7 Creative Strategies These Real People Used to Improve Their Credit Scores

rebuilding credit
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The average credit score in the United States is 673, just shy of what experts consider a “good” score.

And that’s not a very pretty picture.

A lot of people are struggling to pay down debt and rebuild their credit score after years of student loans, credit cards and unpaid bills have destroyed it.

If you’re in the same boat, here are seven smart steps you can start taking right now to raise your credit score faster.

1. Figure Out What You’re Dealing With

After facing home foreclosure and his wife losing her job, Jerry Morgan, 52, needed to check his credit score. He’d resisted.

“Frankly, with the experiences we have gone through, I was embarrassed to even check my score,” he says.

It hovered around 500. For context, a credit score below 650 is deemed “bad” by many credit reporting agencies.

Since September 2017, Jerry has studied his credit score for free through Credit Sesame. Following recommendations from the app, he’s made moves to increase his score and get it back on track.

His goal? Achieve a sense of financial health. He’s well on his way. In a span of six months, he raised his score 120 points.

You can read his Credit Sesame review here.

2. Consolidate Your Debt

If you have debt, high interest rates can sting.

A lot of us are being crushed by credit card interest rates north of 20%. If you’re in that boat, consolidation and refinancing might be worth a look.

A good resource is consumer financial technology platform Fiona, which can help match you with the right personal loan to meet your needs.

Fiona searches the top online lenders to match you with a personalized loan offer in less than 60 seconds. If your credit score is at least 620, its platform can help you borrow up to $100,000 (no collateral needed) with fixed rates starting at 4.99% and terms from 24 to 84 months.

Find something with a better rate than your current loans? Consolidate, and lump ’em all together for a credit score boost.

3. Protect Your Identity

What if you work hard to pay down all your debt and you’re totally responsible with your credit going forward…

…Only to take a hit because of identity theft?

We know you don’t want to risk all your hard work.

Identity theft ruined writer Jamie Cattanach’s credit score. She was able to get it back over 700 with a lot of elbow grease, but the experience has made her extra-cautious about her finances.

As Cattanach says, “Before driving face-first into a total credit nightmare with someone else at the wheel, you might as well keep tabs on your stuff — especially if you can do it for free.”

4. Apply for More Credit (No, Seriously)

When she was leaving a bad relationship that ruined her credit, financial advisor Michelle Kuehner told us, “Taking out share secured loans … was the easiest way I knew (to rebuild my credit). Within a year and a half my credit had been repaired.”

When you’re dealing with an already-poor credit score, creating new debt is probably the last thing on your mind.

But it can actually be helpful.

Different factors (payment history, credit age, credit inquiries, and others) are weighted differently into your credit score. Credit usage accounts for a whopping 30%.

If your credit usage is zero, even if you clear the rest of the negative marks from your credit report, it’s still hurting your score.

Opening a credit card, using it regularly for things you’d buy anyway — like groceries or gas — and paying off the full balance each month can raise your credit score without costing you money.

If you can qualify, we recommend signing up for a cash-back rewards card like the Chase Freedom Unlimited card. Its claim to fame? You’ll earn an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all your purchases. Plus, if you spend $500 in your first three months of opening the card (hi, groceries), you’ll pocket a $150 bonus.

There’s no annual fee, and the cash-back rewards don’t expire. We checked Credible’s annual rewards calculator, and it estimates $417 in annual rewards based on our spending habits.* (You can enter your unique spending habits and see what you’d earn, too.)

Get signed up — and 0% intro APR for 15 months — here.

Or if you can’t qualify for a rewards card, try a secured credit card, similar to the secured loans Kuehner used. You’ll pay a deposit and get a low credit limit, like $200.

Just make sure you shop around. You want a lender that reports to the major credit bureaus and doesn’t come with exorbitant fees.

5. Sell a Bunch of Stuff

If you want to aggressively pay down your debt, start getting creative about how you make extra money.

Got too much junk sitting around at home? Sell it online.

You can make some quick cash and transform your space into something a little more Zen.

Our editor Matt Wiley and his fiancee were inspired by The Minimalist Podcast to take a second look at all the junk they had lying around.

“The podcast raises the question, ‘Does this add value to my life?’” he explains. “If not, why keep it?”

Wiley decided to dig into the massive CD and DVD collection he’d amassed since college. It was collecting dust in a cabinet, so he decided to sell everything on Decluttr.

That way, they could literally add value to his life… to the tune of over $50.

Decluttr pays you for your old CDs, DVDs, Blu-Rays, video games, gaming consoles and other electronics.

To sell other types of clutter, these are our favorite sites:

  • letgo: You can sell almost anything on this app.

Depending on what’s sitting in your garage or closets, you could pocket a few hundred dollars selling it off. (If you can sell enough to empty a storage unit, your savings could be in the thousands!)

6. Rent Your Spare Room

If you want a more consistent influx of extra money without a ton of extra work, turn a spare bedroom into a money-maker.

By listing their spare room on Airbnb (among other money-saving efforts), Ryan Deitrich and Kelsey Swagler paid down nearly $50,000 in student loan and credit card debt — and saved enough money to buy a sailboat.

Airbnb lets you connect with visitors who need a place to stay while they travel to your town. It saves them money over a hotel, and it lets you earn money from unused space.

Plus, the app lets you rate and vet users to ensure guests coming into your home are safe. It also handles the payment, so you don’t have to have that conversation with guests.

7. Choose Which Debts to Repay First

Overwhelmed by a laundry list of loans and credit card payments? We know it can be tough to make progress when you’re staring down a mountain of debt — or even a mighty molehill.

You might have heard conflicting advice about the best way to pay it off. That’s because different methods might work better for different people and situations.

The two most common approaches to paying off debt are called the debt snowball and debt avalanche methods.

The debt avalanche method says to pay off your debt with the highest interest rate first. Those are most likely your credit cards. Doing that can save you a ton of money over time.

The debt snowball method says to pay off your debts with the smallest balances first.

You may pay more in interest in the long run, but this method allows you to eliminate debts from your list more quickly. That can also help motivate you to keep working at it and make your laundry list less overwhelming.

Which method you choose is up to you, as long as it works.

Most likely, you’ll have to get creative to invent a plan that’s just right for you. Take this stay-at-home mom, who used a hybrid snowball-avalanche method to pay down $64,000 in credit card debt in just two years.

*Annual Rewards amounts will change based on the amounts you enter. The monthly spending category names and definitions may vary among issuers, and categories may not align one-to-one.

The information for the Chase Freedom Unlimited card has been collected independently by The Penny Hoarder. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. The Penny Hoarder is a partner of Credible.