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Living with credit

How I raised my credit score 20 points in 2 months

Kimberley Carmona

This past weekend, I received two emails about my credit score and a credit card limit. When I read the emails, I felt a sense of pride that I was finally on the right path to accomplishing my financial goals.

The first email was from Capital One, informing me that it had increased the credit limit on my platinum credit card. The other email was from My.CreditCards.com about how my credit score went up — from 630 to 650 — a 20-point difference from two months ago.

At the tender age of 23, I have already made every possible mistake when it comes to credit cards. My credit report is filled with derogatory marks, including three late payments and two closed store card accounts (at the issuer’s request, not mine).

I’ve also maxed out credit cards, applied for too many credit cards in a short span of time and kept high balances for several months.

My credit report reminds me how much I owe in student loans, but as long as keep paying them on time, I’ve learned that they aren’t hurting my scores, but actually are helping my scores by adding to my “credit mix.”

In the past, I was extremely irresponsible when it came to credit, but didn’t get how far wrong I had strayed until I was threatened with a lawsuit for failing to pay a store credit card. I felt defenseless. How had I gotten myself into this mess? Simple. By being extremely foolish and not taking care of my obligations.

My mom’s friend helped me out by paying the balance for my J.C. Penney card to avoid getting being sued. My mom slowly paid back her friend.

Soon after, I started my first full-time job. That’s when I realized that I needed to raise my credit score. I would soon need to buy a new car and didn’t want to be embarrassed about having a low credit score.

I kept my part-time job at a grocery store to help pay off the remaining balance on my platinum credit card and my Discover student card. The good thing was that I had used only half of my limit for both cards. The problem? My credit score wasn’t going up much as I paid down the balances.

Things changed when I started working for CreditCards.com. When I got the job offer, I was worried the company would check my credit score and realize that under no certain circumstances would I be qualified to write about credit and debt when I had failed so miserably at both.

Luckily, that didn’t happen. And in the two months I’ve worked here, I’ve learned so much about credit cards and personal finance. These were things I should have learned at a younger age, such as knowing what an APR or credit score was. But all I knew was that I had to pay back what I had charged on my credit cards.

The first thing I learned was that I had to stop paying just the minimum if I ever wanted to eliminate my balances. I had three cards: Target, Discover and Capital One. Only Discover and Capital One had a balance.

As much as I wanted to quit my part-time job, I kept working there to apply that income toward my debts. I also sacrificed my weekends and nights out with friends to make sure I had the necessary funds to pay off my cards.

I also made sure I wouldn’t make a late payment on my student loans and that I was paying the most I could.

I also learned keeping credit card account information is important. Since I receive my bills by email, I never realized those still had my old college address on them. After updating the address, I also noticed that my income information was not accurate, so I updated that as well.

Just by taking the few simple steps of paying down my balances, paying on time and updating my income led to a credit line boost and a credit score increase. Another important lesson I learned was that I should have done more research when picking my credit cards. My current cards have high APRs, but if I had done research, I could have perhaps found a better card with a lower APR.

As a student with a small income, I applied for my first credit card after receiving my first offer. That was a mistake. I should have looked at and compared other cards or applied for a secured card.

Next up? I’m going to find a new card to qualify for with my new and improved credit score. I am checking to see what the average credit score is for certain cards, the APRs and what fees are charged. I don’t want my credit report to reflect a hard pull for a card I have no chance of being approved for.

My credit score isn’t perfect or even near pristine. But I am learning what it takes to create and maintain good credit. If someone my age can learn from my credit mistakes and figure out this credit score game like I am, anyone can.

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