Ken Lin - CEO

I am the founder of Credit Karma. Ask me anything about credit or Credit Karma. Today, we announced that we are adding Equifax to the platform.

My short bio: I founded Credit Karma in 2007 with the mission to make it easier and more transparent for people to interact with their finances. To date, we have given away over a quarter billion credit scores and reports for free.

My Proof:

Update: I’ll pop in throughout the day and answer lingering questions. Many people seems to have specific PM questions. I might be short but I’ll get you a useful response if I have a suggestion.

Do I really get a free credit score?

Absolutely, we don’t ask for a credit card and there are no hidden fees. We have over 30 million users many of whom are Redditors including myself.

How does credit karma make money?

This is a very fair and important question. When we pull credit, we are able to determine how much you are currently paying for your loans. When we see an opportunity for you to save money, we will point it out.
If you take advantage of that opportunity, we should make money, you should save money, and the bank should get a new customer. The loser in the equation was that bank that was charging too much.
The most important part is that you are under no obligation to click or use any of the offers. Many users don’t. And I suspect many of you have ad-block. That is okay. We are as mission driven around education and access as we are a for-profit business.
Also let me point out that we don’t make money by selling your information. It is against our privacy policy and we hate those tactics as much as you do.

What’s one thing you think everyone could do, but don’t, that would improve their credit?

The first part is looking. Many consumers still don’t access their report or score until they use it. This is a problem. Reports have errors and consumers need to be proactive about fixing it.
Once you take that first step, I would suggest reducing debt and hard inquiries. The first part is not always solvable. You can only reduce debt when you have the funds. The second part is a common mistake. People apply for everything under the sun when they need money. This creates many hard inquiries which further lowers your score. Find the right product by doing research before you apply.

Could you explain what I can do to gather enough credit to escape the “thin file” category? I can’t seem to do anything to add to my credit history, and as it stands, I can’t get credit for anything.

This is a common problem. I have two solutions. The first is become an authorized user on someone you trust who pays their bill on time.
The second is apply for a secured credit card. It has few credit requirements and helps build credit. Keep in mind you will need a security deposit of ~$300. Also treat it like credit, pay on time or your will screw up your credit. Thin file is better than poor credit.

I know that with credit cards utilization affects my score, but what about a mortgage? Does the remaining balance vs. starting balance have an impact?

Fixed end loans like a mortgage (not HELOC) are generally considered good debt if they are current. The idea is that you have been making payments on-time for a period of time, a positive indicator.

What did you do before Credit Karma? How did you get the idea for Credit Karma?

My first job was at a credit card company building statistical models and internal credit scores. My degree is in economic and statistics. I eventually moved into internet marketing after the credit card company.
I founded Credit Karma after realizing that maybe we could build service that could help consumers and make money at that same time. Google was a long standing inspiration. It is a very long story on our trials and tribulations but after 4 or 5 years, we started to gain real traction with consumers. The growth with users has allowed us to expand the team and the offering. Equifax is a huge win for our members.

How much did the negative perception around supposedly “free” online credit scores affect your early growth?

It was a double edge sword. The prior marketing created the demand and industry. At the same time, we didn’t want to be lumped in with the traditional players. We focused on the press and viral growth to help cut through the noise.

I notice you have a big presence in Google. How big is your SEO team and what are your general strategies?

For a long time, it was just me for SEO strategy and one or two content writers. I think we win because of persistence. We always focused on original content and white hat strategies. Boring answer but it is the truth.

What are your thoughts on the recent changes for how the FICO score calculates medical debt?

It is a good thing. I think we can all empathize with how uncontrollable medical situations are. The fact that something so random could destroy your financial well being is terrifying to me.

When will the Equifax data be available in the Android app (provided, of course, that you haven’t already rolled it out)?

The Android beta is on my phone. Hope to have it out in January.

What about a Windows Phone App?

We have one. I think we are squashing a few bugs before we re-release it.

What is the highest and lowest credit score you’ve heard of?

I have limited access to user data so my sample size is fairly narrow. It also really depends on the score range. Some ranges are as low as 150. This is why we stress the meaning rather than the three digit number. Context is extremely important in the credit world.

Kudos to you for adding Equifax… Can Credit Karma users expect to receive the same great free service for years to come? Or does something like this imply that monthly fees are coming soon?

We hate monthly fees and hope our members prove that our model is better.

I’m logged in but still only see TransUnion and not Equifax. Is this a gradual rollout? When is it expected to be completed?

It is gradual. It is fairly complicated for us given we have to roll it out to over 30 million members.

Why do you think the credit industry is so complicated? You stated yourself that your score could be different than what a lender might see based on what system they are using. Why not one system? Why can I not pull up my credit score every day on an app like I do my bank account without getting dinged for it?

Great set of questions

  • Complication arises from the fact that scores were built for lenders and statisticians. Consumers were not the intended audience.
  • The differences in score arise from competition and the prediction of different events. The early indicators for default on a home mortgage are slightly different than that of a credit card. Also competition arose from that fact that everyone positions their models as better than the other guys.
  • Lastly, you aren’t dinged for checking your own score. Only for applying for too many products. The misconceptions arises from that fact that both are called inquiries but soft inquiries like the ones we use don’t hurt your score like hard inquiries do like when you apply for a loan.

