Here’s How You Could Raise Your Credit Score Nearly 300 Points in 6 Months

A man tilting his hat up and smiling.
Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder
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James Cooper is a man who knows the importance of a good credit score. And he knows it from experience. That’s because the 50-year-old Atlanta resident says he saw firsthand what happens when you have bad credit, like he used to. 

Bad credit means high security deposits on rental cars and apartments, bad deals on credit cards or car loans or even — someday — a mortgage.

But those days are behind him now. He successfully climbed his way out — raising his score by nearly 300 points using a free tool called Credit Sesame.

Here’s how you can follow his example.

How This Free Tool Can Help You Raise Your Credit Score

James Cooper speaks to students about the importance of credit awareness at a high school in Macon, Georgia on April 20, 2018.
Cooper speaks to students about the importance of credit awareness at a high school in Macon, Georgia, on April 20, 2018. Matt Odom for The Penny Hoarder

As recently as 2017, Cooper’s credit score was 524 out of 850, which is considered “very poor.”

“I never had a credit card,” he says. “I had $6,000 worth of unpaid bills.”

He vowed to get control of his finances and fix his credit. He and a friend did it together. But they learned the hard way not to deal with shady credit repair services.

“We got burned by a lot of companies,” Cooper says. “They took our money and disappeared with it.”

Credit Sesame was different. It was free, for starters. It sends you a breakdown of your debts, plus all the reasons your credit might be poor. 

It even suggests specific ways you can improve your credit. For Cooper, it suggested the following:

  1. Get a specific new credit card.
  2. Ask for a credit increase on that card. 
  3. Keep his monthly balance on the card below 5% of his credit limit. 

Within six months, he had raised his score by 277 points. “The highest I went was 801,” he said.

Sharing His Lessons

A sign with a credit score on a desk
Cooper used Credit Sesame and raised his credit score 277 points. Matt Odom for The Penny Hoarder

Now that he’s lived through this, he wants to prevent others from making the mistakes he made. Cooper founded a group that travels around speaking in schools about good financial decisions, and he’s been floored by what he finds.

“Too many of these kids are living on their own — 18 years old, seniors in high school, living in their own apartment and working a part-time job for tips,” he said. “But they don’t know anything about credit. I’m saying to them, ‘You’re already living in adulthood, but you’re missing one of the most important pieces.’”

And here’s another thing: It’s never too late to start learning about your credit score and getting it back on track. It takes about 90 seconds to sign up for Credit Sesame and get your own personalized advice about your credit score.

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. His credit could be better, and he’s working on it.