In 2008, the housing bubble burst. The three-bedroom home in New Port Richey, Florida, where Jerry Morgan and his wife, Vivienne, had lived for 10 years plunged into the foreclosure process.
Then Vivienne lost her job.
“No one plans on being in that situation,” says Jerry, now 52. “We just kind of kept going and stayed focused and looked forward to tomorrow. What else are you going to do?”
About a year later, Vivienne secured a new job, but she had to clamber her way back up the ranks of a new company. The couple remained in their home but struggled to make the mortgage payments.
The situation persisted for years until, in 2014, the couple was finally approved for a mortgage modification, which the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau explains as a change in your loan terms. This, Jerry says, negated almost half the principal and lowered their interest rates.
But the couple took another hit shortly thereafter, when Jerry was repositioned within his company and took an income cut.
By 2017, the family’s financial situation started to look up again. So in September, Jerry decided to address another issue: his credit score.
“Frankly, with the experiences we have gone through, I was embarrassed to even check my score,” he says.
It hovered around 500. For context, a credit score below 650 is deemed “bad” by many credit reporting agencies.
Since September 2017, Jerry has studied his credit for free through Credit Sesame. Following recommendations from the app, he’s made moves to increase his score and get it back on track.
His goal? Achieve a sense of financial health. He’s well on his way. In a span of six months, he raised his score 120 points.
An Overview of Credit Sesame
Before coming across Credit Sesame, Jerry hadn’t bothered to check his credit score in, well, quite a while. He says finally getting his finances on stable ground encouraged him to take a peek at this three-digit number.
First: What is Credit Sesame?
Credit Sesame is a personal finance website that offers consumers access to their credit scores.
Folks often ask: Is Credit Sesame free? Yep. It’s 100% free. And it’s not sneaky, either. You don’t have to enter your credit card information, which means no sly autopay charge appearing on your next credit card statement.
When you sign up for Credit Sesame, you’ll gain access to a number of features, including your TransUnion VantageScore (more on that later). You’ll also be able to tap into your credit report card, which will help show you what might be holding your credit score down. Credit Sesame updates your score each month — again, at no cost.
In addition to accessing your credit score and credit report card, Credit Sesame also offers:
- Free identity-theft protection. You’ll receive $50,000 in identity theft insurance when you sign up. It also offers fraud resolution assistance in case anything happens (knock on wood).
- Up-to-date monitoring and alerts. If your score dips or, better yet, increases, Credit Sesame will let you know.
- Insights into what’s keeping your credit score down, including your loans, credit cards, payment history, credit card usage and more.
- Charts! So many charts. These will help you track your financial progress.
- Options. The app will show you personalized credit card, home loan and auto loan options.
But is Credit Sesame reliable? Absolutely. Take Jerry’s word for it. After being a member for six months, he increased his score 120 points with its tailored advice.
How Accurate Is Credit Sesame?
Here’s a brief personal finance 101 review: There are three major credit-reporting bureaus in the U.S. These agencies keep track of your financial activity and churn out credit reports. Each one varies, so your credit score with TransUnion isn’t always the same as the one with Equifax or Experian.
The difference between these scores is due, in part, to the way they’re calculated: FICO scores versus VantageScores. FICO is the O.G. (err, original generator) of scoring models. Experian, TransUnion and Equifax created the VantageScore as competition. But none of these options should result in dramatically different scores. Plus, it all works on the same basic level: The higher the score, the lower the credit risk.
So is Credit Sesame a FICO score? Nope! Credit Sesame pulls information based on your TransUnion profile and offers you a VantageScore. Which score (VantageScore versus FICO score) a lender will use depends on their scoring model. Both scores, however, range between a 300 and 850.
As a rule of thumb, don’t lean too much on that three-digit number. Instead, focus on what your credit report card reveals.
Credit Sesame’s director of operations Tony Wahl encourages consumers to take a broader view of their credit — not just focus on a particular credit score.
“Because there are so many different credit scores, and because consumers have no way of knowing what scoring model a lender is going to use, consumers should use the VantageScore 3.0 that Credit Sesame provides as a benchmark to measure whether your score is improving,” he says.
So, to answer the question, your Credit Sesame score is accurate, but your score will also vary by scoring model and lender.
Is Credit Sesame Safe?
Your next question: I’m giving a lot of personal information to Credit Sesame… is it safe?
Credit Sesame is safe — as long as you’re using the real Credit Sesame.
To start, the company received an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau. The BBB warns consumers of Credit Sesame scams from imposters:
“Company has received reports of fraudulent actors using the Credit Sesame name to offer personal loans in exchange for up-front fees generally in the form of gift cards. These offers are fraudulent and have no association with Credit Sesame whatsoever. Credit Sesame is not a direct consumer lender and consumers are advised to avoid any loan offers involving payment of up-front fees.”
