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 into 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 matched up 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:
The sign-up process
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 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 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, once logged into Credit Sesame, is pretty straightforward although there are some quirks. 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”). 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 “education scores” may differ from what creditors will see, although the discrepancies shouldn’t be too drastic in most cases.
From your dashboard, you’ll see a series of tabs, with “My Finances,” being the primary one. “My Finances” also contains five subsections, the first of which is “My Credit.” When the “My Credit” tab is clicked, you’ll be able to dive into the various credit factors and how you rate in each. 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 not any loans.
Clicking each of the aforementioned tabs 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. Other interesting tidbits include a look at the average age of your credit, which is something you’re unlikely to know offhand.
Next up is the “My Debt” tab. Here you can see all of your outstanding debts and calculate your debt to income ratio. As a result, this section could likely be useful for someone working their way out of debt and wants to monitor their progress. Similarly those monitoring their credit utilization and spending will also find this section helpful.
The other two main tabs — “My Monitoring” and “My Credit Report” — are mostly reserved for Credit Sesame’s premium products. The bulk of the “My Monitoring” page is an ad asking you to “Unlock My Identity Protection Alerts,” with plans ranging from $9.95 to $24.95.
However, if you click the “free credit monitoring and identification protection” with the bell icon in the upper right of the page, you can adjust your settings for the free monitoring that comes with your Credit Sesame account as well as other alerts (more on that later). Additionally, if you look to the left, you’ll see a section titled “Credit Monitoring” that will give you access to alerts such as new accounts opened or inquiries made.
Similar to the ad on the monitoring page, the “My Credit Report” tab allows you to either sign up for a subscription or buy a one-time copy of your report for $9.95. So, unless you have a premium subscription or want to purchase a copy of your report, this tab won’t be of much service.
Finally the fifth tab is “My Financial Goals.” Here you’ll be able to select from a number of goals including raising your credit score, buying a home, refinancing a loan, and more. Once you update the data for your selected goal, you can browse through advice and/or offers to help you achieve it.
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 very favorable. For starters Credit Karma’s interface feels much cleaner and more intuitive than Credit Sesame’s. Additionally, since Credit Karma doesn’t offer any premium, paid services, you don’t encounter upsell pages like you do with Credit Sesame.
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. Additionally I found their e-mail and SMS alert settings to be helpful, including the ability to get notified if your score goes above or below a certain threshold. While Credit Karma does offer many other options for customized alerts, this particular setting is not one of them (at least not that I could find). In my opinion, this is actually a pretty glaring omission on Credit Karma’s part so I’m glad Credit Sesame picks up the slack.
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 compared but, for free, Credit Karma’s reports are definitely useful.
Lastly it should be noted that both services make money by suggesting credit cards and loans that might appeal to users. That said 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.
As I mentioned, while Credit Sesame offers a completely free plan that includes your TransUnion credit score, $50,000 in identity theft insurance, and more, they also offer premium services as well. These plans come in three tiers: Advanced Credit, Pro Credit, and Platinum Credit, which cost $9.95 a month, $15.95 a month, and $19.95 a month respectively. While the features differ as you work your way up the ladder, the main selling points include access to monthly credit scores from all three main bureaus along with full credit reports (of note: these scores are still derived from the VantageScore 3.0 model, not FICO). Some of the other premium features included with higher-grade subscriptions include 24/7 assistance with credit reporting errors, public records monitoring, social security number monitoring, and more.
Personally, I haven’t tried any of Credit Sesame’s premium services so I can’t really speak to whether or not they’re worth it. That said, those interested in getting a fuller picture of their credit situation — including having access to Experian scores that not even Credit Karma offers — might consider taking these services for a test spin.
Overall Credit Sesame is worthy as a free service. Even though I prefer Credit Karma on the whole, I see no reason not to use both since there are a few unique features offered by each app. In fact, I actually do utilize both services on a regular basis as Credit Sesame offers some alert options that Credit Karma does not. So, if you’re looking for insight into your credit score and how to improve it, Credit Sesame is a great place to start.