I just came across an interesting website: Credit Karma, which gives out free credit scores. It took under two minutes to put in all my information and get my score. Then, I was able to compare it to other Credit Karma users, other New Yorkers, and, strangely enough, other people with Gmail addresses. Overall, it was an easy and useful tool. I have no idea why the credit bureaus, which sell this information, are allowing Credit Karma to give it away for free, but I'm guessing they must have some sort of revenue share agreement.

I was not that impressed by Credit Karma's other personal finance tools. I used the home affordability calculator, for example, and it claimed I could afford a monthly payment equal to roughly 75 percent of my take home pay. Apparently, Credit Karma thinks highly of my ability to cut back on food and electricity. Either that, or it's trying to sell mortgages. Like Mint.com, Credit Karma makes money by marketing financial products to people who use the site.

Is Credit Karma a reliable source of information? Are its scores accurate?

Yes—it uses the same score as TransUnion. To confirm this, I checked my scores from TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax, the three main credit bureaus, so I could compare them to the number I got at Credit Karma. My Credit Karma score matched my TransUnion and Equifax scores, though my Experian score was 22 points lower.

By the way, I got all three of those scores for free, too, by signing up for a 30-day free trial of TrueCredit by TransUnion. That service allows you to see all three credit reports in addition to your scores. It takes a little longer than signing up for Credit Karma, and you'll have to call afterward and cancel your account if you don't want to be charged $14.95 a month. But if you haven't seen your credit report in a while, it's worth the extra effort. While the thee credit bureaus are required to give you a free copy of your credit report each year, you usually have to pay extra to get your score.

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