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Kenneth Bain’s financial history isn’t unique: a few unpaid bills and small loans.
But he has big plans, and doesn’t want to let dings on his credit score stand in the way of them.
Born and raised in the Bahamas, Bain now lives with his family in North Carolina. He runs Mobile Cinema Park, a “3-D interactive assembly” for middle and high school students. It works with schools and private organizations to run prevention and intervention programming.
The company’s website boasts “multi-sensory, interactive movie experiences … (that) provide an innovative, interactive learning experience.”
“Because that business has been growing, I knew me having good credit was going to come into play,” Bain explains.
To build the business in the future, he knew he’d potentially need to apply for loans or at least have a credit card. But he realized his poor credit kept either of those from becoming a reality.
“That sparked me to buckle down,” he says, to clean up his credit and make sure a bad credit history wouldn’t hinder his plans.
“I needed money to grow and I wanted to be ahead of the curve,” Bain says. “I wanted to prepare. And that’s what sparked me to research about (building) credit.”
Around October 2015, he learned about a free website called Credit Sesame through a friend and signed up to learn the state of his credit. He found out his credit score was… drumroll… 487.
By June 2016 — just seven months later — he’d raised his score a whopping 234 points, to 721.
How He Raised His Credit Score
“I looked at what was there (on my credit report) so I would know what I should change, correct and challenge,” Bain says. “I used Credit Sesame as a compass to tell me where to go.”
Credit Sesame gave Bain what it calls a “credit report card” that laid out all the marks affecting his credit history. He was surprised to find some very old bills mucking up his score, as well as some things that were incorrectly reported.
“There were a few items on there that were extremely old,” he explains.
Among these were an old hospital bill he had actually paid off but was still showing unpaid and mortgage payments that were being reported incorrectly. Imagine his surprise to see they were hurting his credit score!
He knew Credit Sesame used information TransUnion reported, so he went to that reporting agency and followed its process to clear these false marks from his credit history.
The site shares your credit information like a report card, so you get an A through F grade in addition to your credit score. It also breaks down the elements of your credit history into exactly what’s affecting your score: debts, payment history, credit usage, account mix and account age.
“It shows me the key factors for my credit score so I know where to focus,” Bain says of the app.
He saw the bad marks on his report card and worked to remove each one-by-one.
In addition to correcting incorrect information, he paid down remaining unpaid debts. He started with the most manageable ones, like a hospital bill for $150, and worked his way up.
He realized not having a credit card was actually hurting his credit score, too. It meant he had zero credit usage on his record — sort of a catch-22.
How do you get a credit card to improve your score… when your score is too low to qualify for a credit card?
To address the conundrum, he followed the advice he found at Credit Sesame and other sources online: Apply for a secured credit card to rebuild credit.
He applied for and received a secured card from Capital One. It offers a $200 line of credit with a deposit of $49, $99 or $200, depending on your credit.
Watching His Score Go Up
Raising his credit score became almost like a game for Bain.
“I literally checked my credit every day, two to three times a day,” he explains, laughing at himself because he knew it wouldn’t change that quickly.
He says watching his score go up became addictive. Credit Sesame put the information at his fingertips — all he had to do was log into the app on his phone, and he could see the current state of his credit.
“True story: I was on a trip a few months ago,” Bain says. “I was looking at my credit, and my wife asked me why I’m checking it so often. I told her I’m so serious about getting my credit straight. That’s why I need to check it all the time — to know if anything changes.”
He chalks up a lot of his success to Credit Sesame. He says the app simplifies the credit report and helps you get your head around your credit score, which is wildly complicated.
“It shows you on what to focus,” he says.
He used his credit report card as a jumping off point to guide the process. “Everything that was on there, I did,” he says.
“I remember the day I logged on and saw 721. It had jumped from 600-something.” The score rose so much, he actually didn’t believe it was right.
“I logged off and logged back on, and it still said 721. And (I thought), ‘Yes, finally! My hard work paid off.’”
What He’ll Do Next
I asked Bain what his plans are now that he has a score worthy of a line of credit that could boost his business.
“I haven’t done anything yet,” he replied cautiously. “I wanted to give my credit a breather for a good solid year to make sure everything is clean and looking good.”
His score has been steady at 721 for five months now, so he’s got a few more months to wait before testing the waters. He also expects his score to continue to rise with time, as he builds his credit usage and his payment history clears up.
“I will probably start doing more next spring,” he says. He’ll apply for a line of credit for the business. But first, “I just want to make sure my payment history looks good and everything is in order.”
After so much hard work, Bain continues to be optimistic. “Time will make my credit score even better, but I’m definitely on track.”
He says he still checks his credit score through Credit Sesame “at least” once each day.
Your Turn: Do you know what’s affecting your credit score?
Sponsorship Disclosure: A huge thanks to Credit Sesame for working with us to bring you this content. It’s rare that we have the opportunity to share something so awesome and get paid for it!
Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).