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Bad Credit

Best Credit Repair Companies 2021 Top Online Services to Use



Your credit score affects nearly every aspect of your life.

People with a low credit score will pay thousands more per year in car insurance, loan payments, and mortgage costs. A bad credit score could even prevent you from getting a job.

Fortunately, there are ways to fix a bad credit score. Every year, people improve their credit score using reputable credit repair services. A good credit repair service can improve your credit score by hundreds of points.

Every credit repair service claims to fix a bad credit score. However, not all credit repair services live up to that reputation. Some genuinely improve your credit score for a competitive fee.

What’s the best credit repair service? Which credit repair company should you pick? We tested and rated the internet’s best-known credit repair services. Here’s what we found.

Ranking the Best Credit Repair Services and Top Companies 2021

After testing and analyzing multiple credit repair services, we ranked the best options available, assuming you’re an average person seeking to improve your credit score. Here are our rankings of the best credit repair services available today:

  • Sky Blue Credit
  • Credit Saint
  • Lexington Law
  • TransUnion
  • Credit Sesame
  • Credit Karma
  • The Credit Watcher
  • Credit Monkey
  • MyFICO
  • CuraDebt
  • FreeScore360
  • The Credit People
  • Leap Credit

Let’s jump right into the top rated credit score repairing companies worth considering to see which are the best services to try for real help and legitimate support:

Sky Blue Credit

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Sky Blue Credit is a credit repair company priced at $79 per month, which includes a free six-day trial period. All purchases also come with a 90-day moneyback guarantee – something we don’t always see with other credit repair companies.

Sky Blue Credit has offered credit repair since 1989, making them one of the oldest providers on this list. Another perk is that the company identifies credit issues other companies ignore, potentially giving you a better score improvement than you would with any other provider on this list.

Other perks of Sky Blue Credit include professional analysis, faster dispute resolution (15 items every 35 days), custom disputes tailored to your situation, and state law research for each debt collection matter, among other perks. Sky Blue Credit is the top-ranked credit repair company on this list with thoughtful challenges and actionable improvements in credit score.

Credit Saint

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Credit Saint, found online at, is a credit restoration service that claims to be #1 in challenging inaccurate credit data. The company provides a free consultation up front, making it easy to see exactly how Credit Saint works and how they can help you.

In fact, Credit Saint is one of several companies on this list offering a 90-day moneyback guarantee. You can request a complete refund on your purchase within 90 days. If you’re unsatisfied with the effects of Credit Saint, or if you did not like how Credit Saint improved your credit score, then you can request a complete refund.

Credit Saint also gets top marks for its private dashboard, its educational materials, and its overall experience. The company makes it fast, easy, and effective to improve your credit score. Credit Saint also provides free services beyond its paid credit repair service, including a free credit evaluation for those who want to dip their toes into the world of credit repair.

Lexington Law

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Lexington Law, found online at, offers an effective credit repair process with the backing of a professional law firm. Good credit repair isn’t instant: it takes time, effort, and legal expertise. With Lexington Law, you get this expertise on your side, helping you repair your credit score.

Lexington Law starts by researching and reviewing your credit score. The firm looks at your credit report and determines which negative items are wrongfully hurting your score. Then, the firm challenges and disputes each item, asking the bureaus and your creditors to verify the negative items as accurate and fair. If they can’t verify this information, they legally need to remove them. Finally, Lexington Law manages and monitors your credit score over time, tackling new issues as they appear on your report.

Lexington Law is also one of the most experienced credit repair websites on this list. Founded in 2004, the company has facilitated over 70 million removals from customers’ credit reports. With nearly 20 years of experience repairing credit scores for customers, Lexington Law continues to be one of the best options available.

image 10 provides several free perks we don’t see with other providers on this list, including a free credit score and summary, a free negative item review, and a free credit improvement plan – something we don’t get with other providers on this list. After obtaining all of this free information, you can proceed with’s full credit repair services. works similarly to other top-rated providers on this list. The company analyzes your credit report for erroneous entries, then challenges bureaus and lenders to verify the accuracy of these entries. By law, bureaus must remove any entries they cannot prove. Through this method, could significantly improve your credit score. has helped with 1.8 million removals since 2012. Since launching the business, the website has provided 19+ million challenges and disputes. They also sent more than one million interventions in 2019 alone. For all of these reasons and more, continues to be one of the top-rated credit repair services available today. It’s also one of the few on this list with flexible pricing options, including aggressive, moderate, and basic plans based on how much you want to improve your credit score.


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TransUnion is one of three major credit bureaus in the United States (along with Experian and Equifax). TransUnion offers credit repair services and other credit protection services. TransUnion tracks your credit score as a for-profit business and offers subscription services to help track and improve your credit score over time.

TransUnion offers multiple tools that can help repair your credit score. By subscribing to TransUnion’s subscription services for $25 per month, you get tools like CreditCompass, for example, and Credit Lock Plus. CreditCompass provides recommendations to point your credit score in the right direction. At the same time, Credit Lock Plus lets you shield your TransUnion, and Equifax reports in a couple of clicks, protecting you from further damage if your info is compromised.

Another perk of TransUnion’s subscription is the ID theft insurance. Subscribers receive $1 million of identity theft insurance. If someone uses your information and costs you money, then TransUnion will compensate you. Plus, TransUnion has plenty of tools to help you repair and manage your credit with free ID protection and other perks.

Credit Sesame

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Credit Sesame helps you access, understand, and leverage your credit score. It’s also one of the few providers on this list with an effective mobile app. The Credit Sesame mobile app is available for Android and iOS, making it easy to manage and repair your credit score on the go.

The core of Credit Sesame’s app revolves around the personal credit management (PCM) platform. From this platform, you can monitor and observe all issues linked to your credit. You can access your credit score, view your credit report for free at any time, and get insight into what your credit score means.

The best part about Credit Sesame is that it’s free. While most other providers on this list charge a fee to access your credit report, Credit Sesame is free to use. The company provides personalized offers based on your credit, letting you leverage your credit for various opportunities. If you take advantage of those opportunities, then Credit Sesame receives a cut. Otherwise, the app is free for anyone to use.