To avoid these “fradulent actors,” be sure you’re using the legitimate Credit Sesame website: creditsesame.com.
Does Using Credit Sesame Hurt Your Credit Score?
A common misconception is that checking your credit score or tapping into your credit report hurts your credit.
Checking your own credit score doesn’t hurt your credit.
A Credit Sesame Review
You’ve got the lowdown on what Credit Sesame is, and whether it’s accurate and safe. Now, it’s time to see whether Credit Sesame can actually help you — and your credit score.
For this, Jerry shared his honest opinions of the platform.
Pros of Credit Sesame
Did we mention Credit Sesame is free?
Additionally, it does a good job breaking down your credit report for you in the form of a credit report card.
This credit report card allows Jerry to see each credit factor graded A through F, just like in school. He receives grades for:
- Payment history, which includes negative marks and/or late payments.
- Credit usage (that’s the credit utilization rate).
- Credit age.
- Account mix.
- Credit inquiries.
If, for example, Jerry had an F in credit usage, he could click “View Details,” and read an explanation as well as see actionable advice.
Before using Credit Sesame, Jerry never considered his credit utilization rate. “You don’t normally think about that,” he says.
The platform gave him advice on how to get it down, therefore increasing his credit score. One option was to open another credit card. That might seem counterintuitive, but he was actually able to transfer some of his higher balances onto that new card and level out the ratio, which, in return, helped his score.
Jerry also bought a new car in the fall of 2017. With a new auto loan tucked into his credit report, his score has increased. As long as he stays on time with his payments, his score will continue to benefit from the additional account.
By taking Credit Sesame’s tailored advice — and securing that mortgage modification — Jerry has been able to increase his credit score 120 points in just six months.
He doesn’t have a final goal in mind; he just plans to keep working to improve his financial wellbeing.
Cons of Credit Sesame
Although Credit Sesame offers that clear financial picture and tangible tips you can use to increase your score, it has a few downfalls worth discussing.
First: the emails. When you sign up for Credit Sesame, you’ll notice an influx of emails. They’re not spam; they’re just promotional emails and updates from the service.
You’ll want to go in and tweak your email settings. Do this by logging in, finding your name at the top right of the screen and hovering over it, then click “Alerts.” There, you can opt in and out of which emails you’d like to receive.
Credit Sesame also feeds users a number of credit card and debt consolidation offers. For some people these might be annoying, but Jerry takes time to carefully research each of these options.
For example, he decided consolidating his credit card debt wasn’t the best move, but he instead opted to open another account to transfer part of his balances over. For him, that was the smartest move.
How to Sign up for Credit Sesame
If you’re interested in checking your credit score, signing up for Credit Sesame is easy.
The site claims it takes about 90 seconds, and that seems about accurate. You’ll need some basic personal information — but, again, no credit card information.
Within minutes, you’ll gain access to your credit score and your credit report card as well as customized recommendations to help you start repairing your credit (if needed).
Once signed up, you can also download a Credit Sesame app via iTunes or Google Play.
Credit Sesame Membership Options
If you want to opt for the free, most basic version of Credit Sesame, do it. We don’t blame you.
But the site also offers a few premium paid options, outlined below:
|Free Credit Sesame Membership||Advanced Credit Sesame Membership||Pro Credit Sesame Membership||Platinum Credit Sesame Membership|
|Monthly TransUnion VantageScore + credit monitoring with alerts||x||x||x||x|
|Daily TransUnion VantageScore||x||x||x|
|Monthly credit score and credit report updates from all three bureaus||x||x||x|
|Monthly credit monitoring with alerts from all three bureaus||x||x|
|24/7 live experts to solve report inaccuracies||x||x|
|24/7 live experts to help with lost/stolen wallet protection||x|
|Black market website monitoring||x|
|Public records and Social Security number monitoring||x|
Credit Sesame deems its “Pro” membership best in value.
Final Verdict: Is Credit Sesame Worth It?
For Jerry, the service has definitely been worth it. He’s raised his credit score 120 points in six months, and he also feels as though he’s learned a lot about what makes up his credit score.
And heck, the service is free.
“My score now stands at 620, which it still has a ways to go, but it’s headed in a much better direction,” he says. “We will be continuing to follow Credit Sesame’s suggestions.”
If you want to check out your credit score and see what the service suggests for you, sign up for Credit Sesame for free.
We may receive compensation from Credit Sesame for promoting the company, but we weren’t paid for this specific review. All reporting is our own.
Carson Kohler (email@example.com) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She also uses Credit Sesame to keep tabs on her credit score and to take proactive steps in increasing it.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.
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