Credit Sesame Review: How To Check Your Credit Score Fast and For Free

Nobody likes to be treated like they’re just a number. But when it comes to your personal finances, your credit score is one of the most telling indicators of your financial health. Luckily there are a ton of great apps out there that can help!

Our Credit Sesame review we’ll teach you three things:

  1. What a credit score is
  2. How to check your credit score for free
  3. And why knowing it matters  

Hopefully your credit is fine—but if you haven’t checked it in a while, now’s the time. 

What is a credit score? 

Credit scores are a little number with a big impact. Your credit score is a number, usually between 300-850. Generally speaking, the higher your score the better. Your score is used by lenders  to represent your level of creditworthiness.

Banks use this little three-digit number to decide whether to lend you money (say, for a car or a house).  The score also can determine what terms your receive e.g. interest rates. This means you may be able to get a loan even if you have a low score—but you may be offered a high interest rates or be required to provide collateral. This is why knowing your score is such a big part of personal finance.  

Potential employers and landlords can also use your score to decide whether you’d be a safe bet as an employee or tenant.

how to check your credit score

Who’s keeping score? The three credit bureaus.

When you take out a loan or line of credit, the bank keeps a record of your credit limits, balances, and payment history. They pass this data along to one or more credit reporting companies (also known as credit bureaus) who use this to calculate your credit score. 

There are three credit bureaus in the U.S.: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Because each maintains your credit history separately and may use their own proprietary scoring models, you shouldn’t be surprised to see a small amount of variation between the scores each bureau reports.

You may see your credit score referred to as a FICO score. FICO stands for Fair Isaacs Company, which is the analytics firm that created the scoring model back in the 1980s that is still used today to assess creditworthiness. There are other scoring models out there (VantageScore is another popular one), but FICO is still the most common.

What is Credit Sesame?

How To Check Your Credit Score For Free

Credit Sesame is popular app for checking your credit, which provides monthly credit score monitoring and analysis.  Founded in 2010, Credit Sesame quickly became leaders in credit score monitoring, up there with competitors like Credit Karma. 

Is Credit Sesame legit?

Founded in 2010, Credit Sesame quickly became leaders in credit score monitoring, up there with competitors like Credit Karma.  Millions of users have downloaded their app, and continue to use their services. That said, it's easy to understand why someone be concerned if Credit Sesame is a scam. Financial information is very sensitive, so it's good to be cautious.  They understand that, and have made it their mission to help people make smart financial decisions.  

Their company mission statement sums this up nicely. "Our mission is to empower people to take charge of their credit and loans and achieve their financial goals."

Is Credit Sesame free?

Like many of their competitors, Credit Sesame is free.  In fact, they don't even ask you for a credit card to sign up.  They make money by offering you financial products specific to your current situation.  This is actually the case with most apps that provide credit score monitoring. Not only are they free, they are also really easy to use. 

How accurate Is Credit Sesame?

In order to be confident in their services, it's important to understand how accurate is Credit Sesame. In the past, they have to use a score called the Experian national equivalency score, which was a proxy for the traditional FICO score. They've recently updated their service to use a score called the Vantage 3.0.  This is from another credit bureau, Transunion.  It's a lot like a FICO score, but focuses more on credit history as opposed to credit utilization.   Not only that, they update this score once a month, so you can track changes over time.  

How safe is Credit Sesame? 

With all of the recent issues in the new regarding data breaches, it's easy to wonder how safe is Credit Sesame. The good news is that it is clear that safety is top concern for Credit Sesame.  They utilize multiple layers of encryption, and work with the top internet security providers. Reputation and trust are crucial when dealing with credit scores, which makes the safety of your personal information their top priority. 

Signing up for Credit Sesame

Signing up for Credit Sesame is a breeze.  Once you go to their signup page, you will be asked for your your name, address, phone number, birth date, and the last 4 digits of your social security number. After that you'll just go to their login screen on your phone or desktop and you're done.  It's that easy.

Credit Sesame Sign Up

Credit Sesame tools

Credit Sesame offer some great tools to monitor your credit.  One example is this report card-style analysis. It makes it easy to monitor your credit report and see if anything is pulling your score down. Additionally, It looks great whether you’re viewing on your computer or on their smartphone app. A cool feature is how they show your score alongside a graded Credit Analysis .  This give you a snapshot of how you stack up in key areas.

You can select “View Details” for more in-depth information about how you’re doing in any of these categories. Here’s more detail on the “Account Mix” category, which is where we got the lowest score in this example:

  • Payment History: Banks want to know if you’re likely to pay them back before they agree to loan you money. Do you have a history of late payments? Or worse, delinquent accounts?
  • Credit Utilization: This is your credit-to-debt ratio (how much you owe compared to how much credit you have access to). A low number is generally better here—so hopefully you haven’t maxed out your available credit.
  • Credit Age: Are you an experienced borrower with a track record of paying back loans?
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    Account Mix: Variety is good for your credit score. Ideally, you’ll have a mix of different credit account types: student loans, car loans, credit cards, or even a utility account.
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    Credit Inquiries: Too many “hard” credit checks make you look desperate in the eyes of the credit bureaus. Be discerning when applying for new accounts.

