Summary: Track your credit score, bank accounts, and credit cards at Credit Karma
Instead of having to log into several different accounts, wouldn't it be much more convenient to be able to check them all from one place, provided it was secure? Even better, what if that site displayed your financial information in a clear way that lets you track your spending habits, plan a budget, and monitor your progress as you pay down debt and improve your credit score?
Data visualized in graphics rather than numbers is interpreted far more meaningfully by our brains. This can encourage you to make more prudent financial decisions. Seeing your current debt not just as an absolute value, but in relation to the past gives it more emotional significance to your brain than abstract concepts like numbers do.
What are my (free) options?
The most popular personal finance manager for individuals is Mint. It lets you track your bank accounts, credit cards, debts, and investments in realtime by connecting your accounts. and create budgets and goals. The 'recommendations' (ads) would be useful, except you're already banking with the best since you read this blog and follow my advice. They have an app if you want to track your finances from your phone or alternatively, you could maybe enjoy life and perhaps give your significant other the attention their father never gave them.
I only used Mint to track my investments (I don't budget, I ball hard). Then I found Credit Karma.
Credit Karma estimates your Transunion credit score, updated weekly, and gives you a grade on the main components of your credit score. But like Mint, you can also connect all your accounts, track your spending, debt payments, and saving. It’s an encouraging way to view your progress.
Credit Karma has a gorgeous layout, and you can categorize your spending easily. The advice is more concise and less intrusive.
A Word of Reassurance To Those With Bad Credit
Don’t worry if your credit score is low. Pay off your highest-interest debt as fast as you can and it’ll go up. Last year I helped an “English teacher” sort out her finances and I guarantee that you are in a much better position than she is.
At the time, she was 27 years old, late on bank loans, student loans with multiple defaults on credit cards. This financial illiterate dedicated her college years to developing her alcoholism, buying clothes, and smoking meth. When the money ran out, she decided to ignore the collection agencies, stop paying her debt (essentially, she is a thief), and get more loans to get a Master’s degree because one liberal arts degree wasn’t enough. Now she teaches English in Korea, and her MA in [generic education-related degree] nets her an extra $1000 a year.
Her credit score? 490.
A score that bad is virtually unheard of for white people. Let me illustrate just how bad that is:
“Take Seattle resident Mark Mitchell Johnson. He watched his score steadily plummet after a series of poor investments led him to accumulate nearly $300,000 in debt back in 2007. But despite a foreclosure, debt management plan and ultimate bankruptcy, his score never reached the 300s.
“[It] hit a low of 471 from Experian,” Johnson recalls. “I don’t know what I could have done to get it any lower.”
At 600, getting a car loan, taking a vacation, or home ownership becomes a distant dream.
At 500, fellating homeless men for quarters becomes an economical way to spend your time.
I’ll explain the significance of a FICO in another post but my point is bad credit is nothing to beat yourself up over unless it’s as bad as the aforementioned womyn.
Full Credit Reports
A comprehensive credit report can be obtained for free from www.annualcreditreport.com. I've never found the additional information to be useful, so I rarely go through the hassle of doing so.