Why would you get “dinged” for applying for a loan?

Someone told me this analogy once: If you were at a party and you saw a stranger ask everyone for money, would you think they were more risky than the person who just asked one person for a loan. Now certainly there are exceptions like when rate shopping for which there is an adjustment.

I have used your site for a while. However, recently I have noticed increased TV advertising for Credit Karma, and it has somewhat irked me. Do you feel that there is a negative connotation between TV ads and credit reports? and other false advertising sites like that come to mind. How do you stop viewers from throwing you in that same boat?

Our user growth has powered the increase in features like Equifax. It also allows us to push innovation in the space.
Specifically to your point, we hope that users like you will help differentiate us from the other players. We believe that building a service and brand that you trust is something that we have to earn over time. We spend most of our time on our product. Our marketing team is fairly small which is maybe why the commercials irk you 🙂

What hobbies do you have?

I love StarCraft 2, playing and watching GSL. Skiing, cooking, and tennis are my other hobbies.

Do you typically see users “hit it and quit it”? Or do people stick around to actually monitor credit rather than just look at it?

Mixture of both. To each their own, giving people the option is our mission.

My credit score is 430… It was up to 720 6 months ago, but due to loss of work and homelessness I couldn’t pay my monthly fees. How long will it take to get back to a decent score?

YMMV. I suggest getting current is the first step. Depending on your means, this will help the most. Once you do that, you can often rebuild credit in 12-18 months provided that you don’t sustain any more derogs.

I work for a company that pulls actual credit for customers through Experian, Equifax and Trans Union. Why do the credit scores pulled by your company typically come in far higher or lower than what their actual credit score is when pulled through the same reporting agencies?

First there is no one actual score. As long a lender is using the model, it is a real score. There are hundreds of scores in use. Banks decide which bureau and which scoring algorithm to use based on cost and accuracy.
Credit Karma can’t buy all the score as a matter of fact all of the scores are not for sale. We try to put out a representative sample. That is why we had TransRisk and Vantage that we purchased directly through the bureaus with no adjustments. I think more times people with big discrepancies will post and complain (which I understand). The data says that by and large credit scoring models are highly correlated.

Why are you needed?

Credit access is tremendously important for most US consumers given its impact on interest rates, housing, and even auto insurance rate. is a great site and government mandated but it only provides one report from each of the three major bureaus once per year. Moreover, there is no credit score which many consumers expect.

What sets you apart?

We have always been free and never used the free trial tactic. We are also very focused on education. We spend quite a bit of resources tools that help people understand the system.
With the addition of Equifax data, we are pushing the industry forward by providing more free access.

I see a lot of differences on my two reports – I don’t really understand why that’s happening. It’s very frustrating and I thought I was doing much better?

Historically, credit bureaus were regional. Banks would report to the bureau near them. As a result, the data would vary from bureau to bureau. As data transfers improved and the bureaus merged, this became better and many banks did report to all bureaus. But some banks still only report to one bureau. Lenders are not required to report to a bureau. They are only required to report accurate data if they do.
This creates discrepancies for some users based on bureaus. It is not ideal but it an artifact of the system. The solution is to look at the reports, look for errors, and fix issues as they arise. This is why we think access is so important.

What are your thoughts on credit card churning? According to every report I’ve seen, my score is pretty high (>750 now). As someone who loves traveling, I’m very interested in the potential of churning credit cards for miles. I’ve done it a little bit and actually seen my score go up, which jells with what I know about how credit scores work. A lot of people seem to be convinced it’s a death sentence for a credit score, but everything I know about it would indicate with a solid history, the minor factors that are negative, namely age of accounts and credit inquiries, are outweighed by your utilization decreasing. Any thoughts on the topic?

Candidly, I think if your score is high enough, it is a perfect way to use your good score. I have done it in the past. A good credit score should help you save money. You should not waste money to build a good score.

What do you think about the practice of credit portals not listing credit cards and other financial products when they don’t have referral programs?

We have dozens if not hundreds of products for which we make no referral revenue on the site. This is simply one:
One of our core platform values is certainty of approval. It has weight in our recommendation engine. When we have no relationship with the bank, we don’t understand the approval requirements. We also don’t know their current terms. This matters if our goal is to get you products for which you are approved.

How often do balances, hard pulls etc. get updated? Is as it goes, a few times a month?

Usually each lender reports once a month. The date is on our site and the credit report so you can find out specifically.

So how do hard pull alerts work? Can you provide an exact breakdown of score or is there a nondisclosure agreement?

Hard pulls are almost real time when you apply. For example, we will send you a notice as soon as it hits our system. We have monitoring on a nightly basis.

My tranunion score from CreditKarma is 795, and my FICO score from Discover is 803. Any idea which one is more accurate for a mortgage? Do some lenders’ models correspond more strongly with yours than others?

This is pretty much rounding error in the credit world. You are excellent credit in both models. That is the important part. A study I read suggests that credits scores are 97.5% correlated which makes sense given statistics is universal and you can only be so much smarter than the next guy at math.