Can I Trust Credit Karma?

Q: I’m trying to increase my credit score ahead of applying for a large loan, so I’m considering signing up for Credit Karma to track my score. How accurate are the credit scores it shares? Is there anything I need to be aware of before signing up for this service?

A: Credit Karma is a legitimate company; however, for a variety of reasons, its scores may vary greatly from the number your lender will share with you when it checks your credit.

We have answers to all your questions about Credit Karma.

What is Credit Karma?
Credit Karma is an online credit service that operates under the principle that everyone is entitled to a free and honest credit score. To that end, the site allows you to check your credit whenever you’d like without paying any fees – a privilege that can cost you about $20 a month from its competitors. You’ll need to sign up for the service and share some sensitive information, like your Social Security number and your financial goals, but you won’t be asked for any credit card numbers or account information.

Scores are updated once a week, and the company only performs a “soft inquiry” on your credit to get the necessary information – which means your score is never impacted by it checking your credit on your behalf. Credit Karma also offers lots of credit advice, customizable loan calculators, and reviews on financial products of all kinds.

Credit Karma earns its profit through targeted ads. As you learn your way around the site and start to frequent it more often, you’ll see ads that are geared toward your specific financial situation. For example, if your credit is excellent and you’re looking for a home loan, you’ll probably find loads of ads from mortgage companies. While this may seem like a breach of privacy, it’s no different than the way much larger online platforms you likely use, including Google and Facebook, earn a profit.

How does Credit Karma calculate my score?
The online credit company uses information from two of the three major credit reporting agencies, TransUnion and Equifax, to give you a VantageScore 3.0. While this type of credit score is gaining popularity among lenders, you may not recognize it – and for good reason. The FICO scoring model is by far the most widely used credit score among financial institutions and lenders across the country, with 90% of lenders using this score to net potential borrowers.

The atypical scoring model used by Credit Karma, coupled with the absence of information from Experian, the third of the three major credit reporting agencies, tends to make Credit Karma scores differ from scores pulled by other companies and financial institutions. The credit service is usually within range and a good indicator of your overall credit wellness. You can also get a report with a thin credit history through this model, which is super-helpful for those seeking to build their credit from nothing.

How do other lenders calculate my score?
Most financial institutions use a FICO scoring model to measure consumers’ credit scores. As mentioned, this number will likely be lower than the score you see on Credit Karma, but will fall within the same general range.

It’s also important to note that, each time you apply for a specific kind of loan with an individualized lender, it will likely also use its own customized formula. For example, if you were applying for a mortgage with a home loan company, it would probably use a score that is specifically developed for mortgage loans. Similarly, if you were to apply for a car loan from an auto lender, it will use its own score designed to predict the likelihood of you defaulting on an auto loan. This can result in an even lower credit score from these lenders.

Is there any other way to get my credit score?
If you’re looking for a more relevant credit score, you have several options. You can ask a potential lender to pull your credit, though this might cost you both in fees and in a knock to your credit for the hard inquiry. You can order your free credit report with information from all three credit bureaus once a year, at AnnualCreditReport.com.

Lastly, for more frequent monitoring, you can sign up for access to your FICO score and 3-bureau credit report on Experian.com, where packages start at $19.99 a month. There are other similar services out there, but most are not legitimate or are grossly overpriced.

How does DoverPhila Federal Credit Union decide if I’m eligible for a loan?
We use the FICO model to calculate your credit score when you apply for a large loan. While this number will likely differ from your Credit Karma score, it gives us a broader picture of your credit as it includes information pulled from all three credit bureaus. We’ll also review your full financial history and trajectory to determine if you are eligible for the loan.

Here at DoverPhila Federal Credit Union, our goal is to help you achieve and maintain financial wellness. Consequently, we are far more likely to approve a loan for one of our members than a random lender who doesn’t know the first thing about you or your financial history.

If you’re trying to increase your credit score before applying for a large loan, we can help! Stop by DoverPhila Federal Credit Union today to speak to one of our free financial counselors about steps you can take to improve your credit.

If you’re ready to take out that loan, make DoverPhila Federal Credit Union your first stop! Our stress-free application process, low interest rates, and reasonable terms make us the best choice for your next large loan. We’ll help turn your dream home, car, or business into a reality.

The RAIN Method for Buying a Car

The average cost of a new vehicle today is around $30,000. Whether you desire the shiny, brand-new ride or if you are content with a reliable used car, you still want to get the most for your money. The actual process of finding, researching, financing, and buying a car does not need to be scary or intimidating. In fact there is an effective technique for making the right purchase. It’s called RAIN. RAIN is an acronym for Research, Ask questions, Investigate or Inspect, and Negotiate.

Research
In this step, you use information from publications like Consumer Reports, Kelley Blue Book, and other resources to make sure the vehicle you are looking at is a wise choice and a reliable investment. You also need to use the buyer’s guide to find pricing of the vehicles you are looking at. It is easy to find the sticker or retail price, but your goal should be to find out the wholesale price which is the price the dealership paid minus any rebates, hold-backs, or incentives. The wholesale price is the price you will use to negotiate when the time is right. Also, make sure you research more than one vehicle option. Having interest in numerous car options at various dealerships will provide a larger arena for negotiating a price.

Ask
You should contact the insurance company and find out the rates you can expect with the vehicle you are looking at along with a quote from your insurance agent. There are a lot of costs associated with owning a vehicle and insurance is a major one. You should also ask the dealership for information regarding the average cost of upkeep. This information is critical as you examine the overall costs of the purchase you are going to make.

Investigate or Inspect
If you are considering a brand-new car, you should go to the dealership and investigate it. Be sure the salesperson knows that on this trip you plan to test drive only and that you are not ready to make a deal quite yet. This is your opportunity to get a feel for various car options. As you investigate your potential purchase, think about if each vehicle meets your needs, handles well, and if it will keep you happy in the long run.

If you are in search of a used vehicle, the inspection process is very important. Even if you have limited knowledge of automobiles, everyone can conduct a basic inspection. Check out the exterior and interior of your vehicle options. Make sure you take each car for a test drive so you can see how it handles, how it accelerates, and how it brakes. When your inspection is complete and if you are serious about purchasing one of the vehicles, take it to a certified mechanic for a full-car diagnostic. It may cost you $100, but it gives you a detailed report of the car’s condition along with a list of problem areas and the costs to fix those problems. Also, a full diagnostic will help with your last step of negotiating price. Remember to make sure you have more than one vehicle option – each from a different dealership. This will also help with negotiation.

Negotiate
For many, the negotiation process is intimidating. Everyone wants to get the best deal – including salespeople. A good way to take the pressure off of you is to inform each salesperson that you are interested in more than one vehicle at different dealerships and that the dealer with the best offer will get your business. Take all numbers that each dealership gives you and see which offer is the best.If you are not happy with the offers, share your thoughts on what you consider to be a fair price based on your research. If the dealer says no, move on. 

Purchasing a vehicle is probably going to be the second largest expenditure in your life. Being prepared is key to getting the best deal. Following these steps will help you tremendously. Always remember, DoverPhila Federal Credit Union can provide not only the best financial deal for you, but they can also provide support, guidance, and education.