Credit Karma

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Credit Karma is one of the best-known credit repair services available today. The company offers an extensive selection of credit repair services and other credit-related products. By downloading the free Credit Karma app today, you’re joining a community of over 100 million members who use Credit Karma to make financial progress.

Credit Karma, like Credit Sesame, is free. The company gives you free insight into your credit score and credit report in exchange for using that information to present you with offers. Credit Karma displays offers for credit cards, loans, accounts, savings opportunities, auto financing, mortgages, and more. You don’t have to take advantage of any of these opportunities, and the app can be legitimately free to use.

Sometimes, the best credit repair services are the ones that you manage yourself. Credit Karma makes it easy to manage and monitor your credit score, allowing you to avoid the penalties of erroneous entries.

The Credit Watcher

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The Credit Watcher found online at lets you instantly access your three credit scores from the three major bureaus. You get secure online delivery of your three credit reports instantly, and then you can continue getting your credit scores and credit reports daily.

Like Credit Karma and Credit Sesame, The Credit Watcher works best as a monitoring and reporting service. It’s not a full-service credit repair company. However, the company can give you the information you need about your credit, allowing you to track improvements over time – and avoid erroneous entries.

The biggest drawback of The Credit Watcher is the price: at $39.90 per month, the company provides similar information to the free credit monitoring services above. The company doesn’t present you with the same personalized offers as Credit Sesame and Credit Karma, but you pay a premium to avoid having your information sold.

Credit Monkey

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Credit Monkey is a credit repair service found online at The service is priced at $99 to $499 per month and available in all 50 states. Credit Monkey claims to provide meaningful improvement to your credit score by removing erroneous entries.

According to Credit Monkey, 89% of credit reports contain mistakes or serious errors. These errors can be as simple as inquiries. Or, they can be things like bankruptcies, collections issues, charge-offs, and late payments, all of which can lower your credit score.

Credit Monkey offers six different plans. The more you pay, the more entries you can remove from your credit report. The basic $99 per month plan, for example, will remove up to five negative items from your record. The highest level plan, at $499 per month, including five active credit cards, a $10,000 credit line, and removal of an unlimited number of public records, negative items, and inquiries, among other perks.


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MyFICO is the official consumer division of FICO, an analytics company that tracks your credit score using data from all three bureaus. MyFICO offers a subscription service for $29.95 (for Advanced) or $39.95 per month) (for Premier). Both subscriptions let you continuously monitor your credit score, making it easy to check for errors and mistaken entries.

Overall, MyFICO advertises its credit repair and monitoring services as all-in-one solutions. Instead of only getting data from one or two credit bureaus, you get data from all three bureaus. Your lenders are using your FICO score already – so make sure you know what your FICO score is and how it works. With 90% of top lenders using FICO scores to calculate rates, MyFICO can make it easy to track the important metric and improve your credit score.

With MyFICO’s subscription services, you get complete three-bureau coverage, $1 million of identity theft protection, 24/7 identity restoration service, and continuous monitoring of your score, credit report, and identity. The only difference between the Advanced and Premier plans is that the Advanced plan gives you updates every three months, while the Premier plan gives you updates every month.


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CuraDebt has provided debt relief across the United States since the year 2000. Today, the company continues to provide relief for credit cards, medical bills, tax debt, and other unsecured debt.

CuraDebt offers a free savings estimate that allows you to see how much you can save before ordering anything through the company. With over 200,000 clients served over the last 20 years, CuraDebt is a top-rated debt relief company that could ease the financial burden at a time when you need it most. The team at CuraDebt has over 100 years of combined experience solving tax debt issues, focusing on tax resolutions, audit defense, complex resolutions, partial payment plans, and non-collectible resolutions.

One of the best ways to improve your credit score is to reduce your debt. A debt relief company like CuraDebt can help significantly reduce the amount of money you owe, helping you quickly raise your credit score.


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FreeScore360 provides credit scores from all three bureaus in exchange for a $29.95 per month subscription fee. You get a 7-day free trial, allowing you to access your credit scores for free today instantly. Then, on the seventh day, FreeScore360 charges you $29.95 per month, and the company continues to charge you $29.95 per month for ongoing monitoring until you cancel.

Your subscription comes with access to FreeScore360’s ScoreSense system, which includes daily credit monitoring and alerts. There’s also an interactive learning center giving you further insight into your credit score and how it works.

Overall, FreeScore360 offers similar credit monitoring and reporting to other credit repair services above, although it lacks the reputation of other top-ranked providers – despite charging similar pricing. However, it may be the best choice for those who want to check their credit scores without breaking the bank quickly.

The Credit People

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The Credit People estimates that the average customer will increase their credit score by 53 to 187 points after using their program. The company also has strong reviews online from Consumer Affairs and other major review websites. To date, The Credit People has removed more than 1.4 million credit issues for customers. The company also claims 78% of its users have been approved for auto loans, 71% approved for home loans, and 81% approved for new credit, among other perks, after using their service.

Found online at, The Credit People gives you access to all three credit reports and credit scores today. Then, you get guaranteed results in fewer than 60 days, with The Credit People taking specific steps to improve your credit score.

Although The Credit People seems like a new service, the website has existed for 15 years. With credit repair services starting at just $19, The Credit People is one of the top credit repair services available today. The company offers repair services that go above and beyond the monitoring services above.

Leap Credit

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Leap Credit, found online at, makes it easy for people with all levels of credit to get the money they need as quickly as possible. The company offers an easy application process, fast approval, and other perks for people with all levels of credit.

As long as you have a verifiable source of income, an open checking account, and are a US citizen at least 18 years old, you should be able to get a loan through Leap Credit. The company will deposit money into your account within as little as two business days.

How We Ranked

All credit repair companies claim to improve your credit score using proven, reputable methods. However, not all companies live up to that reputation. To separate the best and worst credit repair services, we used the following metrics:

Credit Score Improvement: You’re using a credit repair service to improve your credit score. When analyzing credit score companies, the most important thing we considered was the number of points by which they improved credit scores, on average. Good credit repair companies can improve your credit score by hundreds of points.

Price & Value: Some people can afford to spend thousands of dollars improving their credit score. Most people, however, want to pay less than that. We considered the price and value of each service in our rankings.

