My Credit Confessions and 8 Tips to Improve Your Credit

by on August 31, 2011 · 70 comments

in Credit Cards, Credit Repair

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I have a confession to make: I haven’t always been a good boy when it comes to credit.

In college, I discovered the seemingly wonderful world of credit when MBNA (now owned by Bank of America) issued me a nifty University of Pittsburgh MasterCard with a whopping $5,000 credit limit. Spring break anyone? In fact I did go to Dublin, Ireland that year on spring break (to be fair, I got a $330 roundtrip airfare from PIT-PHL-MAN-DUB which sealed my Gold status at the time), and not surprisingly I ended up racking up several thousand dollars on the card, which I carried with me upon graduation when “surely I’ll be making the big bucks in no time and this balance will be nothing.”

Luckily I did get a job out of college in 2005 – in the executive buying program for an upscale retailer making $45,000 a year, which seemed like a lot until I moved to New York City and then the reality of living in an expensive city and paying real person taxes kicked in. Once my shoebox sized 5th floor walk-up apartment rent was paid for, dry-cleaning for the suits I had to wear daily and, oh yea – eating, was factored in, I was barely breaking even. Oh crap, I forgot to factor in that pesky credit card bill whose balance never seemed to shrink!

Well, long story short I made some dumb decisions. In between apartments, my credit card bill conveniently “got lost” a couple times and a random cell phone bill from college emerged after 5 years and it ended up being sent to collections and onto some sort of local court that was going to garnish my wages. That was my wake-up call and I decided to pull my head out of the sand and get my financial house in order.

Luckily, I had also transitioned onto Wall Street at that point and was making a better (but still by no means luxurious) living and after some tough decisions I came up with a plan to become debt free. To this day, I have zero outstanding credit card balances and a solid credit score, but I am still dealing with the impact of my poor decisions over 6 years later. For those of you who might have made some mistakes in the past and want to increase your score, here are some recommendations to get your credit score back on track. I’m by no means the worlds expert on repairing credit, but all of these have worked for me or others I know.

1) Know your scores and what is on your credit report. I know it’s hard to face the facts when the news isn’t good, but get a copy of your credit report and scan it closely. will give you a free one every year. It won’t include your FICO score (you have to pay for that), but it will give you a good idea of the challenges you have ahead. Sites like will give you a free credit score, but it’s not an official FICO score, which is what most lenders use to determine your credit worthiness.

2) Understand that the best way to improve your score is to get out of debt. Maxed out credit cards are the biggest red flag to a credit card company/reporting agency. They can forgive past mistakes, but they usually won’t forgive current recklessness. You may have to make some tough decisions with respect to your budget, but it will be worth it in the long run. While I love to travel as much as the next person, getting out of debt can feel better than the feeling you get in your favorite international destination. I use, which is a free service that will help you visualize your current financial situation and they’ll even alert you when you get a finance or interest charge. Get motivated by the big picture and stop throwing away money!

3) Dispute incorrect information on your credit report. If you’ve paid off a debt, but it isn’t showing or there’s incorrect information – simply dispute it with the credit reporting agency. The annoying thing about this is that you have to do it for all three agencies (Experian, Equifax and Transunion). Once you have your free report with each, it is free to dispute charges online. However, there are online resources that can guide you through the manual dispute process, which seems to work better at getting adverse items off your report. See the FTC rules on the matter and check out this site for practical tips.

4) Get a secured loan or credit card. They look like credit cards, but you put down a cash deposit, which is your initial credit limit. A good secured card will have automatic reporting to the 3 major credit bureaus and if you are responsible with it, you can start getting credit line increases beyond what you put down. HSBC’s Orchard Bank offers a secured Visa card with a $0 annual fee for the first year and $200 minimum deposit. Your local bank may be able offer you a similar product.

5) Become an additional cardholder on someone else’s card that has a long, solid credit history. Especially with American Express, you will inherit their good standing on the account. This method can almost instantly improve your score greatly. Your bad credit will not hurt the primary cardholder’s credit (unless you run up charges on your card and they don’t get paid).

