How I Improved My Credit Score by 111 points in 8 Months

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 usually not a “quick fix”, but it can definitely be done!

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.

Here’s why:

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 site called FreeScoresAndMore. I call it F-SAM for short.

Check out their commercial:

In my opinion, FreeScoresAndMore is the best and cheapest way to monitor all 3 credit reports and 3 credit scores, by far!

They offer all 3 credit reports, all 3 credit scores and daily 3-bureau monitoring with “credit alerts” and monthly refreshes for your 3 reports and scores.

Note: FreeScoresAndMore is running a special just for GotCredit visitors:

For a limited time, you will get a 30 day free trial, and only $14.99/mo after that (regular price is $19.99). That’s 25% off just for visiting this page!

No coupon code required, all you have to do is click one of the links on this page to get the special offer.

– Get the Special 25% Discount Now –

Unfortunately, a service this good doesn’t come totally “free”. But I figured at just 50 cents a day, I could afford to have the best!

Ok, I think you get the idea that I love F-SAM, let’s move on…

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.

Click To Download Infographic

Solution:

Using a service like FreeScoresAndMore 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 F-SAM 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 FreeScoresAndMore:

(By the way, screenshot above is not from my account at the time, it’s just an example of what you will see)

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 FreeScoresAndMore, 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.

Conclusion:

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’re on a similar journey, I encourage you to try FreeScoresAndMore – (click here for the free trial and 25% discount).

If you have any tips or questions, please leave a comment below!

23 Comments

  1. Christine

    My mortgage loan officer suggested that paying off your cards every month can also hurt your credit rating. He suggested keeping a small balance, even if it’s only $20. For some silly reason, that will help.

    No one ever said our economic system made sense.

    Reply
    1. Jake Rustenhoven Post author

      He may have a point for certain cases. But from my experience, my credit accounts are reported to the bureaus before I make the payment. And I use them all the time, so even if I pay them off every month, a balance on the credit card that I use will still be reported to the bureaus. Some of it does not make sense though, there’s no doubt about that!

      Reply
  2. Shannon

    Great article! I’ve recently become more obsessed with my credit as well… my score was 580.. It’s funny the ideas I had about credit and credit cards and how completely wrong they were! I wish they had taught me all of this when I was in high school! I was a single mom without any help and definitely relied on credit cards to get us through at times. My sons are pretty independent now… one in college and one in the Navy… so financially, I am a lot better off… of course I am completely on top of their credit and teaching them everything that I have learned. They both have a credit card and I help them to monitor and do things properly so, by the time that they are ready to buy homes, they will be in great shape! I however, have more work to do to get back on top. I have since been working really hard at reducing my credit card debt… I have reduced my UR to 45% so far from 82%. That in itself increased my score to 638… I have a bonus coming and plan to reduce it down even further to 30%… my simulated score should increase another 17 points. I do have one collection that I have contacted the creditor and agreed to settle with and part of that agreement includes them removing it completely from my credit. I have read that in these instances, you don’t want to make partial payments on collection accounts because they almost restart the dates again and also the payment becomes an “alert of activity” on your “negative” account and can cause your score to actually drop. The idea is to work with the creditor to actually REMOVE the account completely not just show it as paid off on your credit. Hopefully, this help boost it even more. I actually have two car notes, for myself and my son in college. I have continued to pay more that the monthly payment on each, on time… which has helped reduce those balances as well. My goal for the next year to have all of my credit card debt gone, the collection gone and have the ability to almost double our car payments. Then within the following year, finally have the ability to buy home! It takes time, commitment and patience to repair your credit score. So, it is much easier to be more knowledgeable and make wise decisions from the start. Your future self will thank you!!

    Reply
  3. Elyse

    Hello! I am trying to fix my credit now as well and it appears I have a 670. I had a mark on my account, a bill in collections and I paid it off in full… do you know how long it takes to show that it was paid on my credit report? Also, is it true that checking your credit lowers your score? Also, I’ve heard there is a way to have dings entirely removed by mailing a letter? And if there’s something night right on your credit who do you contact? Thank you, and I appreciate the time you are spending to help other people.

    Reply
  4. Opal @ Celebrate Life

    Great article! Not having a credit card can give you a low credit score. I haven’t used one for years. I wasn’t in debt with the card I did have, which was about fourteen years ago. I think I had that card for about two years and I paid it off monthly. However, I stopped using it because I didn’t see the need since I could do the exact same thing with my debit card.

    May 2017, I did acquire a credit card, just in case, I wasn’t able to use my debit card at places. Well, guess what? When applying for a card, the report said I had no credit, so even though my credit is good and I do have monthly bills it was not recognizing me. I can’t tell you what my rate was in May since I only checked my credit score early this morning. It was 666. However I imagine that will increase before long since, as before, I pay my total bill each month. In fact, I make payments the same day I place the charge on my card and I stay well below the usage fee. I’m at 10%.

    Reply
    1. Jake Rustenhoven Post author

      Thanks, glad you liked the article!

      I recommend everyone have at least one credit card and use it regularly (and responsibly), even if it’s just small purchases. Typically you will look much more favorable to banks and lenders if you can show that you can use revolving credit lines (credit cards) in a responsible way and make the payments on time.

      It’s not uncommon for “no credit” to look as bad as “poor credit”!

