this, I find myself using Credit Sesame less frequently than Credit Karma overall.
Final Thoughts on Credit Sesame
When I first reviewed Credit Sesame, I thought it was a perfectly fine service (for being free) but felt that Credit Karma was a better pick overall. However, since then, Credit Sesame has continually done interesting things — such as their credit-building debit card that pays you for raising your score or allowing you to report your rent to build credit. Therefore, even though Credit Karma does allow you to view additional scores as well as see your reports for free, I do honestly think it’s worth giving both platforms a try. So, if you’re looking for insight into your credit score and how to improve it, Credit Sesame is a great place to start.