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.
What are some ways you're trying to tackle your debt and raise your credit score in the new year? Sound off in the comments down below!