Consumers who want a free credit report along with a free credit score can now get them from one source — CreditKarma.com.
The San Francisco-based start-up recently announced that consumers can now order a free credit report from TransUnion as often as once a week. Credit Karma also offers a free credit score from Vantage.
No credit expert is recommending that consumers should check their credit reports weekly, but the new deal finally allows consumers to check their report at no cost more than once a year. Until now, a free credit report and score could only be requested by someone who has been refused credit or gets less desirable terms than promised. Anyone can order a free credit report (score not included) once every 12 months at www.annualcreditreport.com. One in five Americans or about 44 million consumers do so yearly, said Susan Grant, director of consumer protection at the Consumer Federation of America.
"The problem is that 25 percent of credit reports have a serious error," said Ken Lin, CEO of Credit Karma. "If you find an error, you don't want to wait a year to see if it got fixed."
Susan Grant believes that being able to access a TransUnion credit report frequently allows a person to spot errors and fraud more quickly. "You can also see how your financial behavior can affect your report."
Experts say the new program is a good start, but consumers should understand its limitations. More access to credit reports and scores is better than less, said John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at CreditSesame.com, but getting access to a TransUnion report once a week should not serve as a substitute for consumers obtaining all three credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. "Consumers can claim all of their credit reports from the three national credit reporting agencies, Experian, TransUnion and Equifax via that site, which is the most comprehensive method of viewing your credit reports," Ulzheimer wrote in an e-mail.
The free score provided is not the same as a FICO score used by lenders, said local financial planner Sophia Bera, but it still gives consumers a ballpark estimate. "When I went to get a car loan last year, my Credit Karma score was 10 points below my actual FICO. It's not a FICO, but it's close," she said. Bera said that consumers who are making a serious purchase such as a car or new home may want to check their FICO score beforehand. It can be purchased at Myfico.com for $20.
Another downside at free sites is upselling. The sites pay their way by selling ads for credit cards, and consumers need to be mindful of that, said Darryl Dahlheimer, program director for LSS Financial Counseling Service, a nonprofit that has offices statewide. "Don't be swayed by it," he cautioned.
Grant said that if consumers prefer to stick with the federally authorized site, annualcreditreport.com, they can get three free reports per year by staggering the ordering. "You can order all three at once or you can start with TransUnion, for example, and then four months later order Equifax and four months after that order Experian," she said.