Once upon a time, my credit score was a “Fair” 666.
8 months later, it was an “Excellent” 777.
How did I do it?
The fact is, it’s not usually a “quick fix”, but it can definitely be done!
First I realized I needed access to 100% of my credit data. Including 3 FICO scores, all 3 credit reports, daily credit monitoring, etc.
I use Experian IdentityWorks for this. It’s by far my favorite.
Today I’m going to show you how I took control of my credit, and went from a 666 to 777 credit score. In less than a year!
I know what you’re thinking, “well that’s great, but I can’t wait that long, I need quick results…like next month”.
Yeah… probably not gonna happen in 30 days.
Your credit score is calculated based on the contents of your credit report. This includes your entire credit history. Not just the last month or two.
So if you’ve made some bad choices, or ran into some tough times in recent months, it takes time to heal those wounds.
But don’t worry, it’s certainly doable!
Here’s my story:
Like most young people, I wanted to buy a decent car, which would require an auto loan. I also wanted to work towards buying my first house, so…
I started with checking my “free credit score”.
That’s when I found out my credit sucked (my score was a “Fair” 666).
At that point I realized that by having a “Fair” credit score, I wouldn’t be approved for the best interest rates on an auto loan (or any other loan for that matter).
That means I would end up paying thousands of dollars more in interest than someone with “Good” or “Excellent” credit would, for the exact same loan (but with higher interest).
After wallowing in self pity for a bit, I realized that I needed to make a change!
For the next couple of weeks, I became obsessed with reading everything I could get my eyes on about how credit scores are calculated, and the best (real) ways to improve my credit score.
Did I mention I was obsessed? 😂
Then I learned something that changed everything…
I Have 3 Credit Reports and 3 Credit Scores!
In my research, I quickly found out that I actually had 3 credit reports and 3 credit scores, not just one. And all 3 are equally important to keep tabs on.
Whoa, what a minute!
I thought I was pretty awesome with my one credit score in hand (good ol’ 666).
Turns out that my single credit score was based on just one credit report (Experian), and it wasn’t even the same credit score that lenders use!
That’s when I realized, if I was serious about improving my credit score, I needed access to all 3 credit reports and scores before going any further.
So I did some more research (I admit it, I’m a research nut!).
I compared the best rated credit monitoring services, and found that the top dogs typically offered all 3 credit reports with 3 credit scores and daily 3-bureau credit monitoring.
The problem was, most of them were either too expensive, or didn’t offer monthly score and report updates. Some were updated quarterly, or yearly (not often enough).
Then I felt like a hit the jackpot!
I found a service called Experian IdentityWorks.
In my opinion, IdentityWorks Premium is the best and cheapest way to monitor all 3 credit reports and 3 FICO® credit scores, by far!
They offer all 3 credit reports, all 3 FICO® credit scores and daily 3-bureau monitoring with “credit alerts” and daily updates to your FICO Score (based on Experian data).
Unfortunately, a service this good doesn’t come totally “free”. But I figured at just 66 cents a day, I could afford to have the best!
So now I had a clear starting point:
Step 1: Review my 3 credit reports thoroughly
Why? Two main reasons:
Reason #1 – Errors:
When banks and lenders report your account info and payment history to the 3 main credit bureaus, mistakes do happen.
In fact, a study released by the FTC in 2013 revealed that 1 in 4 people identified errors on their credit report that might affect their credit score.
That’s a 25% chance that you will find errors on at least one of your credit reports!
Research done by uSwitch suggests that up to 1 in 3 credit reports contain errors. Here’s an infographic summarizing their findings:
So according to these sources, you have a 25-33% chance of finding errors on at least one of your credit reports, which could affect your credit score.
Reason #2 – ID Theft:
ID theft is on the rise. According to a recent study by Javelin, in 2016 “The overall fraud incidence rose 16% to affect 6.15% of U.S. consumers, from 5.30% in 2015”.
While a 6.15% chance of becoming a victim of identity fraud doesn’t sound like much, your credit can potentially be ruined if it does happen to you.
