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How I Raised My Credit Score From 585 To 700 In 12 Months On A $30K Salary

I don't remember the exact moment that YOLO began to define my credit score...

Finance

I don't remember the exact moment that YOLO began to define my credit score. Maybe it was the time I bought that $400 game system for my brother that he stopped using after a month. Or the shopping spree I went on every other week because I “needed" new interview clothes, concert clothes, traveling clothes, brushing my teeth clothes and everything in between clothes.

Every time I headed to pay for these things, a ball of guilt formed in my throat. I knew I shouldn't have been spending money. I had JUST paid my card minimum to get my credit balance back to $32. Nevertheless, I shrugged my shoulders, yelled “WHY NOT?" and dug myself deeper into the debt pit of hell.

Living paycheck to paycheck sucks but it was a reality I had accepted after getting my first real job after college. Claiming I had no money, I still managed to travel, eat out, shop, enjoy concerts, and get my nails done regularly. But last year, I decided enough was enough.

Through the loans, the credit cards, and bad habits, a massive debt amount of $86,411.27 stared back at me.

Yes. You read that correctly. This financial burden had also left me with a piss poor credit score of 585.

So, after a major breakdown in my car when I watched my paycheck go to nothing, my best friend ordered Dave Ramsey's The Total Money Makeover for me. After reading it, my edges were not only snatched, they disappeared.

For the first time, I had a vision.

I wasn't becoming disciplined because it was responsible or fun (although it was eventually), but I was choosing to change a pattern in my family. I wanted to be free of dodging bill collectors, attracting high interest rates, and throwing away my check to four maxed out credit cards. I wanted to know what it was like to go into H&M without frantically checking my bank statement to see if I had enough. I wanted to stop the broke and boujee cycle. I wanted financial freedom.

With these new goals in mind, after 12 months, I was able to raise my credit score from 585 to over 700. This was all while earning $30K from my first real job. I had to struggle. I sacrificed the turn ups, girl trips, and even moved in with family to save on rent.

But I pushed myself to break free of a generational habit of “I'm bad with money" syndrome. This is what I learned along my journey from a credit score of 585 to over 700:

I Got Clear On What Happened To My Credit

If I wanted to create a plan, I had to know what I was working with. I realized that I had to face my debt head-on and truly understand my credit score.

Before I started The Total Money Makeover with Dave Ramsey, I sat down and saw what I had been spending most of my money on. The site I used was Credit Karma, which tracked all my credit, loans, and transactions. Can you guess where most of my money was actually going? After credit card bills, it was fast food and shopping.

This brought me to the realization that “paycheck to paycheck" was a choice that I was making because I somehow found coins for other expenses – not necessarily a reality I had to settle for. This helped me cut my budget down to include just the things I needed and pay fast food and shopping to dust.

I Put An End To Credit Limit Increases

This was one of my biggest mistakes ever. When I couldn't keep up with my bills, I would call the bank and ask them to extend my credit line.

Little by little, this dug me in my biggest hole. I thought by receiving more money, I would manage it better, but I was just wrapping more chains around my wrists. Those were truly moments of desperation and I knew I couldn't continue to put myself in a place that forced me to beg for more credit.

This meant I needed a tight budget so that I knew where every penny went. I even cut up my credit cards altogether. This physically forced me to stop depending on them.

I Accepted That Debt Could Not Be Conquered In A Day

Once I totaled all my debt and realized how huge of a mountain I had to climb, I knew I couldn't conquer it all in a day. Instead, I decided to try the debt snowball that money guru Dave Ramsey talks about.

Listing out ALL my debts from largest to smallest, I came face-to-face with this monster I had created.

I picked the smallest debt and just attacked it. That required some missed happy hours and trips to the mall, though. But once I paid off one debt, it created confidence and momentum for me to move on and keep going with paying off the other debts.

Closing Accounts Hurt Credit More Than It Helps

When I actually started knocking out my debt, I wanted to close EVERYTHING. “Just get those demon cards out my sight," I said.

But I learned that closing the accounts would only prove to hurt my credit. What you might not know is credit reports love when you've kept accounts for a long time. It shows that they can trust you.

So even when I began to pay off a credit card, I kept it open to help positively impact my score.

Know That Broke Friends Won't Be Very Supportive

Look, getting your credit score up is HARD. And I hate to say it, but my broke friends did not understand why I was "so serious" about getting in a better financial situation. I had to stop discussing my finances with my deeply-in-debt friends because I often got answers like:

"One purchase isn't gonna hurt anything."

"You have your entire life to pay back your loans."

"It's time to enjoy yourself."

They were like the Hooded Kermit advocating for staying in debt. They didn't mean any harm, but I knew that I didn't have peace. I was tired of going from check to check. I was tired of barely pulling enough pennies together to go on a sub-par vacation.

I had to avoid money conversations with the people who discouraged me from getting my life together. On the flip side, I found some accountable people who walked alongside me during the days I really wanted to quit.

A Financially Free Debt-Free Life Is Truly Possible

When I saw how low my credit score was, I realized that if I wanted to get control, I had to be all in on this financial commitment.

Getting out of debt can be so overwhelming and seem nearly impossible, but as I created a plan and prayed to God, I realized that this was something I could do on my own. Even if it took some time. I had to trust that the process would continually remind me of why financial freedom is something I deserved.

Conquering your credit score is a mindset and it isn't for everybody and I still have a long way to go. But with a budget, a vision, and some sacrifice, I am now able to breathe easier knowing that I'm setting myself up for success.

And I wouldn't change a thing.

Did you know that xoNecole has a new podcast? Hear more about this story and how xoNecole founder Necole Kane, along with co-hosts Sheriden Chanel and Amer Woods, are working to tackle their credit scores and debt on the latest episode of xoNecole's Happy Hour podcast. Listen now on Itunes and Spotify.

Featured image by Getty Images

Originally published on December 29, 2017

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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