With what we know now about the Equifax data breach, the probability that our personal information is already or soon will be in the hands of people with bad intentions has increased exponentially. As many as 145.5 million consumers were exposed to identity theft in the massive hack that was disclosed last fall by the Atlanta-based company.
Now more than ever, protecting our most sensitive data should be a priority for us all. One way to do that is by signing up for Credit Karma's free credit monitoring service, which we showed you how to do here.
But another one of the services that money expert Clark Howard recommends is Credit Sesame, the fast-growing credit and loan management platform.
The company, which launched in 2010, offers consumers a number of free services including:
- Free credit report analysis and monitoring
- Free tracking and alerts that show graphical trends on how you're doing each month
- Free home value estimates that show you what you've built up every month
- Free financial goal-setting via alerts that help you meet the financial goals you set, such as buying a home or vehicle
Credit Sesame also offers free credit monitoring and identity protection, but you have to opt in.
Sign up for Credit Sesame in these simple steps
When you sign up for Credit Sesame, the first thing it will do is send you to a screen where you have to verify your identity. To do this, it will ask you to choose from several options a recent home address, a recent loan and monthly mortgage.
How Credit Sesame makes money
Like Credit Karma, Credit Sesame users will periodically be presented with loan and credit card offers, which is how the company is able to operate. The website's FAQ says, "We earn a small fee from banks, but only after you close on a loan, so it's in our best interest to find you the best match based on your own personal needs."
When I was on the site, it told me that I've been pre-qualified for the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express. That's fine. I clicked out of it because I don't need it.
Now let’s get to the good stuff: At the top of the page, you’ll see a navigation bar that can take you all over the site. It contains several tabs, including “My Finances,” “My Recommendations,” “Borrowing Power,” ID Protection.”
If you click the “My Finances” tab, it takes you to your credit scores. This is what is showed me:
Not only did it show me my credit scores, but it identified where I have had lapses in my payment history. If you choose to dig further into your analysis, you may find a payment discrepancy that you can challenge with the credit-reporting bureaus.
One thing of note: The only score you’ll see on Credit Sesame’s free service is your TransUnion VantageScore 3.0, which is a popular model of credit activity data in use by the credit-reporting agencies. Credit Karma also uses VantageScore 3.0, but shows you two scores — one from Equifax and the other from TransUnion.
As you see from the image above, with Credit Sesame you'll see five grades — in my case they were all B's. You can click on each one and it will bring up another category. In addition to Payment History, you can click on Credit Usage, Credit Age, Account Mix and Credit Inquiries.
The interesting thing about Credit Sesame is if you click on one of the scores, such as Credit Inquiries, it will display a blue “Take Action” button that offers you a way to increase your credit score.
“Increase your total credit limit to decrease your credit usage. One option is a new credit card,” it says. So any report that it gives you will also come with a way to increase or maintain your credit score, usually via a credit card offer.
If you scroll down, Credit Sesame also displays a timeline that shows when your latest credit inquiries occurred. Again, if this information doesn’t match your recollection or paperwork, this presents you with a great opportunity to contact the major credit-reporting agencies to get it cleared up.
One of the main differences between Credit Sesame and Credit Karma is that the former has tiered membership plans, including Advanced Credit, Pro Credit and Platinum Protection. The prices range from $9.95 to $19.95 a month. Credit Karma is free.
No matter which service you choose, you’ll need to follow an additional step to make sure no one can open a new line of credit in your name.
Do these 2 things to protect yourself from ID fraud
The first step is to sign up for free credit monitoring at CreditKarma.com or CreditSesame.com. The second is to freeze your credit . Money expert Clark Howard advises that this two-step process, in that order, be followed in the aftermath of the Equifax data breach.