This is my review of Credit Sesame, the popular free credit score and credit analysis tool.
In this review, I’ll cover:
- A review of the most useful tools Credit Sesame offers.
- Eight things to know about Credit Sesame before signing up.
- Its best and worst features.
- How it compares to Credit Karma and other similar services.
Let’s jump right in.
Credit Sesame has a variety of useful and free tools to help you proactively manage your credit. The most beneficial of these include free access to your credit score, personalized suggestions for improving your score, and identity monitoring. While Credit Sesame does offer premium tools — such as access to all three of your credit reports — we don’t think these services are worth the cost. We recommend having at least one app that helps you monitor your score and get alerts when your credit report changes, and although Credit Sesame isn't as robust as Credit Karma, the free version will satisfy the needs of most users.
- The service’s most useful features are free.
- Provides $50,000 worth of identity insurance at no cost.
- Provides viable suggestions for improving your credit score.
- Only shows your VantageScore, which is not widely used by lenders.
- The service’s premium upgrades are not worth the cost.
- The product recommendations are limited to Credit Sesame’s partners.
8 Things to Know About Credit Sesame Before Signing Up
- It really is free. The service provides free credit monitoring alerts and monthly updates to your credit score (from TransUnion) for free. There’s no catch, and you don’t have to enter your credit card information to access these features.
- You’re getting access to your VantageScore (via TransUnion). As a free user, you’ll only get access to your VantageScore, which is not the same as the FICO credit score used by most lenders to make credit decisions.
- The $50,000 of identity insurance is a very nice perk. This insurance covers your expenses and legal costs if your identity gets stolen.
- The last four digits of your Social Security number are required to sign up. In addition, you’ll need to provide your name, address and date of birth.
- The advice and suggestions are helpful but basic. Credit Sesame offers a number of recommendations based on the information it gets from your credit history — most notably, advice for increasing your credit score. These recommendations don’t include advanced strategies, but they can provide direction for people who don’t fully understand the factors that go into their score.
- They prioritize partner offers. Credit Sesame offers financial product recommendations from credit card companies, loan providers, insurance companies and more. These recommendations are limited to Credit Sesame’s partners, and they earn money when they refer you.
- You can often find better offers elsewhere. Surprisingly, I already had some of the products offered to me, such as the Chase Freedom Unlimited credit card. Others, like the Walmart rewards credit card, made little sense based on my spending habits (since I rarely shop at Walmart). Overall, I didn’t find the offers very helpful, especially since I had granted Credit Sesame access to my credit history. More often than not, you’ll be able to find better products elsewhere.
- The premium upgrades are not worth the cost. As an example, one perk of upgrading is monthly updates to your Equifax, Experian and TransUnion credit scores and reports. You can access these reports for free at annualcreditreport.com, and it’s unlikely that you’d need access to all three on a monthly basis.
Credit Sesame Basics
Credit Sesame is a free service (with paid options) aimed at people who want guidance for improving their personal finances, with an emphasis on raising their credit score.
It offers several tools to help you boost your credit score, clean up your credit report, save money, and even protect you from identity theft. In particular, Credit Sesame lets you check a version of your credit score and provides you with a credit report card that offers suggestions for improving it.
The paid plans offer extra features, such as help with disputing erroneous credit report items and additional forms of identity theft monitoring.
Credit Sesame also uses your credit and financial information to recommend financial products like loans and credit cards that can help you save money and build your credit.
Credit Sesame’s Key Features
- Credit improvement tools: Credit Sesame shows you a version of your credit score (it’s not a FICO score), offers a report card illustrating your score in each of the five credit factors, and provides credit monitoring and alerts.
- Identity protection and identity theft insurance: You get $50,000 of identity theft insurance ($1 million for premium members) alongside alerts regarding credit report changes to protect you against identity fraud.
- Sesame Cash account: A fee-free cash management account (i.e., a digital checking account). You can also earn cash-back at various retailers by spending with your Sesame Cash debit card.
- Personalized product recommendations: Credit Sesame recommends loans, credit cards and more that it thinks you can qualify for based on your credit score and report. As noted earlier in the review, we’ve found these recommendations to be relatively unhelpful.
Free and Paid Versions
Credit Sesame offers a free plan, but you can also upgrade to one of two paid tiers, named Advanced and Platinum.
The Free plan — which is what we recommend in all but a few cases — comes with all the basic Credit Sesame features, including checking your credit score and getting alerts about credit report changes.
Features in the Free plan include:
- Credit monitoring
- Credit report card
- $50,000 of Identity protection
Anyone who wants to monitor their credit occasionally, but isn’t in dire need of assistance, would do well with the Free plan.
Advanced is the first paid tier, costing $9.95 per month. This plan bumps up the number of times your various scores are updated.
Features in the Advanced plan include:
- Daily TransUnion credit score update.
- Monthly three-bureau credit score updates.
- Monthly three-bureau full credit report updates.
- $1 million of Identity protection (as opposed to the $50,000 offered by the Free plan).
The Advanced plan begins to make sense for someone who’s recovering from derogatory credit marks (such as bankruptcy) and needs to frequently check to make sure their credit report is clean of any items that might be erroneously weighing it down.
At the top of Credit Sesame’s tiers is the Platinum plan, costing $19.95 per month.
This plan offers protection in a number of areas beyond simple ID theft insurance. For example, it scans for indications of your identity being compromised online, and can help you get all your credit and ID cards back if you lose your wallet.
Features in the Platinum plan include:
- Everything in the Free and Advanced plans.