Transparency & Honesty: Some credit repair companies make bold claims they cannot live up to. They claim to improve your credit score by hundreds of points in weeks, for example – something that few companies can live up to. We preferred credit repair companies that were transparent and honest with their benefits.

Accurate Estimated Credit Score Increases: The best credit repair companies track the average number of points by which they improved customers’ credit scores., for example, provides an estimated credit score increase of 53 to 187 points, based on the average increase from previous customers.

Repairs Versus Monitoring: Some credit companies emphasize monitoring. Others take specific actions to repair your credit score. For consumers with no knowledge of credit repair services, it’s hard to know how each company works. We preferred credit companies with concrete credit repair services – not basic credit monitoring.

Credit Repair Methods: Most credit repair companies work by challenging inaccurate data on your credit report. This is an easy thing to do – and it’s something anyone can do simply by contacting the three major credit bureaus. The best credit repair companies, however, go beyond simply removing erroneous data from your credit report. They challenge credit bureaus to prove each item on your credit report.

Satisfaction Guarantee & Refund Policy: Credit repair companies rarely guarantee improvements in credit score. However, reputable credit repair companies backup their claims with moneyback guarantees and other satisfaction promises. Credit Saint, for example, offers a 90-day moneyback guarantee to customers who are unsatisfied with their results.

User Dashboard, Interface, and Overall Convenience: Some credit repair companies have a user dashboard that makes it easy to manage and monitor your credit score. We considered overall customer experience in our rankings, with a preference towards companies who invested in offering a better customer experience for those seeking to improve their credit score.

Company Experience & Reputation: Credit repair services like Lexington Law have nearly 20+ years of experience repairing credit scores online. Other companies have launched in the last few years and have limited experience. We considered the company’s experience and overall reputation in our rankings.

Top 10 Surprising Benefits of Repairing your Credit Score

Repairing your credit score can change your life – literally.

A good credit score makes it easier to rent a home and get a mortgage. It can increase your chances of getting a job. It can save you thousands of dollars on auto and home insurance. It could even make it easier to find a partner!

Here are the top 10 most important benefits of repairing your credit score, including the perks of having a good credit score.

Marry the Person of your Dreams: As reported by Market Watch, 58% of Americans said they would not marry someone with significant debt. Some people even go as far as to run a credit report on someone before a relationship gets serious! A bad credit score can be a red flag. It could prevent you from marrying the person of your dreams – even if everything else feels right. Don’t let bad credit get in between you and the love of your life.

Get Cheaper Auto Insurance: The average American pays $1,450 per year for full coverage car insurance. The average American with bad credit, meanwhile, pays over $2,100 per year. If you have a bad credit score, you could pay $1,000 more per year than the average American. By law, insurance companies in almost every state (except for California, Massachusetts, and Hawaii) can use your credit score to calculate premiums. Statistically, drivers with low credit scores are riskier to insure, so insurers charge much higher rates. Lowering your credit score could save you thousands of dollars in insurance premiums over the next few years.

Receive Better Credit Cards and Higher Limits: Improving your credit score unlocks new credit cards with higher limits. When you have a good credit score, it means you’re good at repaying your loans. That means companies want to lend you money. Instead of having a credit card with a $2,500 limit, you could have a credit card with a $25,000 limit, annual perks, and other rewards. Repairing your credit score unlocks new credit cards and better opportunities. Some of the best credit cards, for example, provide 4% cash back on gas and groceries to people with a good credit score.

Get Cheaper Mortgage Rates and Easier Approval: Getting a mortgage can be difficult, but it’s particularly challenging for people with a bad credit score. If you have a bad credit score, then it could be difficult to obtain a mortgage. Even if you get a mortgage, you could pay significantly higher rates than the average American, adding tens of thousands of dollars to the total cost of your mortgage. Improving your credit score even by 20 to 50 points can reduce your mortgage cost by thousands.

Obtain Easier Approval When Renting a Home: If you rent, then you’re used to having your credit score checked. Many landlords and property management companies require a credit report. If you have a bad credit score, then you could struggle to rent a safe and affordable price. With all other factors being equal, landlords and property management companies will always choose the applicant with the better credit score.

Have Superior Negotiating Power: When you have a bad credit score, you have no negotiating power. You must take the rates that lenders give you. You can’t bargain with lenders. They know you have few other options. This lower negotiating power can affect every financial decision you make. By improving your credit score, you grow your negotiating power.

Get Better Cell Phone Rates: Cell phone companies provide better rates to well-qualified lenders. If you have a good credit score, then you can get a cell phone on contract without a security deposit, giving you a better phone at a cheaper price than you would normally get. Meanwhile, people with bad credit are forced to buy prepaid phones or pay-as-you-go plans with less-than-optimal rates.

Pay No Security Deposit on Utilities: People with a bad credit score must pay a security deposit on utilities. Utility companies know you may struggle to make payments, so they charge a security deposit to cover any late payments. Utility security deposits can be anywhere from $100 to $300. By improving your credit score, you can avoid the need for security deposits, giving you more cash and less to worry about.

Pay Cheaper Homeowners Insurance Premiums: Homeowners insurance costs thousands per year. As a homeowner with bad credit, you could pay nearly twice as much for homeowners insurance. Homeowners with a bad credit score are riskier to insure. Insurers believe you have a higher risk of committing insurance fraud or missing payments, so they charge higher rates.

Walk With Better Confidence: Overall, having a better credit score proves you’re a responsible adult. It shows you and the people around you that you’re in charge of your financial future. A good credit score can give you bragging rights. Even if you don’t tell anyone about your credit score, a good credit score can give you more confidence.

FAQs About Credit Repair Companies

Credit repair services can be confusing. Most people aren’t credit repair experts. Here are some of the questions people frequently ask about credit scores, credit reports, and credit repair services.

Q: What is credit?

A: Credit refers to receiving money, a good, or a service today in exchange for an agreement to pay for it in the future – typically with added interest.

Q: What is a credit score?

A: A credit score is a three-digit number between 300 and 850. The number is a rating of how trustworthy you are as a lender. Your credit score is based on debts you have previously paid, the amount of credit you have used, the number of inquiries you make, and many other factors.