      Reply
  5. Vanessa

    Hi Jake,
    Thank you for giving me hope with your article; here is my issue, My credit score is 685. I have been trying for some time to get it above 750. When I first became obsessed with my credit it was sad 601and I was also in need of a vehicle. Which I was obviously turned away, which is why I became determined to raise my score. I’ve gotten it to where I just can’t seem to go any higher with my score. I have zero derogatory remarks on my credit, all credit cards paid on time, my credit utilization is 33%, a lil high, but not dire? I tried for a discover card, and was quickly denied. I do have some inquiries on my credit, could that be why I am not going any higher? I thought inquiries were only 10% of your score? I still want a newer vehicle, and I want to eventually buy my own home… but at this point, I don’t what more I can do. Any insight that could/can help would be much appreciated.

    Reply
    1. Jake Rustenhoven Post author

      Hi Vanessa,

      I know how you feel!

      It sounds like your score may be low because of a lack of a good mix of accounts. For example, if you just have credit cards, and no other accounts such as an auto loan, you will have a very thin credit file, and probably a short credit history… both of which are not good for your credit score. Also as you said, your credit utilization is a bit high at 33%.

      Of course I can’t say for sure, but I would bet that if you were able to reduce your utilization to 10%, your score might jump up above 700 (which is a big deal). Having a score above 700 would greatly increase your chances of getting an auto loan.

      Then once you get an auto loan, pay that on time, and keep your credit utilization low… you should see a slow but steady rise as long as you keep your hard inquiries in check.

      By the way, great job on going from 601 to 685! Keep up the good work!

      Reply
  6. Jessica

    thank you for writing this article… I’ve been obsessed with checking my credit score since I paid for a transunion account.. I was so disappointed that I have only 630.. I pay my bills on time but have a Visa balance of $4700 which I chip away at each month just going above the minimum payment.. is that enough to cause such a low score??

    Reply
    1. Jake Rustenhoven Post author

      Hi Jessica,

      Your credit card debt could certainly be causing your low credit score. What is your credit utilization ratio? If you have just the one card, and your total credit line on that card is $5k or $6k for example, then yes that could definitely be the culprit. Your credit utilization would be really high in that case. High utilization is a credit score killer!

      Keep at it, a good credit score takes some time and work but is well worth it!

      Reply
      1. Jessica

        I’m not sure what that means sorry! I got the card in 2005 and it was only a $5500 limit but it’s taken me years to pay down because i kept using it for a few years and now in the past few years I just pay the minimum (I really should have thrown down more whenever I could, but that didn’t happen) anyways so it’s been a closed card for about 3 years meaning I haven’t used it at all for more credit, just paying the minimums.. and that’s the only card I have with a balance.

        Since it’s so old and I’m not paying it down fast enough could that be the main/only culprit for such a low score? Any advice on how to strategize payments and what a realistic score jump could be if I double on payments for a year for example.. ? thanks for your help

        Reply
        1. Jessica

          I should add… the other debt I have is a $23,000 student loan from 2010 I also just pay minimums on

          Reply
        2. Jake Rustenhoven Post author

          So it sounds like your credit utilization on that card would be about 85%. I get that number by dividing $4700 by $5500 (your credit limit on that card). So that means you’re taking up 85% of your total credit line on that card, doesn’t matter if it’s closed or not.

          If that’s the only card you have, that’s definitely a credit score killer! Ideally you want under 25% utilization rate, and anything above 50% hurts your score big time.

          It sounds like you’ve already closed that account. But usually you would want to keep credit accounts like that open, just cut up the card and throw it away if you’re too tempted to use it. The good payment history and age of the account will typically benefit you more in the long run by keeping it open.

          I would recommend applying for a balance transfer credit card, you could save big money if you’re approved and are able to move your balance to a card with 0% interest.

          If you’re unable to get approved for a balance transfer card, you’re in the same boat I was in!

          I had to bite the bullet and just put as much money toward my credit card debt as possible. It took me several months, and I had to very frugal during that time, but it was well worth it. It felt great to make the last payment on my CC debt!

          I wish I had some secrets up my sleeve I could reveal to you, but one thing I can say is this: When you are able to get your credit card balance paid down to below 50% of your total credit line, you should start seeing some significant improvements in your score!

          Good Luck!

          Reply
          1. Jessica

            I am definitely going to pay it down hopefully to $0 in 6 months… glad to hear that the score should improve when I have a good amount paid off. Thank you so much! Really helpful information

          2. Jessica

            okay this is really strange… I’ve been checking my transunion account and today I logged in and it says N/A there is no info anywhere… I never made any disputes or anything, I wonder why?? never saw this before

          3. Jake Rustenhoven Post author

            Not sure Jessica, maybe just check your account at a later time and see if it’s working? I haven’t personally had that problem. Hope it clears up for you!

  7. Linda Gagne

    I got turned down with a 783 score! And I didn’t need a loan but wanted to see what the reply would be. Jacked up is all I can say!
    Made me feel like the last twelve years of taking care of everything was for nothing!

    Reply
    1. Jake Rustenhoven Post author

      Sorry to hear you were turned down with a 783 score. Was this for a personal loan? Of course, as I’m sure you know, your score alone doesn’t dictate whether or not you will be approved for the loan you’re applying for, but it does weigh heavily.

      Reply
  8. James Wilson

    Nice job! I am in a similar position right now, my score is 625 and I want to raise my score to at least 725 so I can purchase my first home. You provided some great tips here for me to use, thanks!

    Reply

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