6) Pay all current bills on time. Every month you pay your bills so you generate a longer credit history and bonus points with the bureaus.

7) Get a real estate loan. The more types of credit lines you have, the more your score will increase. While the APRs won’t be great if you have less than good credit, it can be worth it to build up to a higher score. Per “Lenders recognize that obtaining and maintaining a real estate loan requires more skill and discipline than other account types. People who have real estate loans and pay them on time see an increase in their credit worthiness.”

8 ) Hire an expert to fix your credit report. Let me be clear here – there is no service out there that can get rid of your legitimate debt and give you a great credit score. As I mentioned above, you can dispute your own adverse items on your credit report, but it will take time and effort. There are companies that are experts in getting negative items off your credit report, so if you are a procrastinator (or just hate dealing with financial things), hiring an expert might make sense. Lexington Law, which is generally regarded as a top credit repair firm, will do the dirty work for you. Their fee is $49.95 a month for standard deletion services and paralegal support and I actually hired them to take some minor negative things off my reports that I was unable to take care of myself. They are still working on it, but I’ll be sure to update when the process is done (hopefully with positive results).

My Lexington Law portal.. can’t wait to get rid of those random pesky items on my credit report!

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • guest free credit scores unlimited checks show you can watch the effects of deeds good and bad on your credit score. wsj and nytimes endorsed. real deal

  • infamousdx

    Credit Karma isn’t “real deal” but it is a good barometer for before/after effects of credit decisions. By no means should one solely rely on it.

    I recently had my credit pulled for a mortgage and one of the 3 bureaus’ scores was 40 points off CK.

  • Charles Clarke

    I’m looking forward to hearing about your experience with Lexington Law. I’m dubious of these credit repair companies.

  • Anonymous

    Yea I wouldn’t use just any random credit repair company. I know exactly what I am paying them to do. It’s papering the credit agency to get the bad item off my report. I could do it myself, but I don’t have the time or expertise, so I figured I’d let the professionals do it

  • Phil

    Gosh Brian I only saw this post after the link from your post today about credit card bonus hauls for 2011. Anyway I feel for you. I also ended up with a blemish on my CR due to a really small amount of interest I owed on a tax bill to NY state. I didn’t even realize I owed it (they sent no reminders) until one day I got an alert from a credit monitoring service I pay for that a new item had appeared on my report and lo and behold they had gone and got a judgment. To this day I now have to go through the reconsideration process on every single card application. Gone are the days of instant approvals! It also means I won’t get targeted for anything as the banks always do a soft pull credit check before sending you pre-screened offers. Actually I DO get offers for all the ghetto rebuild your credit type cards!!!

    I am going to try Lexington Law, I have read through FatWallet/CreditBoards that there are ways and means of getting collections and judgments removed from your report but I need some expert advice on the loopholes.

    Seems you have fixed your own situation and I too have managed a similar haul this year so mine is pretty ok too but would still like to clear the decks on this stuff as it really sticks to you like a wine stain!

  • Anonymous

    I don’t miss having college credit card debt! I use and pay an annual $100 fee which sends me emails/text messages every time an inquiry is made to my credit report. I am able to see all three credit bureaus credit scores. Very nice to know when someone posts or inquires about my credit within in minutes. When opening new CC this years I knew who checked my credit and who didn’t. Also help with identity theft.

    In my personal experience, one of the ways that I have been able to yield a higher Credit score is to pay down the balance at least once a week. At end of month when the statement period closes, If I have a balance on my CC I see my credit goes down slightly. Add a few credit cards with balances and it turns in to quite a few points. I treat ALL credit cards like Debit Cards. Once I slide it through a machine I remove the money from the bank account to pay what I purchased. This past month four new credit credit cards and only lost 6 points on credit report which I will rebuild in a few months.

  • Ashley

    I highly also recommend that if you’re far in debt, sign on with a debt management company. Make sure they’re an accredited one, but they’ve helped me get rid of almost $30,000 of credit card debt in about 3 years, without having to go bankrupt or killing my credit score.

