Everyone who’s saddled with bad credit has a unique story.
A man burdened with $6,000 in unpaid bills. A mom of nine held back by an error on her report. A couple recovering from job loss and foreclosure. A single mom with a terminally ill child. A young woman with so much debt she couldn’t even get a credit card.
What do all these people have in common? They used a free online service to improve their credit scores — one man got his score up 277 points in six months.*
If you need some motivation, read through these real-life stories. Chances are, you’ll find you have something in common with at least one of them.
He Had $6,000 in Unpaid Bills — Then Raised His Score 277 Points
James Cooper, a 50-year-old Atlanta resident, had $6,000 in unpaid bills. He’d never had a credit card, and his credit score was 524.
But when he learned of a free credit-monitoring website, he figured he’d give it a try. Within a few minutes, Cooper had access to his credit score, his total debt owed and even personalized recommendations to help him improve his score.
“They showed me the ins and outs — how to dot the I’s and cross the T’s,” Cooper said. “I applied for my first credit card ever.”
After opening a credit card, which improved his score, he request a credit limit increase. That, too, bumped his score up (re: credit utilization).
In a span of just six months, Cooper watched his score increase 277 points. Interested? It takes just minutes to sign up and get your own free credit score with a tool like Mogo. It won’t affect your credit score to check, and it will offer you tips to improve it.
Now Cooper uses the lessons he’s learned to teach high school students the importance of good credit through his nonprofit, Fedup-4U.
This Mom of 9 Didn’t Know She Had an Error on Her Credit Report
After Salome Buitureria got laid off, she struggled to find work and was forced to use credit cards. The bills stacked up, and her credit score dropped — to 524, which is considered “very poor.”
Once she got back on stable ground, she started focusing on improving her credit. Her dream has always been to buy a home, and she knew the important role her credit score would play.
She used a free credit-monitoring website to assess her debt, and that’s when she found a major error — a supposed unpaid medical bill from when her daughter had been sick that’d definitely been covered by Medicaid.
But here’s an unfortunate fact: One in five credit reports have errors, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Yup — you can do everything right, but an error could be holding you back.
After Buitureria fixed the mistake, she took additional steps to raise her credit score from 524 to nearly 700.
Now? She’s focused on buying a home. “We want a place where the kids can come home,” she says, “where they don’t have to worry, a year or two down the road, ‘Oh, Mom’s got a new house.’”
This Guy Fell on Hard Times and Couldn’t Stomach Checking at His Score
In 2008, the housing bubble burst, and Jerry and Vivienne Morgan’s home fell into foreclosure. Not long after, Vivienne lost her job.
“No one plans on being in that situation,” Jerry said. “Frankly, with the experiences we have gone through, I was embarrassed to even check my score.”
Nearly 10 years later, the Morgans were gainfully employed and got approved for a mortgage modification. Things were looking up, so Jerry decided to finally check his credit score… It hovered around 500.
He decided to give a free credit-monitoring website a try. He liked how the site clearly explained what affected his credit score — and how he could improve it.
Jerry opened another credit card (increasing his account mix and decreasing his credit utilization rate) and also took out an auto loan when he bought a new car (also boosting his account mix). Making on-time payments toward that loan helped as well.
Within six months of signing up, Jerry saw his score increase 120 points.
When we last talked to him, Jerry was continuing to take steps to improve his score and felt hopeful of his financial future.
This Single Mom Overcame Credit Card Debt and a Bad Credit Score
In 2005, Melinda Smieja’s 13-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor.
“So here I am, a single mom, and my daughter gets sick,” she said. “And I’m like, ‘What am I gonna do?’”
She used credit cards for dinners and a place to stay. Soon, she’d maxed them all out — 11 cards, to be exact. She had somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000 in debt. Her credit score was down to 480.
Then she stumbled upon a free credit-monitoring website. It quickly made her overwhelming situation way more manageable.
“I could look and I could say, ‘OK, this is what’s all going on here. This is my debt. This is what’s happening. This is what’s making my credit [interest] high,’” she said.
A free website called Mogo could help you do the same. It takes just a few minutes to create an account, and Mogo will show you your credit score, plus keep an eye on it for you each month.
After making a plan, Smieja could finally tackle her debts, one at a time. The work wasn’t quick. It was slow and steady — but it paid off. In 2016, for the first time, Smieja’s credit score hit 680, crossing the line of what lenders consider “good credit.” By late 2017, it was up to 764.
This 30-Year-Old Was Stuck in Debt and Didn’t Know Where to Go
At 30, Dana Sitar’s history with credit cards, student loans and medical bills was tough to face.
Student loan interest was piling up. Hospital bills were out to collection agencies. No one would give her a credit card. She landed a loan for a new car by the skin of her teeth. Her security deposits for car rentals and apartments were through the roof.
She wanted to fix it but didn’t even know where to start.
Then Sitar, a personal finance editor, found a free credit-monitoring website in 2016, and today, she’s breathing a little easier. We like a free website called Mogo. In just three minutes, you can create an account and see your free credit score. Plus, it will keep an eye on it and update you each month.
“It’s answering all the questions swirling in my head, keeping me awake at night and threatening a panic attack every time I authorize a credit check,” Sitar wrote in an article for The Penny Hoarder.
Since she started tracking her credit score, she’s watched it rise — slowly but surely — by 68 points, thanks to the site’s recommendations, which she says have helped her get out of a very confusing hole.
Heck, it even let her know she could refinance her car loan and save a ton of money on interest over time. She’s also been able to find a credit card she could actually qualify for.
Since signing up, Sitar has caught up with her student loan payments and is even ahead on her car payments now. Her goal is to improve her score a little more so she can qualify for a personal loan to consolidate her debt.
Inspired? If you want to see how you can improve your credit score, signing up for Mogo is totally free — and it only takes about three minutes to get started.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, a personal finance website that empowers millions of readers nationwide to make smart decisions with their money through actionable and inspirational advice, and resources about how to make, save and manage money.