Every year, paying taxes does something odd to me. It makes me take stock of my finances and forces me to go through my credit card statements. While in this altered state, I start thinking about paying off high-interest credit card balances with 0 percent interest balance transfer cards. And that leads me to thinking about my credit score.
On that note, I checked out two free mobile apps that let you see your current credit scores and provide tools for managing your credit.
Credit Karma (free for Android and iOS and also online) is my favorite. The app displays current scores, updated weekly, from both TransUnion and Equifax — two of the three big credit scoring companies — and gives the score a rating, such as "fair" or "good." You can also see all your credit accounts (mortgage and home equity, as well as credit cards) in one place, along with their current balances.
You can receive credit score change alerts via push notifications and personalized recommendations for credit products, based on your current credit scores. The app is designed to let you apply for new credit cards, too. I went through the process of applying for a Discover card that had a tempting 0 percent balance transfer offer for 18 months. However, after completing all the information for the application — not an easy task on an iPhone — I received an error message and a confirmation that my application had not been submitted. Argh.
Credit Karma uses 128-bit encryption for data security, and it requires a four-digit passcode for access to the app on your mobile device.
Credit Sesame (free; Android, iOS, online) is another good option, with some different features. Credit Sesame provides a broader overview than Credit Karma, but its free service only updates your credit score monthly, and TransUnion is the only source.
Credit Sesame lets you use Apple's Touch ID finger scanner to securely access the app on your iOS device; Credit Karma does not. Credit Sesame offers a $10 per month "Advanced" credit service that gives you unlimited daily credit score updates; full monthly credit report updates; and live access to agents who can help you "fix credit errors." There's also a $15 a month "Platinum" plan, which offers "full service" identity restoration (versus self-service for the freebie and Advanced plans) and $1 million in identity theft insurance, compared to $50,000 for the other two plans.
As for security, Credit Sesame says it uses both 128-bit SSL and 256-bit AES encryption.
If you don't mind a monthly fee, these two additional apps are also worth a look.
Experian Credit Tracker (free, Android and iOS) lets you access your FICO credit score from Experian, the third of the big three credit reporting companies. You need an Experian Credit Tracker membership, which cost $1 to try for seven days; after that, it’s $22 per month. The new app sends push notifications when major updates to your credit report are detected.
myFICO Mobile (free; iOS) is another option, and it provides access to credit reports from all three monitoring companies but requires a paid myFICO plan, which start at $25 per month.