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Consumer Reports: The truth about credit score apps

Credit scores are used for everything from getting a mortgage to getting a job. So it only makes sense to know what your credit score is. But how do you get it? Apps that promise instant access to your score are popular, but do they work? A new Consumer Reports investigation might have you thinking twice before clicking to get your score.

Credit scores are used for everything from getting a mortgage to getting a job. So it only makes sense to know what your credit score is. But how do you get it? Apps that promise instant access to your score are popular, but do they work? A new Consumer Reports investigation might have you thinking twice before clicking to get your score.

Credit score apps like Credit Karma, Experian Credit Report, and others promise instant access to credit scores, along with other features like score monitoring. Sounds great until you dig a little deeper. Consumer Reports reveals that five of these apps have significant drawbacks and few upsides.

CR’s investigation showed that the apps can pose serious privacy risks, and what’s worse, a survey of consumers who have used them revealed that in some cases the apps didn’t even provide an accurate credit score.

And four of the five apps CR investigated often charge users for access to their credit reports, which consumers are legally entitled to free, while not providing access to the type of credit scores that most lenders use.

Several of the apps use the VantageScore 3.0, which has limited value because many lenders don’t use it.

A policy analyst at Consumer Reports says consumers should have a legal right to obtain a free, accurate credit score, and there’s a bill in Congress that would require it, but so far it hasn’t been scheduled for a vote.

CR has a petition at action.consumerreports.org seeking to collect 40,000 signatures to send to Congress to ask it to work on this issue a little harder and a little faster.

CR asked all five credit app companies about their consumer privacy, data collection, and data sharing practices. Each responded, saying that it takes consumer privacy very seriously and that consumer trust is paramount to their business.

Remember that there are ways to get your credit score without using a credit score app. Try checking to see if your bank or credit card offers you access. And you can also check your credit report weekly without charge through annualcreditreport.com

Because your credit report has an impact on your credit score, be sure to review it regularly and dispute any errors in writing right away.

Read the full responses from the companies below:

CREDIT KARMA

Credit Karma does not provide personalized financial advice. We do provide financial product recommendations tailored to our members’ specific situations and needs. Our predictive, data-driven recommendations system is what uniquely positions us to help people navigate the complexities of their finances. There are three main ways we collect information about a member, and always with their permission: when they give it to us, when it’s automatically collected by our systems and when we ask others for it (e.g. when a member syncs their vehicle with Credit Karma, we pull in DMV information with a member’s consent). Member trust is paramount to us. Credit Karma never sells member data. We only share data in limited circumstances such as when a member chooses to apply for a financial product, and always with the member’s permission. You can find our current Privacy Policy HERE.

CREDIT SESAME

Credit Sesame is a membership-based financial wellness platform, and customers have to affirmatively sign up to use it. Through our financial wellness platform, we’ve helped millions of consumers improve their credit score:

  • More than 60 percent of members see their credit score improve within the first six months
  • 50 percent see their credit score improve by more than 10 points in their first six months
  • 20 percent see their credit score improve more than 50 points in their first six months.

In order to provide the best experience for our customers, we provide personalized offers based on proprietary AI and machine learning algorithms. One of the features of Sesame Cash is to provide instant cashback offers from retailers. Customers must opt-in in order to provide their location data to have access to relevant offers nearest to them.

Credit Sesame complies with applicable federal and state laws and regulations for security and privacy. We understand the sensitivity around personal information, and we take that responsibility very seriously. The privacy of our customers’ personal information is of the utmost importance to us, and our customers can control how their information is shared. We only share customer data in accordance with our privacy policy when granted proper consent from the customer for the purposes of directly providing services to our customers. Additionally, our customers are protected under the FCRA, and Credit Sesame’s arbitration clause does not alter a consumer’s rights under the FCRA.

We have one privacy policy, posted on our home page, which also includes a CCPA privacy notice.

EXPERIAN

We strictly comply with data protection laws, and we remain vigilant when it comes to data security and integrity. This includes our own commitment to strict compliance regarding legal, ethical and responsible uses of data.

Consumer provide Experian express permission to access their information, which allows us to help them improve their credit profile or offer them access to appropriate credit products from our business partners.

Importantly, this gives consumers access to features like Experian Boost, a free tool that allows consumers to add positive payment history to their Experian credit file to potentially increase their FICO Score immediately. Since the launch, more than 6 million consumers have used Boost, adding a cumulative total of more than 50 million points. This has a big impact for consumers who are able to move score bands and access credit with better terms, or even generate a FICO Score for the first time thereby becoming a part of the credit ecosystem. We also leverage intelligence to provide personalized offers that consumers are most likely to qualify for so they can be successful at credit.

With this in mind, we are proud of our highly rated (4.8 rating) app because it’s another way we are meeting consumers’ needs for easy, on-the-go access to their financial information. Our app is the only app where consumers can get a free FICO Score and increase their credit score for free with Experian Boost right at their fingertips.

Additionally, working with third parties such as Kochava is an industry standard, and we only work with third parties that also have strict data practices and policies. We believe in giving consumers control over their financial profile, which is why we launch tools such as Experian Boost and provide a range of resources that help consumers budget, get access to credit, and protect their financial accounts and identity. Leveraging data allows us to make this happen.

It’s important to note, consumers do not cede any rights under the FCRA by using our services to file a dispute. All rights and remedies available under the FCRA, including the right to seek damages for alleged violations of the FCRA (or under any other law), are available through our dispute resolution policy, which includes an agreement to arbitrate disputes with Experian and its affiliates.

I’d like to emphasize that data security has always been, and always will be, our highest priority. At Experian, we are committed to the responsible and ethical use and security of data.

FICO

Unfortunately, with the various out of office schedules, I have not been able to connect with the myFICO product team to get your answers. However, based on my prior experience, I want to note that myFICO does not provide users with personalized advice or personalized offers of credit products. They do offer a lot of educational materials to help consumers understand credit and FICO Scores, and information to help them better understand their entire credit profile (FICO Scores, credit reports and credit monitoring from all 3 bureaus).

Additionally, I do want to clarify that FICO’s privacy policy that you may have already reviewed also covers all of FICO business software products, so there are sections that don’t apply to myFICO. myFICO does not maintain data about consumers who have not registered, or sell consumer’s personal information to third parties, but shares certain data with service providers to fulfill products and services for the consumer. If they want, myFICO subscribers can get a copy of the data that FICO holds about them via the FICO trust center at https://www.fico.com/trust-center.

TRANSUNION

TransUnion offers consumers the choice of several credit products to help people monitor, protect and grow their credit health, including free weekly credit reports at www.annualcreditreport.com.

The TransUnion: Score and Report app offers credit reports, monitoring/alerts, a score simulator, debt analysis, identity theft insurance, personalized offers and more. TransUnion complies with the FCRA and all applicable privacy laws in every respect.