How do free credit scores work?

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Q. I check my score with Credit Karma, but a recent check shows what credit cards I have and a Honda lease. How do they get that info? If they can access it, can’t anyone? How is this report different from the big credit bureaus?
— Credit concerned

A. We reached out to Credit Karma to directly address your questions, but it didn’t respond to our requests.

So we turned to consumer credit expert and bestselling author Beverly Harzog.

Harzog said to sign up for Credit Karma, you have to give your birth date and the last four digits of your Social Security number. To verify your identity, the site will ask you a number of questions, such as from what bank you got your mortgage.

So you do have to expose some of your information to participate.

“Websites like Credit Karma have layers of security to protect your information, but as we’ve seen lately with Equifax, a data breach is always a small possibility,” Harzog said. “But this site is considered to be very secure.”

She said the TransUnion credit report from Credit Karma will be similar to your free annual credit report, but because there will be timing differences, so you may see some variations.

“Using Credit Karma is a good way to stay on top of your credit health throughout the year,” Harzog said. “You get a TransUnion credit report and an Equifax report with Credit Karma, but you still need to check your annual credit report from Experian.”

Also remember, she said, that even though you can access your TransUnion and Equifax credit scores from Credit Karma, these aren’t FICO scores. Instead, they’re VantageScore 3.0 scores.

“Most lenders request a version of the FICO score when you apply for credit,” she said. “But still, this is a good way to monitor your score.”

Email your questions to moc.p1597474761leHye1597474761noMJN1597474761@ksA1597474761.

This post was originally published in October 2017. presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.