There was a time not too long ago where you had to pay for your credit profile and current credit scores. Then came the rise of free credit monitoring sites Credit Sesame and Credit Karma. Much like Mint.com did for budgeting, these sites gave users a complete view of their credit profile. In addition, users were also given a set of “credit scores” based on their overall credit health. While it wasn’t a real credit score, these sites gave users a close view to see where their credit score was, within a certain variance (+/- 20 to 50 points).
For quite a while, Credit Sesame and Credit Karma stood alone. Personally speaking, I found immense value in both sites, because they allowed me to have an overall view of my credit health. But, as all online services go, it was only a matter of time before something else would come forward as a parallel – and in someways, competing – service.
The “challengers” came in the form of three already established players: Barclays and Discover,
and Capital One. (Correction: As Doctor of Credit pointed out in the comments, Capital One is a FAKO score – not a FICO score.) Over the last year, these credit card companies started offering users access to their actual TransUnion FICO credit score, instead of the “FAKO” scores that Credit Karma & Credit Sesame allowed you to see.
So now that consumers holding a Barclays or Discover card can see their actual credit score, does it no longer make sense to hold an account on the “FAKO” credit sites? Both have their core advantages and disadvantages – lets explore each one in a little more detail.
The FAKO Sites – Penny Wise, Credit Score Foolish
Credit Sesame and Credit Karma both use an alternate version of your credit score offered by two of the three credit bureaus. Credit Sesame utilizes the Experian National Equivalency Score, while Credit Karma utilizes the TransUnion New Account Score. While both scores are available to lenders, most will not base their decisions on these scores. Instead, lenders will make decisions based on the FICO score calculated by each of the three credit bureaus.
While you don’t get a real FICO score, both sites do offer a complete look at your current credit situation: how much debt you’re carrying, how much credit is available, and how much you are spending monthly repaying that debt. For those who tend to carry a balance or simply want an overall picture of their credit health, these sites can be great for seeing how your personal finance situation measures up. Plus, these sites give tips on how to improve your credit health, and offer simulators, which allow you to see how a change in your credit would potentially affect you.
The FICO Sites – Missing the Forest for the Trees
When Barclaycard announced that customers would be able to access their FICO credit score online as of October 30, 2013, it marked a major turn in consumer credit accessibility. Gone were the days where customers had to pay for access to their credit scores (though I will miss the FreeCreditReport.com band). Instead, by logging into their credit card accounts, customers can see their exact score, and get updates on one of the key factors that lenders base decisions around.
While this is a great turn of events, there’s a lot that isn’t taken into account through credit card provider access. A downfall of these portals is that they only show your credit score, with a bullet-pointed explanation of the factors taken into account. In addition, these scores are updated on a schedule, and not necessarily on demand – meaning you could be dealing with out of date information. Finally, all three products only show your credit score from TransUnion. And though you may have a good TransUnion score, your Experian and Equifax scores could be different.
So Which Credit Score Product Is Best?
Tracking your actual FICO credit score – the same credit score that lenders use – is the best approach for making credit decisions. That being said, basing your decisions off one score could be dangerous, and can lead to potential disappointments in your applications. And for those who choose to carry debt on their cards, not seeing the entire implications of your debt could create some potentially bad situations.
If you are a customer of Barclays or Discover you should absolutely utilize the free access to your TransUnion FICO score. This is the best way to get an accurate statement on your credit. However, I also recommend keeping – and regularly checking – at least one of the two credit monitoring programs as well. If you were to only pick one, I would recommend Credit Sesame. Credit Sesame gives you an idea of your Experian credit score, and allows you to have a view of your overall credit from two of the three credit bureaus.
Do the credit monitoring sites hold as much value now that FICO scores are more available? Does a FAKO score mean anything to you at all? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Ed. Note: In the spirit of full disclosure, the authors may receive incentives for links placed in this blog to products or services mentioned. The author neither endorses or guarantees any product, service, or brand mentioned in this article, unless otherwise stated.