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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 called Credit Sesame 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.
Then, take a look at your own score and get some personalized recommendations from Credit Sesame. It takes 90 seconds to enter your email address and sign up, You do have to give your social security number so they can find your credit file, but the site uses the same security measures as your bank to keep your information safe.
And who knows? Your story just might end up in this article six months from now.
He Had $6,000 in Unpaid Bills — Then Raised His Score 277 Points
Before discovering Credit Sesame, 50-year-old Atlanta resident James Cooper, had $6,000 in unpaid bills. He’d never had a credit card, and his credit score was 524.
He tried using a credit repair service — one that promised to improve his score… for a fee. Needless to say, he got burned.
Since Credit Sesame is free, 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, Credit Sesame recommended 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. Now Cooper uses the lessons he’s learned from Credit Sesame 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 got on Credit Sesame and assessed her debt, and that’s when she found a major error — a supposed unpaid medical bill from when her daughter had been sick that’s 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.
Credit Sesame showed Buitureria how to fix the mistake, then 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 remodification. Things were looking up, so Jerry decided to finally check his credit score… It hovered around 500.
He came across Credit Sesame and decided to give it a try. He liked how the site clearly explained what affected his credit score — and how he could improve it.
He 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 Credit Sesame. 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.
And she 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 Credit Sesame in 2016, and today, she’s breathing a little easier.
Credit Sesame is “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 with the app, she’s watched it rise — slowly but surely — by 68 points, thanks to Credit Sesame’s recommendations.
“It offers real recommendations you can use — one step at a time — to get out of a very confusing hole,” she says.
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 Credit Sesame is totally free — and it only takes about 90 seconds to get started.
*60% of Credit Sesame members see an increase in their credit score; 50% see at least a 10-point increase, and 20% see at least a 50-point increase after 180 days.
Credit Sesame does not guarantee any of these results, and some may even see a decrease in their credit score. Any score improvement is the result of many factors, including paying bills on time, keeping credit balances low, avoiding unnecessary inquiries, appropriate financial planning and developing better credit habits.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.