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Aaron Atkins is tired of paying rent. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona, where the rent just keeps going up. You know how it is. It’s like that everywhere, but especially in Phoenix.

“It’s really bad here. I’ve finally gotten serious about buying a house,” said Atkins, 37, who currently rents an apartment with a roommate. He figures he’d do better and get more living space by spending money on a mortgage instead of rent.

He immediately had a problem: His credit was pretty lousy. He had a low credit score of only 520. A previous relationship “really wrecked my world, in terms of finances,” Atkins said. Realtors told him that if he wanted to buy a home, especially in this real estate market, then he’d better improve his credit.

That’s when he found Credit Sesame, a free website that helps people manage their credit better. He heard about it in a YouTube video.

Realtors told him he’d need a credit score of at least 650. Within six months, he’d raised his score from 520 to 640. He still has a little ways to go to reach his goal, but “it’s a vast improvement,” said Atkins.

The Right Way to Use Your Credit Cards

So how did Atkins raise his credit score by 120 points in six months? Credit Sesame gave him personalized tips to steer him in the right direction.

“The first thing they did is, they actually gave me access to my credit score,” Atkins said. “They gave me the ability to see my credit score and see a recommendations tab — like, ‘Hey, this is what’s going on with your credit. Do this, this and this.’”**

If your credit is bad, Credit Sesame will show you steps you can take to help fix it. If it’s good, it’ll show you ways you could make it even better.

It’ll even show you if there’s a mistake on your credit report that’s holding you back. (One in five reports has a mistake.)

Following Credit Sesame’s advice, Atkins launched the following one-two punch:

1. Disputing Negative Items

Once you review your credit report, you can dispute certain negative marks that are dragging you down. You send dispute letters to the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and Transunion.

Through Credit Sesame, Atkins got a company named Lexington Law to take care of this for him. Like a lot of Credit Sesame members, he stopped paying Lexington Law’s monthly fee once that company had done its work for him. He’s kept his free Credit Sesame membership, though.

2. Acquiring More Credit Cards

Once his credit started improving, Atkins applied for a credit card that Credit Sesame recommended to him. Then another. Because it often helps your credit score to have credit that you’re not fully using.

The percentage of your overall credit limit that you’re using is one of the factors that your credit score is based on, along with your payment history, length of credit history and diversity of credit.

Atkins always pays off his credit card bills every month. He doesn’t keep any unpaid balances, so he’s not paying interest.

If you’re using up most of your available credit, that could hurt your credit score. The overall amount of your credit that you’re using is called your “credit utilization ratio,” and it can have a major impact on your credit rating. It counts for about 30% of your score.

If you have more credit cards, you’ll have more credit available to you. You just have to resist the temptation to use all that credit. Don’t max out your cards.

How Your Credit Affects Your Life — and How You Can Raise Your Score

Your credit score isn’t just some pointless three-digit number. It influences major parts of your life, like where you live and what you drive. The higher your score, the better deal you’ll get on big things like a mortgage, a car loan, a credit card, a car rental or an apartment lease.

Like Atkins, 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.*

“I would like to be able to move into a house,” Atkins said. “Hopefully I can make that happen before too long.”

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He’s a Credit Sesame member and finally got his credit score above 700, woo hoo!

*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 article is written about a true Credit Sesame member. This score improvement is the result of many factors and not all actions may be relevant or suitable for your credit profile. 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.

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.

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