Credit score analysis

In addition to your letter grades and overall credit score, you’re also provided information about what range your score falls into. Credit Sesame’s scale is below; it’s pretty much in line with how other credit trackers and lenders classify scores:

When it comes to debt, ratios matter

Credit Sesame’s dashboard also includes a Debt Analysis section, where you can see your total debt balances, monthly payments towards debt, and debt-to-income ratio.

Your debt-to-income ratio doesn’t directly affect your credit score because the credit agencies don’t know how much money you earn. But it’s a key indicator of financial health, so it’s good information to have. Generally speaking, you want it to be a low number, otherwise too much of your income is going towards servicing debt. Credit Sesame uses an estimated income to calculate their ratio—but if they got it wrong, you can update it manually for a more accurate percentage.

While all the features discussed above are free, Credit Sesame does offer some fee-based premium services, including 3-Bureau Monitoring (instead of just TransUnion), daily credit score updates (rather than monthly) and identity theft protection. I’ve never felt the need for any of these upgraded services, and I suspect they would be overkill for the average consumer.

Other free credit tools

Credit Sesame is our favorite credit tracking service, but it’s not the only game in town.  Check out Credit Karma or MoneyTips if you’re interested in other options. All are free to use—so there’s no harm in checking them all out and deciding which you prefer.

One great thing about Credit Karma is that it gives you access to credit scores and reports from TWO bureaus: Equifax and TransUnion. And check out their Resources section for some handy tools, including a credit score simulator, an amortization calculator, and more.

MoneyTips offers similar credit score analysis as the other sites, but with a focus on guiding you towards financial advisors, loan providers, and brokers for professional advice. Their Retirement Planner tool is worth checking out, but their interface is a bit clunky (and they don’t have a mobile app). 

Pre-approved credit card offers

Our Credit Sesame review wouldn't be complete without talking about how the company earns revenue.  Many credit tracking services (including some of the ones discussed here) feature credit card ads in their app and via emails. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; after all, they’re providing a free service, and they need to make money somehow.  

If you’re in the market for a credit card, great—these ads can give you info about good cards you might qualify for. But don’t let the ads convince you to take out cards you don’t need.

Get your full free credit report

Your credit score is very important, but it’s only part of the story.  I also recommend that you review your complete report at least once a year—or any time you see a substantial, unexplained change in your score—just to make sure everything looks accurate.

By federal law, the credit bureaus are required to provide your report and free credit scores once a year…but only if you ask for it.  To request your free credit report from any (or all) of the three main credit bureaus, go to  www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228. This site is jointly operated by the three credit bureaus as mandated by the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) so consumers can have some oversight into what’s being reported about them.

Keep in mind, these reports will not include your credit score—you can use Credit Sesame or your favorite tracker for that. But the report will include all the information the credit bureau used to calculate your score, from your current and past credit card accounts and loans to any late payments or delinquent accounts.  

Pay close attention for errors on your credit report

Achieving and maintaining a good credit score can be hard enough without being dinged for someone else’s late payments or bankruptcies.

A 2013 Federal Trade Commission study found that 1 in 5 Americans had errors on their credit report. Some errors can be pretty harmless (like a misspelled name), while others can totally crush your credit score, costing big bucks in higher interest rates.

If you find inaccuracies on your report that you want to have fixed, each of the credit bureaus have a process for filing a dispute. Here’s where to go to start the process online with Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion.

Conclusion

To summarize our review of credit sesame, here are a few important call outs.

  • As a a long-running, well-established credit monitoring service. Credit Sesame is legit.
  • They are also 100% free to use.
  • While their user experience isn't as great as Credit Karma, they offer a ton of great credit analysis and tracking features. 

Now that know you know how to check your credit score for free, it's time to tap into a wealth of information about your finances.   

Knowledge is power, so if you're serious about improving your credit, check out apps like Credit Sesame or Credit Karma today.

About the Author

Hello, I'm Ryan Rollins. I've been passionate about personal finance and entrepreneurship for as long as I can remember. After earning my Bachelors of Science in Marketing, I soon found myself at my first software start-up. That experience led to me pursuing an MBA in Entrepreneurship from the University of Louisville, and eventually to a career in product management within the financial services industry, where I've spent the last 8 years focusing on financial education and consumer lending. When I'm not working I enjoy spending as much time as I can with my amazing family, going for long runs around the neighborhood, and develop a portfolio of passive investments and income streams. You can also follow me on twitter @TMPF_Ryan

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