Q: How do lenders use my credit score?

A: Lenders check your credit score to calculate your risk. If you have a higher risk of missing payments or defaulting on your loan, then the lender will charge higher rates. The higher your credit score is, the better your lending rates will be.

Q: What is a good credit score?

A: Generally, experts consider anything above 670 to be a good credit score.

Q: What is a bad credit score?

A: Experts consider anything below 670 to be a poor or fair credit score.

Q: What lowers my credit score?

A: Several things can lower your credit score quickly, including late payments on bills, bankruptcies, and foreclosures, applying for too many credit accounts, carrying high balances on your credit cards, and ignoring negative items on your report.

Q: How long do things remain on my credit report?

A: Items remain on your credit report for seven to 10 years, depending on the item and the bureau. Things like bankruptcies and missed payments could lower your credit score for seven to 10 years.

Q: Why do I have multiple credit scores?

A: You have three credit scores, one from each of the three major bureaus. Credit bureaus track your credit score in slightly different ways, and credit bureaus may have different records for each consumer. Generally, however, your three credit scores will be close in number.

Q: What’s the lowest possible credit score?

A: The lowest possible credit score is 300, which is the worst rating available.

Q: What’s the best possible credit score?

A: The best possible credit score is 850, which is the highest a credit score can go.

Q: Who tracks my credit score?

A: The three main credit bureaus track your credit score, including Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

Q: How do people check my credit score?

A: When someone (like a lender, a property management firm, or an insurer) checks your credit score, they contact one of the three main credit bureaus and pull your report.

Q: What is a credit bureau?

A: A credit bureau is a private company that tracks each person’s worthiness as a borrower. Credit bureaus track missed payments, total credit usage, and other factors to determine your worthiness as a lender.

Q: What’s the difference between a credit score and a credit report?

A: A credit score is a three-digit number showing your worthiness as a borrower. A credit report is a list of the items affecting your credit score, including records of any missed bills, bankruptcies, and similar issues.

Q: What is a FICO score?

A: Your FICO score is a three-digit number created by a private company called FICO. FICO doesn’t track your credit information themselves; instead, they aggregate your credit score across all three bureaus. 90% of top lenders use FICO to assess your risk.

Q: How is a FICO score calculated?

A: Your FICO score consists of your payment history (35%), amounts owed (30%), length of credit history (15%), credit mix (10%), and new credit (10%).

Q: How do I get a good credit score?

A: The best way to get a good credit score is to pay your accounts on time, keep your credit card balances low, use multiple types of credit, and avoid carrying too much debt.

Q: How do I repair my credit?

A: The best way to repair your credit is to remove erroneous entries. Almost all credit reports contain at least one error. By removing these errors, you could significantly improve your credit score.

Q: How do credit repair companies work?

A: Credit repair companies check your credit report for erroneous entries, then remove those entries. Many credit repair companies also challenge entries on your credit report, forcing lenders and bureaus to prove each entry. By law, lenders and bureaus must prove each entry on your credit report – or remove that entry.

Q: What’s on my credit report?

A: Your credit report includes things like credit limits, account names, tradelines, identifying information, credit history, credit inquiries, public records, collections, late payment records, and your credit score.

Q: Can a credit score affect employment?

A: Yes, credit scores can impact employment. According to federal law, employers are allowed to use a version of your credit report for hiring and promotion purposes. If you have a bad credit score, it could reduce your chances of getting a job or being promoted.

Q: How high should my credit score be to buy a home?

A: To become a homeowner, most experts recommend having a credit score of at least 620, which is the minimum approval score for a home loan from most lenders.

Q: How high should my credit score be to buy a car?

A: To obtain a car loan, your credit score should be at least 550 or above, although some lenders will approve car loans for scores as low as 500, although you may pay significantly higher interest rates.

Q: How do I get a free credit report?

A: By law, each of the three major credit bureaus must provide you with a free credit report once every 12 months. You can obtain a free credit report from these providers through or by calling 1-877-322-8228.

Q: What is credit repair?

A: Credit repair is the process of removing or addressing negative items on your credit report, thereby improving your credit score.

Q: Are credit repair services legit?

A: Yes, there are plenty of legitimate, well-established providers in the credit repair space, including companies with a proven reputation for repairing credit scores and removing erroneous entries for clients.

Q: How long does it take to repair my credit?

A: It can take anywhere from a few weeks to a year to repair your credit. Everybody’s credit situation is different. According to, members see an average increase of 40 points in four months.

Q: How much does credit repair cost?

A: Credit repair costs anywhere from $0 to thousands of dollars, depending on your credit repair company. A law firm could charge $1,000 or more to repair your credit, for example, while other providers charge nothing, making money from advertisements and promotional offers instead.

Q: Can I repair my own credit?

A: Yes, you can repair your own credit by contacting the credit bureaus and lenders to address any inconsistencies. Start by requesting a copy of your credit report. Then, contact lenders or credit bureaus to remove any erroneous entries.

Q: Do student loans hurt my credit score?

A: Yes, student loans (and any type of loan) hurt your credit score. However, paying back your student loan on time can benefit your credit score.

Final Word

Tens of millions of Americans have errors on their credit report. A bad credit score impacts some of the most important parts of your life. It makes it harder to rent a place, get a job, apply for a mortgage, obtain a car loan, and buy insurance.

By repairing your credit score, you can put your past behind you and start improving your financial future. A good credit repair company uses proven strategies to target and repair your credit score in various ways.

The best credit repair companies provide the top credit score restoration services that should be strongly considered in 2021 and beyond:

This review of the best credit score repair companies will be continually updated as new research is found and user feedback has been accumulated about how to boost your credit score quickly. Be sure to apply proper due diligence outside of this post but be willing to give one or two of these top credit repair programs a solid attempt at helping filter out the old and usher in the new when it comes to removing marks and dings in a professional manner. Collectively there were dozens of hours accumulated in compiling this list. Between researching each individual credit repair service for hours and doing a deep dive per company, to filtering out who are actually the best credit score boosting services based on a number of criteria mentioned above, this list is one of the most up to speed credit repair company guides in 2021.

