This App Helped Me Stop Fearing My Credit Score — and It Went up 68 Points

Dana Sitar, right, pictured with her partner Stefan Davis.
Dana Sitar, right, pictured with her partner Stefan Davis. Sitar has used Credit Sesame to keep track of her credit score. Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder
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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in June 2016.

This is a success story of sorts.

I first signed up with Credit Sesame to get my free credit score and credit report in mid-2016. At the time, I was pretty desperate about my finances. Here’s what I wrote then:

At 30, my history with credit cards, student loans and medical bills is pretty bad.

Student loan interest is piling up. Hospital bills are out to collection agencies. No one will give me a credit card. I landed a loan for a new car by the skin of my teeth. My security deposits for car rentals and apartments are through the roof.

I want to fix it, but I don’t even know where to start. …

Today I’m breathing a little easier, because I found an app that’s 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.

I’m happy to update: Since I started tracking my credit score with Credit Sesame, I’ve watched it rise — slowly but surely — 68 points. Motivated by the easy access to my free “credit report card” through the app, I haven’t been able to ignore my credit like I used to.

I’m finally current on my student loan payments and two months ahead on car payments. Just a few more points up in my score and I can apply for a loan to consolidate my debt and get those negative marks off my report.

Plus, I’m in the process of clearing up errors I didn’t even know about before seeing this report!

Here are all the ways Credit Sesame has helped me make sense of my credit history and chip away at my icky credit score over the past two years:

1. Free Credit Score

The first and most basic thing Credit Sesame offers is your credit score.

It goes beyond the number, though and explains what it means.

The first page I saw when I logged in to my Credit Sesame account for the first time showed my score at the top: 528.

It was also color-coded red (where green is good, yellow is moderate and red is bad), graded with an F on a scale of A-F and, in case I wasn’t completely sure, noted as POOR.

It’s a pretty swift kick in the pants.

If your credit score is good — A, green, EXCELLENT — the landing page is a lovely pat on the back whenever you log in.

2. Debt and Loan Summary

My landing page also shows me a quick view of my total debt, around $60,000.

One click takes me to my Debt Analysis, which breaks down what I owe into auto loans,  student loans, home loans, credit cards and other loans.

For each, I can see the name of the lender, amount owed, the interest rate and my monthly payment.

If you have decent credit and have always responsibly managed your money, this might not seem profound. But for those of us who’ve been flying by the seat of our pants throughout adulthood, having everything explained simply in one place is a vital step to improving our credit.

I spent the better part of my 20s ignoring my credit report, certain it was too complicated and expensive to fix anyway.

Credit Sesame helps me see exactly what is hurting my credit score, so I can begin to take steps to fix it.

3. What Exactly Affects Your Score

In addition to a round-up of my debt, I can also see my Credit Score Analysis.

It includes my payment history, which lists any negative marks on my credit report from late payments or accounts in collections.

Credit Sesame even explains my payment history has a 35% impact on my credit score, which is more weight than any other category:

  • Payment history: 35%
  • Credit usage: 30%
  • Credit age: 15%
  • Account mix: 10%
  • Credit inquiries: 10%

4. Ways to Improve Your Credit Score

It’s great to get this information all in one place. But the best part about Credit Sesame is it actually offers personalized recommendations so I can learn more about my own credit and debt situation.

I’ve read plenty of tips to improve my credit before I found this site, but they’re mostly irrelevant to my situation.

Increase my credit limit? Thanks, but I can’t even get approved for a credit card.

Refinance my student loans? Maybe, but with my abysmal credit score, I still don’t qualify for a good deal.

And I’m not aiming for a great mortgage rate or anything lofty. For now, I just don’t want to be treated like a second-class citizen when I sign a lease for a new apartment.

That’s why Credit Sesame’s personalized recommendations are helpful.

The app offers more than generic credit-building recommendations. It tells me which are best, based on my situation.

For example, my credit garnered me a hideous 9.9% APR on my car loan in 2014. Credit Sesame recommends a refinancing company that might get me a lower interest rate, and tells me my odds for being approved.

It does the same with credit card offers.

Because my credit usage is 0%, Credit Sesame recommends a few cards that could help me build credit.

My approval odds, based on a comparison with other similar Credit Sesame users, are best for a secured credit card. I would make a cash deposit and have a card with an ultra-low limit, around $200.

The easy-to-digest information helps me decide which parts of my credit to work on and when.

Relieve Your Anxiety About Debt

Let’s be honest: Most of us with poor credit probably aren’t financial geniuses.

Yet a lot of financial services provide sophisticated information, requiring hours of Googling to untangle. Understandably, most of us give up before we reach any helpful solution.

It’s incredibly relieving to find a service that can actually help me break down this overwhelming information.

Credit Sesame is transparent and careful to explain how it finds your credit score and determines your recommendations and odds. It doesn’t make outlandish promises or aggressively push you toward a particular solution.

It offers real recommendations you can use — one step at a time — to get out of a very confusing hole.

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.

Dana Sitar ([email protected]) is a writer and editor at The Penny Hoarder.  Say hi and tell her a good joke on Twitter @danasitar.