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Our Verdict: Credit Karma has better credit monitoring and more features, but Experian actually gives you your “real” credit score. Plus it offers the wonderful Experian Boost tool. Since they’re both free, it’s worth it to get both of them.
Credit Karma is one of the most popular places to look up consumer credit reports. They’ve even expanded to offer Credit Karma savings, taxes, and free credit monitoring. The main issue people have with it is the different credit score it gives compared to financial institutions.
Experian is a credit bureau. Their credit reports come with a score from the Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO). This prevents major differences in credit scores on their end.
These aren’t the only ways they’re different. We’ll cover what each company offers with their free credit reports and how you can choose the best one for you.
What is Experian CreditWorks and What Does It Offer?
Experian is one of the three major credit reporting agencies. Getting your credit report and score from them means you’re going straight to the source! If you’re familiar with other credit reporting tools and sites, this one is extremely easy to use.
They give a simplified, easy-to-understand layout of your credit profile – even in the free version. You get to view your total debts, credit usage stats, and the important factors contributing to your credit score.
In your credit summary, it analyzes your credit profile to provide you with advice from a lender’s perspective. It breaks down each section of your credit report with custom action steps and options for improving your credit.
If you’re looking for the best lending and credit options, it has that too. Their CreditMatch tool gives you approval odds for credit cards and a wide range of loans based on your credit report.
It even includes rate comparisons and refinance options for your car loan under the Auto section.
You can access the Experian Boost tool within your Experian account to. It reports your utility, phone, and streaming service bills to your credit report. On average, Experian Boost gives a 13 point credit score increase for about 5 minutes of work – not bad!
Experian CreditWorks offers all that for free, but there are extra tools available when you pay a monthly CreditWorks Premium subscription fee of $24.99. Here are a few of the features the premium subscription entitles you to:
- FICO score simulator. To see how certain credit moves might impact your score.
- Your FICO 8 score for all three credit bureaus. See all of your credit scores in one place.
- All of your FICO scores for Experian, including scores related to auto lending, mortgages, and credit cards.
- A score planner. It develops a custom action plan to improve your credit within a designated time frame.
- Experian CreditLock. For an added layer of security.
- Up to $1 million in identity theft protection.
- Daily FICO scores based on data from Experian.
Not too bad for less than 30 bucks a month.
What is Credit Karma and What Does It Offer?
To be completely honest, I have a soft spot for Credit Karma. It’s where I started my credit journey as a young adult.
They provided credit reporting that helped me identify a crucial error holding back my credit score. They even helped me dispute it. So my Credit Karma review might be a little biased.
Credit Karma is a personal finance website founded in 2007. Everything on their website and mobile app is free. The credit scores, credit reporting, articles, and credit recommendations. All of it.
They offer consumers the chance to review their VantageScore 3.0 credit scores.
(Other personal finance sites like Credit Sesame, Mint, and Bankrate have similar business models and provide the same services.)
What’s a VantageScore? It’s a jointly developed credit scoring model from all three credit bureaus. However, the one used with Credit Karma only takes data from Equifax and TransUnion. Not Experian. Plus it’s scored differently than the more widely used FICO Score 8.
This usually results in credit scores looking a lot different from what your lender sees. During my time in banking, it was common for people to tell me they had a 730 score on Credit Karma only to run a credit inquiry revealing a score in the high 600s.
The reverse of this was also true. Eventually, I learned to assume a score difference of at least 20 points whenever Credit Karma was mentioned. Most times I was right.
That’s because Credit Karma doesn’t use FICO. You know, the score that literally 90% of lenders use when pulling your credit? Credit Karma is good enough to provide you with credit card and loan offers with some certainty, but it’s very hit or miss.
They provide what’s known as educational credit scores and are meant to give you a general idea of where you stand, but remember, they’re not a credit bureau. They just share your potential score with you.
Experian vs. Credit Karma: What’s The Difference?
Experian and Credit Karma are two very different entities. They offer different services, pricing, and even different credit scoring models. We’ll dive deeper into the differences for each one to help you decide which is better.
The biggest difference between the two is the type of company they are. One is an actual credit bureau and the other just delivers the credit data. This might matter more than you think it does.
Everything Credit Karma offers is free. Free credit reporting. Free credit score. No credit card required. No monthly subscription. That’s great for people short on cash with a desire to make better choices with their credit.
Experian CreditWorks is also free … to a point. You get a ton of great tools at your disposal with the free version of Experian. You Experian FICO 8 credit score, Experian Boost, credit score monitoring, auto loan tools, credit match, and many others. They won’t ask for credit card information either unless you decide to subscribe.
Experian has a paid monthly subscription costing $26.49 a month. It grants you access to a slew of other helpful tools and planners to improve your credit and protect your identity. In addition to the tools, it provides access to FICO credit scores from other credit bureaus.
To get your FICO score directly from TransUnion would cost an extra $24.95 a month. Instead, you get three for the price of one through Experian.
Credit Karma offers several services for free on its web-based platform. Many of these are offered by other companies in some form. There’s no shortage of other free credit report sites like Credit Sesame or WalletHub that provide the same things. They include:
- Education resources
- Mobile accessibility
- Credit Karma tax
- Credit reports
- TransUnion and Equifax VantageScore credit scores
- Credit monitoring alerts
- Credit card and loan recommendations with approval odds
Experian CreditWorks Basic offers some of the same services as Credit Karma. Many of these are also offered by other banks and financial institutions as part of account holder benefits. Credit monitoring alerts, credit reports, and educational resources are the common ground here.