- Credit dispute resolution assistance: If you find inaccurate items on your credit report — such as a delinquent account you were never delinquent on — a Platinum membership provides 24/7 access to Credit Sesame’s support team.
- Public records monitoring: Monitors court records, payday loans, sex offender registries and address changes for any signs of stolen identity.
- Black market website monitoring: Monitors for signs of stolen identity on black market websites and alerts you if your identity is compromised.
- Social Security number monitoring: Provides you a report of all names, aliases and addresses associated with your Social Security number.
- Lost wallet restoration: If you lose your wallet, Credit Sesame will make all the calls necessary to cancel old credit and debit cards and reissue new cards, checkbooks, driver’s licenses, Social Security cards, insurance cards, passports, military identification cards, traveler’s checks and Medicare/Medicaid identification.
Note: One benefit that’s notably missing from both premium versions — most annoyingly for heavy users of the platform — is the removal of ads and offers from within the app and desktop version.
One source of Credit Sesame’s revenue is its product recommendations, which are mostly targeted towards Free users. The service suggests various types of loans, insurance and credit cards based on the information in your credit report and your credit score.
According to Credit Sesame’s “How it Works” page, the company’s proprietary tools analyze your credit profile, financial information and the goals that you provide, then sift through thousands of products to find the ones that will most help you financially (and especially in terms of your credit).
But overall, I didn’t find their recommendation engine very helpful.
As an example, their term life insurance recommendation engine lists only four providers and doesn’t provide guidance as to why these recommendations were made.
Similarly, their credit card recommendations mentioned the Chase Freedom Unlimited card — which I already carry.
If the service is really generating recommendations based in part on my credit report, why did it recommend a card that’s already in my wallet?
At best, this means the system is less than robust.
That said, the issue is not that these offers are necessarily bad. It’s that you shouldn’t trust them to be truly personalized, and should instead take the time to do your own research before moving forward.
Sesame Cash is an FDIC-insured, fee-free digital checking account. You can access your Sesame Cash account via Credit Sesame’s iOS and Android mobile apps.
Sesame Cash features:
- Credit improvement bonus: Earn up to $100 if your credit score improves after you open a Sesame Cash account.
- Cash-back: Earn cash-back on a range of rotating offers when you buy from participating retailers with your Sesame Cash debit card.
- Free daily credit score: Check your score every day for free in your account (available for a limited time).
- Early paycheck: Get your paycheck up to two days early if you receive your direct deposit in Sesame Cash.
- Mobile device protection: Credit Sesame can cover up to $500 per year of damage to your mobile device if you pay your mobile phone bill with your Sesame Cash card.
- Price protection: If you notice a price drop within 90 days of a purchase, Sesame Cash can refund you the difference up to $250, up to four times per year.
- Fee-free: No overdraft, monthly service or foreign transaction fees. No minimum balance. Free withdrawals at over 55,000 ATMs around the world.
Credit Sesame vs. Credit Karma
Credit Karma offers the following at no cost:
- Access to your credit score from both TransUnion (updated daily) and Equifax (updated monthly). Note that your TransUnion score is the VantageScore 3.0, while Equifax has its own Equifax credit score. Neither of these are FICO scores.
- Access to your TransUnion credit report.
- Suggestions for improving your score.
Credit Karma has recently branched out from only offering credit-related services. It now offers free state and federal tax filing, as well as the ability to quickly search for any unclaimed money owed to you.
Overall, the free access to two credit scores — as well as being able to see your TransUnion report within Credit Karma — gives the service an advantage over Credit Sesame.
What Credit Karma doesn’t offer is $50,000 of free identity theft insurance. For me, that’s a great thing to have in my back pocket.
Even if you plan to go with Credit Karma for credit monitoring, a case can be made to sign up with Credit Sesame just for this feature.
Credit Sesame FAQ
Here are some common questions people have about Credit Sesame.
Credit Sesame is a legit, well-known financial services company that has been in operation since 2010. It’s privately owned and has many well-known investors, including Menlo Ventures (an early investor in Uber, Chime Bank and Roku).
Credit Sesame uses firewalls, 128-bit SSL encryption and 256-bit AES encryption — all security measures used by banks and governments to safeguard data.
Several firms have given Credit Sesame their cybersecurity approval, including Verisign (which has approved its website security) and TRUSTe (which has validated its privacy practices). Additionally, Credit Sesame has earned the McAfee SECURE certification.
The company says that it does not sell your information for marketing purposes.
No. Credit Sesame runs a soft pull on your credit when you check it, which doesn’t harm your score.
Credit Sesame shows your TransUnion VantageScore 3.0. It’s a real score, but it’s not the same as your FICO score and is not widely used by lenders. Instead, it’s designed to give you an idea of your approximate FICO score.
Credit Sesame offers credit dispute resolution services for inaccurate items on your report that hurt your score. If an item is accurate, Credit Sesame can’t help you remove it.
Credit Sesame can help you directly if you sign up for the Advanced or Platinum subscription tiers, but this service is not available to members on the Free plan.
Credit Sesame Review Summary
I highly suggest signing up for a service that alerts you any time there’s a change to your credit report, and which also provides a way to monitor your score for free. Some larger banks offer this for free, but if your bank doesn’t, having a service like Credit Sesame in your toolkit is essential.
I also find the $50,000 of free identity insurance worth the minutes it takes to sign up — even if you don’t plan to be a heavy user of the service.
If you’re in the process of removing inaccuracies from your account, the unlimited access to all three of your credit reports for $9.95 per month is reasonable. For others — which includes the vast majority of users — the free plan provides the tools necessary to help improve your score.