Nearly anyone can work at upping and repairing your credit no matter how high or low it might be today. By learning how to raise credit scores through the use of these highly reputable credit repair services that can enable more financial access and bandwidth as life continues forward, there is no better time than to go ahead and review the best credit repair companies list once more to ensure you are doing everything in your power that the experts and professionals would do to raise your credit score in 2021.

Affiliate Disclosure:

The links contained in this product review may result in a small commission if you opt to purchase the product recommended at no additional cost to you. This goes towards supporting our research and editorial team and please know we only recommend high quality products.


Please understand that any advice or guidelines revealed here are not even remotely a substitute for sound medical advice from a licensed healthcare provider. Make sure to consult with a professional physician before making any purchasing decision if you use medications or have concerns following the review details shared above. Individual results may vary as the statements made regarding these products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The efficacy of these products has not been confirmed by FDA-approved research. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Bad Credit

Inside the Highly Profitable and Secretive World of Payday Lenders



Illustration by Sarah Maxwell, Folio Art

When Bridget Davis got started in the family’s payday lending business in 1996, there was just one Check ’n Go store in Cincinnati. She says she did it all: customer service, banking duties, even painting walls.

The company had been established two years earlier by her husband, Jared Davis, and was growing rapidly. There were 100 Check ’n Go locations by 1997, when Jared and Bridget (née Byrne) married and traveled the country together looking for more locations to open storefront outlets. They launched another 400 stores in 1998, mostly in strip malls and abandoned gas stations in low-income minority neighborhoods where the payday lending target market abounds. Bridget drove the supply truck and helped select locations and design the store layouts.

But Jared soon fired his wife for committing what may be the ultimate sin in the payday lending business: She forgave a customer’s debt. “A young woman came to pay her $20 interest payment,” Bridget wrote in court documents last year during divorce proceedings from Jared. “I pulled her file, calculated that she had already paid $320 to date on a principle [sic] loan of $100. I told her she was paid in full. [Jared] fired me, stating, ‘We are here to make money, not help customers manage theirs. If you can’t do that, you can’t work here.’ ”

Photograph by Brittany Dexter

It’s a business philosophy that pays well, especially if you’re charging fees and interest rates of 400 percent that can more than triple the amount of the loan in just five months—the typical time most payday borrowers need to repay their debt, says the Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit organization focused on public policy. Cincinnati-based Check ’n Go now operates more than 1,100 locations in 25 states as well as an internet lending service with 24/7 access from the comfort of your own home, according to its website. Since its founding, the company has conducted more than 50 million transactions.

What the website doesn’t say is that many, if not most, of those transactions were for small loans of $50 to $500 to working people trying to scrape by and pay their bills. In most states—including Ohio, until it reformed its payday lending laws in 2019—borrowers typically fork over more than one-third of their paycheck to meet the deadline for repayment, usually in two weeks. To help guarantee repayment, borrowers turn over access to their checking account or deposit a check with the lender. In states that don’t offer protection, customers go back again and again to borrow more money from the same payday lender, typically up to 10 times, driving themselves into a debt trap that can lead to bankruptcy.

Jared and Bridget Davis are embroiled in a nasty court battle related to his 2019 divorce filing in Hamilton County Domestic Relations Court. Thousands of pages of filings and 433 docket entries by April 26 offer the public a rare glimpse into the business operations of Check ’n Go, one of Cincinnati’s largest privately-owned companies, as well as personal lifestyles funded by payday lending.

The company cleared $77 million in profit in 2018, a figure that dipped the following year to $55 million, according to an audit by Deloitte. That drop in revenue may have something to do with the payday lending reform laws and interest rate caps passed recently in Ohio as well as a growing number of other states.

The day-to-day business transactions that provide such profit are a depressing window into how those who live on the edge of financial security are often stuck with few options for improving their situations. If a borrower doesn’t repay or refinance his or her original loan, a lender like Check ’n Go deposits the guarantee check and lets it bounce, causing the borrower to incur charges for the bounced check and eventually lose his or her checking account, says Nick DiNardo, an attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati. After two missed payments, payday lenders usually turn over the debt to a collection agency. If the collection agency fails to collect the full amount of the original loan as well as all fees and interest, it goes to court to garnish the borrower’s wages.

That devastating experience is all too familiar to Anthony Smith, a 60-year-old Wyoming resident who says he was laid off from several management positions over a 20-year period. He turned to payday lenders as his credit rating dropped and soon found himself caught in a debt trap that took him years to escape.

Two things happened in 2019, Smith says, that turned around his financial fortunes. First, he found a stable manufacturing job with the Formica Company locally, and then he took his mother’s advice and opened a credit union account. GE Credit Union not only gave him a reasonable loan to pay off his $2,500 debt but also issued him his first credit card in a decade. “I had been a member [of the credit union] for just two months, and I had a credit rating of 520. Can you imagine?” he says. Smith says he is now debt-free for the first time in 10 years.

Consumer advocates say Check ’n Go is one of the biggest payday lending operations in the nation. But knowing its exact ranking is difficult because most payday lending companies, including Check ’n Go and its parent company CNG Holdings, are privately held and reluctant to disclose their finances.

Brothers Jared and David Davis own the majority of the company’s privately held stock. David bought into the company in 1995, but CNG got its game-changing infusion of capital from the brothers’ father, Allen Davis, who retired as CEO of then-Provident Bank in 1998. Allen sold off $37 million in stock options and essentially became CNG’s bank and consultant.

By 2005, however, the sons were part of a public court battle against their father. Allen accused Jared and David of treating his millions in CNG stock as compensation instead of a transfer from his ex-wife (and the brothers’ mother), sticking him with a $13 million tax bill. In turn, the brothers accused Allen of putting his mistress and his yacht captain on the company payroll, taking $1.2 million in fees without board approval, and leading the company into ventures that lost Check ’n Go a lot of money. Several years of legal fighting later, the IRS was still demanding its $13 million. CNG officials did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Jared and David split $22 million in profit from CNG in 2018 and, according to the Deloitte audit, CNG’s balance sheet showed another $42 million that could be split between the two brothers in 2019. Jared, however, elected not to receive his $21 million distribution “in order to create this artificial financial crisis and shelter millions of dollars from an equitable split between us,” according to Bridget’s divorce filing.

