Here’s Exactly How This 26-Year-Old Hiked Her Credit Score 164 Points

A portrait of Kelsey Buxton, a senior media buyer at The Penny Hoarder.
Kelsey Buxton, a senior media buyer at The Penny Hoarder, was $22,000 in credit card debt. By taking out a loan through Upstart, she was able to decrease her monthly payments and raise her credit score 164 points. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder
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At 26, Kelsey Buxton was sitting on $22,000 of stagnant credit card debt.

She’d worked as a project manager for a business her then-boyfriend founded. But when the couple split up, Buxton lost her job — and her substantial income.

She’d been paying rent for a nice apartment and making payments toward a nice car. Now, she couldn’t afford to foot these big bills.

Buxton dug into her savings and took her money out of the stock market to make ends meet.

“But it went pretty quick,” she says.

So she started relying on credit cards.

Buxton secured another job, this time as an administrative assistant, but her income was still cut to a quarter of what she’d previously made.

As Buxton continued to rack up charges, her credit card balance hiked — the interest rates didn’t help — and her credit score consequently plummeted. She felt stuck.

Seven months later, she was hired at The Penny Hoarder as a media buyer. (Whoo!) It was then that she had a chance to step back and survey the damage that had been done.

How Buxton Started Paying off $22K in Credit Card Debt

At first, Buxton’s strategy was to consolidate her debt.

She was paying about $700 to $800 a month in minimum payments, but the (up to) 29% interest rate on her eight cards kept stacking up. Consolidating would lump her payments together, ideally, with a lower interest rate. (Or at least just one interest rate.)

She contacted a ton of debt consolidation services.

“They all just basically told me I was screwed unless I either filed bankruptcy or filed a hardship payment plan, which meant I’d forfeit all my credit cards,” she says.

She started reaching out to banks to refinance her debt, but she kept getting denied with her 568 VantageScore.

Then a sign showed up on her doorstep.

No, really. This isn’t a cliché. Buxton came home from work one day and found a flyer for Upstart with an offer code. Feeling as though she was out of other options, she started to research the lending platform.

As it turns out, Upstart didn’t care as much about her poor credit score.

Instead of focusing strictly on that three-digit number, though it does require at least a 620 FICO score, the platform also uses artificial intelligence markup language (less technically known as “computer programming stuff”) to identify qualified buyers.

To receive her free quote, Buxton entered the amount of money she needed to borrow, plus a few personal details, such as her highest level of education (a bachelor’s in biology from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute). She also answered questions about her job, years of experience and income.

By showing off her potential, Buxton was approved in less than two days. Within a week, the loan was in her bank account.

“The reason I think I got the loan is because of the college I went to,” Buxton says. “They take where you went to school and what you graduated with into account to see your ‘earning potential,’ so even though my credit was awful, I had potential.”

Giving Buxton this chance, the Upstart loan flipped her financial situation upside down — but in a good way.

How an Upstart Loan Changed Buxton’s Financial Game

A quick recap: Before Buxton’s five-year loan from Upstart, she was making minimum credit card payments of $700 to $800 each month. That was basically covering the credit card interest, which kept knocking her down, reaching 29% in some cases.

While her FICO score was a 654, her VantageScore had plunged to 568. (Note all the different credit scores out there.)

After the loan?

Buxton’s monthly payment is now $518. Instead, she pays $600 each month, and nearly half of that goes toward principal. Her interest rate is down to 16.12%, which is saving her more than $12,000 in interest overall.

She took out a five-year loan, but with her drive to pay it off, Buxton should be home free in about three years.

Her VantageScore has also perked up. It’s now a 732, which has allowed her to make the move into a new rental.

Buxton says this loan has put her at ease in many ways, including facing potential emergencies.

“(My credit cards) were all maxed out, so if I ran into an emergency, I had zero options,” she says. “I don’t use them much now, but it’s nice to know they’re there with $0 balances, so I wouldn’t be totally screwed.”

Buxton says since taking out a loan with Upstart, she’s felt a huge sense of relief. Sure, she’s still in debt, but it’s something she can manage.

“I finally feel like I have a little control,” she says. “It’s nice to see every month that more than half of what I’m paying is going towards principal rather than just throwing money down the drain paying credit card interest.

“It’s like I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now.”

Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.