Comparatively, Experian’s services are a bit more vast and specific to them. It makes sense since they’re the ones developing credit scores. Here’s what they offer in their free package:
- Experian FICO credit score and credit report
- Experian Boost to improve your score
- Credit score monitoring and alerts
- Credit Matched credit card and loan recommendations
- Dark web surveillance reports
- Car management hub
- Credit summary with personalized suggestions
Out of all Experian’s services, Experian Boost is my favorite. Why? Throughout my financial career, I’ve met countless people who’ve struggled to build credit by traditional means.
Countless times I’ve been asked, “I pay my [utilities/ cellphone /internet], doesn’t that build credit?”.
Back then, my answer was no. Today, it’s yes. By connecting your bank account to Experian, you can boost your credit score through payments you’re already making. Things like:
- Gas and electric
- Video streaming (yes, Netflix counts)
- Power and solar
The average customer with Experian Boost raises their score by 13 points. The score is then reflected immediately and you can choose to take it off at any time. That’s a game-changer.
As we covered earlier, Credit Karma provides you with your VantageScore 3.0 credit score. It uses data from Equifax and TransUnion to give you an estimate. Some lenders may use this scoring model to prequalify you for certain offers before doing a hard inquiry.
In many cases, they’re still using FICO Score 8 to actually approve your credit application. That’s why Credit Karma is noted as providing educational credit scores.
In comparison, Experian provides your FICO Score 8 every month in their free version. When you sign up for Experian CreditWorks Platinum, you get your FICO credit score from all three credit bureaus every week. These are the scores lenders use to make credit decisions.
Credit Bureau vs. Personal Finance Company
By now you know that Experian is a credit bureau. Credit Karma, on the other hand, is not.
That distinct difference is important because credit bureaus are the only agencies assigning credit scores. Lenders go to them when they’re deciding on who to approve.
Personal finance companies essentially pass along credit information from the credit bureaus they work with. They don’t actually assign you a credit score. Instead, they take your Equifax and TransUnion credit report and present it to you as your free score.
Which One Is Better For You?
To determine which one is better for you, ask yourself a few questions:
- Are you looking to apply for new credit soon? You will need a score lenders actually use – win for Experian.
- Would you still consider yourself a credit beginner? Perhaps Credit Karma is a good fit.
- What credit scores are your potential lenders using? If they’re using FICO, you’ll want to go with Experian. For VantageScore, you’ll want Credit Karma.
- Which specific features do you need when building credit? Credit monitoring services, monthly score updates, identity protection, score tracking, and credit score planners are a few options.
- Do you like using robust digital tools to help you out? Experian, all the way.
Ultimately everyone’s credit goals are different, so you’ll have to make the choice for yourself.
As someone who has used both, I’d recommend Experian since you get so much more for free. Credit Karma is great to start with. It helps you learn about credit basics and still offers credit score monitoring.
Getting your Experian credit report comes with one of the best credit monitoring services, identity monitoring, and solid recommendations for borrowers with good credit. If you decide you want access to better tools, they’re in the same place.
A reasonable monthly fee grants you up to $1 million in identity theft insurance along with access to specialized tools to help you grow your credit. The only thing they don’t give you is a good credit score. You’ll have to earn that one.
Is Experian More Accurate Than Credit Karma?
Technically no. Credit Karma is an accurate representation of your VantageScore credit score. It’s doing what it was designed to do. Experian is just the better tool to use for situations where your FICO score is required. According to myFICO.com, that’s 90% of the time.
Credit Karma is meant to give you a general idea of what’s on your credit report. While their credit score might be close to your FICO score, it’s not typically the same.
Why Is My Credit Karma Score Lower Than Experian?
There are a few reasons your Credit Karma credit score is lower than your Experian score. Some companies only report your credit history with them to one or two credit bureaus. Not all three.
So If a negative public record shows on TransUnion but not Experian, that creates the gap between your credit scores.
Another reason is the credit scoring models and formulas used to calculate your score. VantageScore weighs your payment history more heavily than FICO does. Overall, it makes up 40% of your VantageScore 3.0. At FICO, it only makes up 35%.
VantageScore 3.0 also puts less weight on credit utilization with that factor making up 20% of your score. FICO weighs your credit utilization at 30%. In fact, all of their credit scoring factors are weighted differently.
To summarize, you’ll want to pay more attention to your Experian score since it’s from FICO. That’s what credit card issuers and lenders are going to pay attention to anyway.
Are Credit Karma and Experian the Same?
Short answer: not at all. These two couldn’t be more different. Experian is a credit bureau while Credit Karma is not.
Another stark difference is the credit scoring model they use. They’re also in two separate leagues in terms of consumer reports and how they respond to certain factors in your credit history.
Credit Karma is a good introduction to your credit score and provides information you’ll need to build credit, but Experian takes it to another level.
Is Experian The Most Accurate Credit Score?
Both scores are accurate for what they were created to do. It’s just that the FICO scoring model is used more often than VantageScore.
The issue arises when the scores aren’t used in the right setting. If you pull your Credit Karma or Credit Sesame score for a lender that uses FICO, you might be disappointed with a denial. These scores are educational. They’re not meant to drive your credit decisions.
Since FICO is used in most credit applications, the better bet is to refer to your Experian FICO score.
Seychelle is a Maryland-based personal finance writer and business owner. She’s passionate about helping others out of financial pitfalls she’s already dug herself out of. Most of her finance knowledge stems from her career as a Financial Consultant and Branch Manager at the 7th largest US bank. Read more of her work on credit, budgeting, debt consolidation, and entrepreneurship at www.seychellewrites.com