Worse, she claims, Jared said they would be responsible for paying taxes out of their personal accounts rather than from CNG’s company earnings, making her personally responsible for half of the $5.5 million in taxes for 2019. She believes it wasn’t happenstance that $5.5 million was wired to Jared’s private bank account in December of that same year. Bridget has refused to sign the joint tax return, and Jared filed a complaint with the court saying a late tax filing would cost them $1 million in penalties and missed tax opportunities.

“For the duration of our marriage and to the present, Jared has full and complete control of all money paid to us from various investments we have made in addition to our main source of income, CNG,” Bridget wrote in her motion. She suspects that Jared, without her knowledge or consent, plowed the money for their taxes and from other sources of income into Black Diamond Group, the fund that invests in the Agave & Rye restaurant chain. Beyond the original restaurant opened in Covington in 2018, “they have opened four other locations in one year,” she wrote, including Louisville and Lexington. (The ninth location opened in Hamilton this spring.) Agave & Rye’s website touts its Mexican fare as “a chef-inspired take on the standard taco, elevating this simple food into something epic!”

In his response, Jared wrote, “We have very limited regular sources of income.” He says he isn’t receiving any additional distributions from CNG, the couple’s primary source of income, “and this is not within my control. The company has declared that we would not make any further distributions in 2020 given economic circumstances. This decision is based on a formula and is not discretionary.” Agave & Rye helped produce $645,000 in income for Black Diamond in 2020 but has paid out $890,000 in loans, he says. Through August 31, 2020, he wrote, the couple’s “expenses have exceeded income from all sources.”

The divorce case filings start slinging mud when the couple accuses each other of breaking up their 22-year marriage and finding new partners. Jared claims Bridget began an affair during their marriage with Brian Duncan, a contractor she employed through her house flipping business. Bridget, he says, paid Duncan’s company $75,000 in 2018 as well as giving him a personal gift of $70,000 that same year. Jared says she also bought Duncan at least one car and purchased a house for him near hers on Shawnee Run Road for $289,000, then loaned money to Duncan. Jared says Duncan has been late in repaying the note.

While Bridget says Duncan has been drug-free for several years, he has a rap sheet with Hamilton County courts from 2000 to 2017 that runs five pages long. It lists a half-dozen counts of drug abuse and drug possession, including heroin and possession of illegal drug paraphernalia; assaulting a police officer; stealing a Taser from a police officer; criminal damaging while being treated at UC Health; more than a dozen speeding and traffic violations; a half-dozen counts of driving with a suspended license; receiving stolen property; twice fleeing and resisting arrest; three counts of theft; two counts of forgery; and one count for passing bad checks.

Bridget has fired back that Jared not only is hiding his money from her but spending it lavishly on vacations, resorts, and high-end restaurants with his new girlfriend, Susanne Warner. Bridget says Jared gifted Warner with $40,000 without Bridget’s knowledge, then declared it on their joint tax return as a “contribution.” Bridget’s court filings include photocopies of social media posts of Jared and Warner globetrotting from summer 2019 to summer 2020: vacation at Beaver Creek Village in Avon, Colorado; cocktails at High Cotton in Charleston, South Carolina, and dinner at Melvyn’s Restaurant and Lounge in Palm Springs, California; getaways at resorts in Nashville and at a lakefront rental on Norris Lake ($600 per night); in the Bahamas at a Musha Cay private residence ($57,000 per night), at South Beach in Miami, and at a private beach at Fisher Island; in Mexico at Cabo San Lucas; in the U.S. Virgin Islands at Magen’s Bay and on a private yacht ($4,500 per night); in California at Desert Hot Springs, the Ritz-Carlton in Rancho Mirage, and Montage at Laguna Beach; and in the Bahamas at South Cottage ($2,175 per night).

For her part, Bridget has gone through some of the top lawyers in town faster than President Trump during an impeachment—six in all, two of whom she’s sued for malpractice. She sent four binders of evidence to the Ohio Supreme Court, asking for the recusal of Hamilton County Judge Amy Searcy and claiming Searcy was biased because of campaign donations from Jared and his companies. Rather than deal with the list of questions sent to her by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, Searcy stepped down. Two other judges have since stepped into the fray, and in March Bridget filed for a change of venue outside of Hamilton County, arguing she can’t get a fair trial in her hometown. At press time, a trial date had been set for June 28 in Hamilton County.

The poor-mouthing in the divorce case has reached heights of comic absurdity. Jared claims he’s “illiquid” because he didn’t get his distribution from CNG in 2019. Bridget has received debt collection notices for the nearly $21,000 owed on her American Express card and a $735 bill from Jewish Hospital. There’s no sign yet that anyone is coming to repossess her Porsche, which according to her filings has a $5,000 monthly payment. Each party has received $25,000 a month in living expenses, an amount later reduced to $15,000 under a temporary legal agreement while the divorce case is being sorted out. Court filings show that Jared’s net worth is almost $206 million and Bridget’s is $22.5 million.

In the early 1990s, Allen Davis was raising eyebrows at Provident Bank (later bought by National City), and not only because of his very unbanker-like look of beard, ponytail, and casual golf wear. He was leading the company into questionable subprime home loans for people with bad credit and a frequent-shopper program for merchants, though the bank’s charter barred him from getting involved in full-blown predatory lending practices. With guidance and funding from his father, Jared, at age 26, launched Check ’n Go in 1994 and became a pioneer in the payday lending industry. Jared and his family saw there were millions of Americans who didn’t have checking or savings accounts (“unbanked”) or an adequate credit rating (“underbanked”) but still needed loans to meet their everyday expenses. What those potential customers did have was a steady paycheck.

Conventional banks share a big part of the blame for the nation’s army of unbanked borrowers by imposing checking account fees and onerous penalties for bounced checks. In 2019, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation estimated there were 7.1 million U.S. households without a checking or savings account.

