Things have happened in the last few years that have prompted me to make life changes. No details right now. It’s not the business of the whole, wide world. Just say there’s room for ghosts, agitators, and moles, and more in freedom.
One change, though, is that after years of having a house but no money, I sold Cabin Sweet Cabin last summer and moved into a friend’s trailer. So now there’s a little money but no house. That’s how I was able to go to Panama.
Anyhow, after a long sometimes-painful, often blissful, non-relationship with money, its on my consciousness again. (It’s always been on my consciousness in the sense of believing that unproductive debt is unproductive for freedom seekers.)
Bored last weekend, I poked around websites having to do with credit, budgeting, etc. And I found this cool one. Credit Karma. Maybe you knew about it; I didn’t. But in any case, here’s how it works.
You already know that you can get free annual copies of all three of your credit reports from the Big Boy agencies, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Only about 1/3 of credit-using Americans do. And even if more did … well, once a year isn’t enough. Credit can get screwed up in an instant and can take months of constant monitoring to unscrew.
Also, those reports don’t give you your credit score. The score is not only a big deal to lenders; it’s a tool that can give you a shorthand guide to improving your own credit management. Do the “right” things and up it goes — though often slowly. Mess up and it plummets. You can also make strategic decisions that might push your score down temporarily but boost your status in the eyes of lenders, employers, and such in the long run. But scoring is complex and quirky; what pushes one person’s credit upward might drive another’s down.
The score can change day-to-day. Usually, if you want to monitor it, you have to buy access via some subscription plan that’ll cost you $100 or more a year.
Credit Karma is a free site that works with TransUnion to let you access an updated score as often as you like and track it through the months. At no cost. Not only that, but with its “Credit Report Card” feature, you get enough info to deduce what’s in your TransUnion credit report, even though you don’t see the actual report. Again, you can update that as often as you like. For free.
Okay, out with the negatives: You have to input serious personal data to use Credit Karma. Also, the credit score you get isn’t the “official” and all-holy FICO score; it’s TransUnion’s own TransRisk score. (Companies wanting to use the genuine FICO score must buy the rights from Fair Isaac, the score’s originator. So what they do instead is create their own scoring systems based on similar algorithms. All three credit bureaus have their own algorithms and data. Or they buy the FICO system but market the resulting score under their own brand name. Their numbers will deviate a bit from from each other.) So keep in mind that the other two big bureaus could have different info on you and yield different results.
And here’s something that may be negative or positive, depending on your mindset: Credit Karma will then offer you credit cards, insurance, and other products based on your score. Lousy credit? You’ll see offers for secured cards. Great credit? You’ll see offers for the best products in the business. These offers aren’t intrusive. They aren’t pushed at you against your will. You have to click if you want to look at them. (Be sure to uncheck the box that wants to email “savings” at you.) But they’re part of the reason Credit Karma can operate for free.
This site certainly isn’t for the “ghosts” of the world. Or for people who are completely debt free and plan to stay that way (which, come to think of it, makes you largely a financial ghost even if that was never your intention). But for anybody who possesses so much as one credit card or one car loan, frequent free monitoring of your profile could be useful.
Yes, the idea that your entire financial self should be summed up in a single number is stupid. Insulting, even. And not always so useful, as many mortgage lenders have discovered to their chagrin. But Credit Karma could help you deal with the stupid, unuseful reality. Think of it as a game that you can play and win.