Using a service like Experian IdentityWorks to check and monitor your 3 credit reports, is one of the best & easiest ways to help protect yourself against ID theft and fraud, and keep your reports free of errors.
My 3 credit reports were 100% clean
Luckily, I did not find any errors or signs of ID theft on my credit reports, at least so far. But I could’ve just as easily been one of the unlucky ones, especially since I wasn’t monitoring all 3 of my credit reports before that.
I checked over all accounts listed on my credit reports, looked at the payment history to see if there were any payments erroneously listed as “late”. No problems there.
I made sure there were no accounts listed that I was not aware of, or that I didn’t open (telltale sign of identity fraud). I found none.
Then I checked over all my personal information to make sure everything was accurate. It was all correct and up to date.
No public records (such as liens, bankruptcy, judgments etc.)
I had absolutely no derogatory items listed on my credit reports.
So if everything looked good, why was my score only 666?
That’s exactly what I wanted to figure out in the next step, read on.
Step 2: Find out why my scores were so low
Now that I had thoroughly reviewed my 3 credit reports for errors or signs of fraud, and found none… it was time to find out what was dragging down my scores so much.
Luckily that’s what IdentityWorks is really good at. Not only do they tell you what your credit scores are, if your scores are low, they tell you WHY they are low.
If you know why credit score is low, then you can get right to work on improving your score instead of trying to figure it all out yourself.
Here’s an example of what you will see as a member of Experian IdentityWorks:
Now that I had access to the full picture of my credit, with all 3 reports and scores, I realized not all 3 scores and reports were the same.
My Experian score was 666 (the one I had in the first place). But my Equifax score was 645, and my TransUnion score was 657.
Turns out that my “free credit score” was the highest one of them all, 21 points higher than my Equifax score.
Why the difference?
Not all banks and lenders report your payment history and account information to all 3 credit bureaus. Even when they do report to all 3 bureaus, it’s possible that a reporting error can be made.
So as I mentioned above – look out for errors!
So what’s dragging down my scores?
With the help of Experian IdentityWorks, I learned it was my credit card debt that had my credit scores in the gutter.
Many people have no idea how much high a high credit utilization ratio can drag down their credit score. Now I did, and I learned the hard way.
A closer look at my credit card debt:
I knew I had some credit card debt, but I had no idea it was keeping my credit scores so low.
At the time, my credit utilization ratio was very high – around 80%! If you’re not sure what credit utilization means, here’s a short definition:
According to Experian – Credit utilization ratio “is the amount of revolving credit you’re currently using divided by the total amount of revolving credit you have available”.
“In other words, it’s how much you currently owe divided by your credit limit”.
For example, I had a total credit line of $12,000 spread across 3 credit cards. My total balance on those cards was about $9,600.
My total credit card balances were taking up 80% of my total credit line, so my credit utilization rate was 80%.
That’s high! Way too high.
A good credit utilization ratio is below 30%. The lower the better, so you want to aim for 25% or lower if possible.
Culprit identified: High Credit Card Debt.
Now it was time for the next step, paying down my credit card debt.
Step 3: Paying down my credit card debt
As I’m sure you already know, paying down your credit card debt is not an easy task, and that’s why it took me 8 months to reach 777.
But I had no choice, I tried applying for more credit cards to help decrease my credit utilization ratio (including some of those 0% balance transfer cards).
But guess what? I was denied for each and every one because of my low credit score. So that left me with one choice, work as hard as I could to pay down the ones I already had.
To make a long story short:
I buckled down on being very frugal and putting all my extra money towards paying down my credit cards.
I had planned on paying it all off in about a year, turns out I did it even quicker than that!
8 months later my score hit 777, and the rest is history!
That enabled me to get a low interest loan on a nice “new to me” used car, and later on buy my first house.
Having a credit score of 666 was no fun at all, but I have to admit – 777 is pretty good! Of course my score fluctuates a bit from month to month, but it still stays around that range to this day.
This was just my story, yours will probably be different. But you can take the same basic steps and apply them to your own situation.
If you have any tips or questions, please leave a comment below!