I Have $58,423 of Debt. Here’s What I’m Doing About My 528 Credit Score…

How to improve your credit score
Honest Abe


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Disclosure: This post includes an affiliate link. We’re letting you know because it’s what Honest Abe would do. After all, he is on our favorite coin.

A friend recently told me he’s given up on checking his credit score because just thinking about it gives him anxiety.

He’s not alone.

At 30, my own history with credit cards, student loans and medical bills isn’t quite as sordid as his — but it’s 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.

I understand why some people prefer to never think about their credit score.

When you do finally decide to face the music… how do you even do it?

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.

It’s called Credit Sesame — and it provides you with recommendations and financial education resources.

I signed up online, but you can do the same through the smartphone app, and you’ll have all this information at your fingertips in about five minutes.

1. What Is My 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 see when I log in to my Credit Sesame account shows my score at the top: 528.

It’s 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.

You probably know credit card companies and lenders look at your credit report when deciding whether to give you money. Cell phone providers, apartment management companies, car rental agencies and even prospective employers might be peeking at your credit history, too.

They’re likely tapping into your credit history from the three major credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. You can request a free annual credit report from each bureaus, but it won’t necessarily contain your score.


2. Who Do I Owe Money?

My landing page also shows me a quick view of my total debt: $58,423.

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 first step.

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

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

3. What Affects My Credit 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 from late payments or collections on my credit report.

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

  • credit usage: 30%
  • credit age: 15%
  • account mix: 10%
  • credit inquiries: 10%

My credit usage and payment history are also both graded “F.” Improving those grades should have a huge impact on my overall credit score.

4. How Will My Credit Score Affect Me?

Why is it important to improve my credit score, anyway? I don’t like using credit cards, and I’m not interested in homeownership.

Unfortunately, my bad credit is hindering me in other ways.

Banks and credit card companies aren’t the only ones who look at your credit score. I have to authorize a credit check whenever I want to move into a new apartment, rent a car with my debit card and buy a new phone.

Each time, I’m slammed with the highest possible security deposit — or worse, not approved at all.

Some employers even include a credit report in your background check. I’m not on the market now, but I certainly don’t want to miss a future job because of unpaid bills!

Plus, as much as I don’t love credit cards, I know having one would make my frequent travels much easier, more secure and more affordable. So I’d at least like to have the option.

5. What Can I Do Right Now to Work On My 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 crap 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 two years ago. 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.

It looks like the most important step I can start with is:

  • Address the negative marks on my credit report due to late payments. Clearing those should boost that heavily-weighted F grade and have a major impact.

To get started, Credit Sesame recommends a free credit repair consultation. To be clear, it’s not a service they offer, but they recommended someone who could help.

Once I have this basic issue cleared up, I can move on to other recommendations to achieve additional goals:

  • Apply for a secured credit card to improve my usage score. This will help me eventually qualify for a better credit card — I’m aiming for one with travel rewards!
  • Refinance my auto loan to get a lower interest rate. This could save thousands of dollars over the life of that loan.
  • Refinance my student loans to reduce my monthly payment. This would help ensure consistent payments, so I don’t get behind.

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.

Your Turn: Do you know what’s affecting your credit score?

Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links. Adding these links helps us keep the lights on in The Penny Hoarder HQ, which makes it a lot easier to play shuffleboard after a long day of deal-seeking!

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).

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Honest Abe


Some of the links in this post are from our sponsors. We’re letting you know because it’s what Honest Abe would do. After all, he is on our favorite coin.