The Davises launched Check ’n Go on the pretext that it would “fill the gap” for people who occasionally needed to borrow money in a hurry—a service for those who couldn’t get a loan any other way. But consumer advocates say the real business model for payday lending isn’t a service at all. The majority of the industry’s revenue comes from repeat business by customers trapped in debt, not from borrowers looking for a quick, one-time fix for their financial troubles.

Ohio’s payday lending lobbyists got a strong hold on the state legislature in the late 1990s, and by 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray could rightfully claim in a campaign ad that “Ohio’s [payday lending] laws are now the worst in the nation. Things have gotten so bad that it is legal to charge 594 percent interest on loans.” His statement was based on a 2014 study by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The frustration for consumer advocates was that Ohioans had been trying to reform those laws since 2008, when voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative placing a 28 percent cap on the interest of payday loans. But—surprise!—lenders simply registered as mortgage brokers, which enabled them to charge unlimited fees.

The Davis family and five other payday lending companies controlled 90 percent of the market back then, an express gravy train ripping through the poorest communities in Ohio. The predatory feeding frenzy, especially in Ohio’s hard-hit Rust Belt communities, prompted a 2017 column at The Daily Beast titled, “America’s Worst Subprime Lender: Jared Davis vs. Allan Jones?” (Jones is founder and CEO of Tennessee-based Check Into Cash.) In 2016 and 2017, consumer advocates mustered their forces again, and this time they weren’t allowing for loopholes. The Pew Charitable Trusts joined efforts with bipartisan lawmakers and Ohioans for Payday Loan Reform, a statewide coalition of faith, business, local government, and nonprofit organizations. Consumer advocates found a legislative champion in State Rep. Kyle Koehler, a Republican from Springfield.

It no doubt helped reform efforts that former Ohio Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger resigned in spring 2018 amid an FBI investigation into his cozy relationship with payday lenders. Rosenberger had taken frequent overseas trips—to destinations including France, Italy, Israel, and China—in the company of payday lending lobbyists. In April 2019, Ohio’s new lending law took effect and, since then, has been called a national model for payday lending reform that balances protections for borrowers, profits for lenders, and access to credit for the poor, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. New prices in Ohio are three to four times lower for payday loans than before the law. Borrowers now have up to three months to repay their loans with no more than 6 percent of their paycheck. Pew estimates that the cost of borrowing $400 for three months dropped from $450 to $109, saving Ohioans at least $75 million a year. And despite claims that the reforms would eliminate access to credit, lenders currently operate in communities across the state and online. “The bipartisan success shows that if you set fair rules and enforce them, lenders play by them and there’s widespread access to credit,” says Gabe Kravitz, a consumer finance officer at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Other states like Virginia, Kansas, and Michigan are following Ohio’s lead, Kravitz says. Some states, such as Nebraska, have even capped annual interest on payday loans. As a result, Pew researchers have seen a reduction in the number of storefront lending op­erations across the country. Even better, Kravitz says, there’s no evidence that borrowers are turning instead to online payday lending operations.

Cincinnati is one of five cities chosen for a grant to replicate the success of Boston Builds Credit, an ambitious effort that city launched in 2017 to provide credit counseling in poor and minority communities by training specialists at existing social service agencies. The program also encourages consumer partnerships with credit unions, banks, and insurance companies to offer small, manageable loans that can help the unbanked and underbanked improve their credit ratings. “Right now, local organizations are all kind of working in silos on the problem in Cincinnati,” says Todd Moore of the nonprofit credit counseling agency Trinity Debt Relief. Moore, who applied for the Boston grant, says he’s looking for an agency like United Way or Strive Cincinnati to lead the effort here.

Anthony Smith is thankful that he’s escaped the downward spiral of his payday loans, especially during the pandemic’s economic turmoil. “I’m blessed for every day I can get paid and have a job during these difficult times, just to be able to pay my bills and meet my responsibilities,” he says. “I’ve always kept a job, but until now I’ve had crappy credit. That doesn’t mean I’m a bad guy.”

Can others worth millions of dollars say the same?

Inside the Highly Profitable and Secretive World of Payday Lenders Source link Inside the Highly Profitable and Secretive World of Payday Lenders

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What’s Questionable Credit and Can I Get a Car Loan With It?



Questionable’s definition means that something’s quality is up for debate. If a lender says that your credit score is questionable, it’s likely that they mean it’s poor, or at the very least, they’re hesitant to approve you for vehicle financing. Here’s what most lenders consider questionable credit, and what auto loan options you may have.

Questionable Credit and Auto Lenders

Many auto lenders may consider questionable credit as a borrower with a credit score below 660. The credit score tiers as sorted by Experian the national credit bureau, are:

  • Super prime: 850 to 781
  • Prime: 780 to 661
  • Nonprime: 660 to 601
  • Subprime: 600 to 501
  • Deep subprime: 500 to 300

The nonprime credit tiers and below is when you start to get into bad credit territory and may struggle to meet the credit score requirements of traditional auto lenders.

This is because lenders are looking at your creditworthiness – your perceived ability to repay loans based on the information in your credit reports. Besides your actual credit score, there may be situations where the items in your credit reports are what’s making a lender question whether you’re a good candidate for an auto loan. These can include:

  • A past or active bankruptcy
  • A past or recent vehicle repossession
  • Recent missed/late payments
  • High credit card balances
  • No credit history

There are ways to get into an auto loan with questionable credit. Your options can change depending on what’s making your credit history questionable, though.

Questionable Credit Auto Loans

If your credit score is less than stellar, it may be time to look at these two lending options:

  • What Is Questionable Credit and Can I Get a Car Loan With It?Subprime financing – Done through special finance dealerships by third-party subprime lenders. These lenders can often assist with many unique credit situations, provided you can meet their requirements. A great option for new borrowers with thin files, situational bad credit, or consumers with older negative marks.
  • In-house financing – May not require a credit check, and is done through buy here pay here (BHPH) dealers. Typically, your income and down payment amount are the most important parts of eligibility. Auto loans without a credit check may not allow for credit repair and may come with a higher-than-average interest rate.

Both of these car loan options are typically available to borrowers with credit challenges. However, if you have more recent, serious delinquencies on your credit reports, a BHPH dealer may be for you. Most traditional and subprime lenders typically don’t approve financing for borrowers with a dismissed bankruptcy, a repossession less than a year old, or borrowers with multiple, recent missed/late payments.

