A few months ago I finally got over my fears and decided I wanted to know what my credit scores were. Since then I’ve learned about more tools, apps, and sites that can help others do the same. One such offering is Credit Sesame, which allows users to create a free account and explore how they can improve their credit.
Recently 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 that part of my review, let me 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 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, answer questions related to your credit history in order to prove your identity. Once you pass that test, it’s off the races.
Navigating Credit Sesame
Your dashboard, once logged into Credit Sesame, is pretty straightforward although there are some quirks. The main section is “My Finances,” which contains five subsections, the first of which is “My Credit.” When the “My Credit” tab is clicked, the first thing you’ll see is 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. Also displayed are 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 you 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.
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 “See Plans” ranging from $14.95 to $24.95 that include more credit scores and reports. 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 will your Credit Sesame account as well as other alerts (more on that later). 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.
Finally the fifth tab of “My Finances” is actually kind of hidden. In my experience, I’ve had to go back to the main page (by clicking the Credit Sesame logo on the left) and hovering over “My Finances” in the navigation bar to discover “My Financial Goals.” After you find this mysterious section, 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, it couldn’t help but compare the two products while reviewing Credit Sesame. Unfortunately for the latter, that comparison isn’t very favorable. For one Credit Karma’s interface feels much cleaner and more intuitive than Credit Sesame’s. This is evidenced mostly by the hidden “My Financial Goals” tab but rings true in other areas as well.
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).
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 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 the 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 lacking navigation and the suggestions to buy premium services but there seemed to be an ad at every turn.
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 to each. It should also be noted that both sites offer educational scores that might not necessarily translate to what creditors will see. Still, if you’re looking for insight into your credit score and how to improve it, Credit Sesame is a great place to start.