Requirements of Bad Credit Car Loans

In many cases, your income and down payment size are the biggest factors in your overall eligibility for bad credit auto loans. Expect to need:

  • 30 days of recent computer-generated check stubs to prove you have around $1,500 to $2,500 of monthly gross income. Borrowers without W-2 income may need two to three years of professionally prepared tax returns.
  • A down payment of at least $1,000 or 10% of the vehicle’s selling price. BHPH dealers may require up to 20% of the car’s selling price.
  • Proof of residency in the form of a recent utility bill in your name.
  • Proof of a working phone (no prepaid phones), proven with a recent phone bill in your name.
  • A list of five to eight personal references with name, phone number, and address.
  • Valid driver’s license with the correct address, can’t be revoked, expired, or suspended.

Depending on your individual situation, you may need fewer or more items to apply for a bad credit auto loan. However, preparing these documents before you head to a dealership can speed up the process!

Ready to Get on the Road?

With questionable credit, finding a dealership that’s able to assist you with an auto loan is easier said than done. Here at Auto Credit Express, we want to get that done for you with our coast-to-coast network of special finance dealerships.

Complete our free auto loan request form and we’ll get right to work looking for a dealer in your local area that can assist with many tough credit situations.

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Entrepreneur Tae Lee Finds Her Fortune



By Jasmine Shaw
For The Birmingham Times

Birmingham native Tae Lee had plans last year to visit the continent of Africa, the South American country of Columbia, and the U.S. state of Texas.

“I was going to stay in each place for like four to six weeks, and then COVID-19 happened,” she said. “So, I just was like, ‘You know what, I’m just gonna go to Mexico and stay for six months.’”

Once home from Playa Del Carmen, located on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, the 33-year-old entrepreneur put the final touches on “Game of Fortune: Win in Wealth or Lose in Debt,” a financial literacy card game for ages 10 and up.

“We created ‘Game of Fortune’ because we realized there was a gap in learning the fundamentals of money,” said Lee. “We go through life not knowing anything about money and then—‘Bam!’—real life hits. Credit, debt, and bills come at us quick!”

Lee believes the game “gives players a glimpse of real life” by using everyday scenarios to teach them how to make wiser financial decisions without having to waste their own money.

“I feel like [financial literacy] can be learned in ways other than somebody standing up and preaching it to you over and over again,” she said. “You can learn it in ways that are considered fun, as well.”

Which is why “we want the schools to buy it, so we can give students a fun way to learn about financial literacy,” she added.

Lee, also called the “Money Maximizer,” is an international best-selling financial author, speaker, coach, and trainer who is known for her financial literacy books, including “Never Go Broke (NGB): An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Money and Freedom” and the “NGB Money Success Planner High School Edition.” The Birmingham-based financial guru focuses on creating diverse streams of income in the tax, real estate, insurance, and finance industries.

For Lee, it’s about building generational wealth, not debt.

Indispensable Lessons

Lee got her first glance at entrepreneurial life as a child watching her mother, Valeria Robinson, run her commercial cleaning company, V’s Cleaning. Robinson retired in 2019.

“My grandmother had a cleaning service, too,” said Lee. “So, even though I didn’t start out as an entrepreneur, watching my mom and grandma do it taught me a lot.”

Lee grew up in Birmingham and attended Riley Elementary School, Midfield Middle School, and Huffman High School. She then went on to Jacksonville State University, in Jacksonville, Alabama, where she earned bachelor’s degree in physical education. She struggled to find a career in her field and became overwhelmed by student loans.

“My credit and stuff didn’t get bad until after college,” she said. “I was going through school and taking money, but nobody told me, ‘Oh, you’re gonna have to pay all of this back.’”

Before embarking on her extensive career in money management, Lee had not learned the indispensable lessons that she now shares with clients.

“‘Don’t have bad credit.’ That’s all I learned,” she remembers. “Financial literacy just wasn’t taught much. I learned the majority of my lessons as I aged.”

In an effort to ward off collection calls and raise her credit score, Lee researched tactics to strategically eliminate her debt.

“I knew I had to pay bills on time, and I couldn’t be late with payments,” she said.

Lee eventually began helping friends revamp their finances and opened NGB Inc. in 2017 to share fun, educational methods to help her clients build solid financial foundations.

“People were always coming to me like, ‘How do I invest in this?’ and ‘How do I do that?’ So, I said to myself, ‘You know what, people should be paying to pick your brain.’”

Legacy Building

While Lee enjoyed watching her clients reach milestones, like buying a new car with cash or making their first stock market investment, she was also designing “Game of Fortune” to teach the value of legacy building.

“The game gives players the knowledge to build generational wealth, not generational debt,” she said. “It gives you a glimpse of life, money, and what can truly happen if you mismanage your coins.”

Using index cards to create her first “Game of Fortune” sample deck, Lee filled each card with pertinent terms related to debt elimination and credit and wealth building. She then called on a few friends to help her work through the kinks.

Three of her good friends—Barbara Bratton, Daña Brown, and Sha Cannon—were just a few of the people that gave feedback on the sample deck.

“From there I met with Brandon Brooks, [owner of the Birmingham-based Brooks Realty Investments LLC], and four other financial advisors to fine-tune the definitions and game logistics,” Lee said.

Though Lee was unable to land a job in physical education after graduating from college, she now sees her career with NGB Inc. as life’s unexpected opportunity to teach on her own terms.

“Bartending and waitressing taught me that working for someone else was not for me,” she replied. “In order to get the life I always wanted, I had to create my own business.”

In her entrepreneurial pursuits, Lee strives to be an open-minded leader who embraces the need for flexibility.

“COVID-19 has shown me that in entrepreneurship you have to maneuver,” she said. “When life changes, sometimes your business will, too. You may have to change the path, but your ending goal can be the same.”

“Game of Fortune: Win in Wealth or Lose in Debt” is available and sold only on the “Game of Fortune” website: To learn more about Tae Lee and Never Go Broke Inc., visit and or email; you also can follow her on Facebook ( and Instagram (@nevergobrokeinc).

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