  • Gpapadop

    Everything I have heard is to avoid credit repair firms. Please let us know if you feel differently after a few months with Lexington Law.

    Back in college I used to apply for credit cards making a slight error in one digit of my ssn…I just could not turn down the free T shirts:-)

  • Norbil

    I was only able to apply for 3 credit cards this year which put my hard pulls at 7. I’ll be down to 4 hard pulls next year and hopefully it won’t affect me with purchasing a home. Anyway with the 3 credit cards I was able to get a total of 155,000 bonus miles.

  • Josh MacDonald

    I never knew being added on my wife’s card would help my credit score. Would it matter if I was added to all of them or just a few?

  • Phil Burns

    Great write up thanks for the openess and honesty, I have always been amazed at how you rack up so many points and different credit card offers..

  • Dewhit6959

    This is absolute nonsense Mr. Guest. These type of firms and offers are as numerous as ticks on dogs and the “free” benefits may come back to haunt those that participate. I hope TPG will remove this vulture post and limit their future listings.

  • Trent Swanson

    yes.. be careful with the score you think you are receiving for your $100 annual fee. At least one of the bureaus (Experian) no longer sells FICO scores as part of subscription. Unless score is labelled with “FICO”, its not a FICO score and it may not even directionally represent your actual FICO score.
    Regarding balance pay downs, the trick is to determine the monthly DATE that each bank card reports to the respective bureaus. Pay down 90+% of your outstanding balance (last statement balance plus recent charges) one day prior to the earliest reporting date (for those banks that report to multiple bureaus); Then to avoid finance charges, pay down the remaining statement balance (if any) by the statement due date. Maintaining approx 10% balance at time of reporting date gives you points bumps for both prompt payment and card activity FICO categories.

  • Ana Ortega

    TPG, I’m surprised that you are trying to repair your credit but at the same time apply for many credit cards – isn’t applying for CCs hurting your credit history?

  • Anonymous

    Just curious- which firm did you use? There are so many out there, so anther TPG reader may want your advice on the one that was reputable and worked for you

  • Anonymous

    I think you should avoid credit repair firms if you think they will perform magic. I’m hiring Lexington Law to do exactly what I could do, but I don’t have the time. Paying $50 to them to save me 10+ hours is a no brainer.

    I’m not expecting miracles here, simply for them to handle my dirty work.

  • Anonymous

    No problem! I feel like we always see credit card strategy posts with people who have perfect credit, but the fact of the matter is there are a lot of people with less than excellent credit. I was one of them and now I’m VERY happy I figured it out in time to hop on the sign-up bonus gravy train.

  • Dewhit6959

    Give their terms and disclosures a brief read before using. Your info is there for life. This outfit should be a lesson in what not to do concerning your credit.

  • Anonymous

    The more positive accounts you are associated with, the better. Just be careful as some cards like the Amex Platinum will charge additional fees. You can get added as a Gold card additional to a Platinum card holders account for free, I believe.

  • Anonymous

    So true, I get all my credit card end of statement period at two different times in the month, making it easy, once in a while I’ll forget and lose 3-4 points and get it back in 3-4 months. I’ve checked my FICO score on equifax and that with a bank when I get a loan and seems pretty much the same, so I can personally vouch that the score is accurate (for the most part). I just like having zero balance at the end of every billing cycle, give me ease of mind.

  • guest

    whoah..calm down…i have no vested interest in i have never found a truly free credit reporting service that i can use more than once a year–this one seemed legit and gives you a score; i have checked my credit score once this year directly with one of the major agencies, but i wanted to have a way to see the relative changes in my credit as i pursue the points that we are all trying to obtain… when i need to apply for a mortgage etc i would pull up another true credit score with one of the three major agencies.

    perhaps tpg or someone out there can evaluate and let us know if its legit or if i’m being hoodwinked.

  • Anonymous

    My credit is excellent (I have not been denied for a card this year), but I’m just trying to get a couple minor negative items off my report.

    If you read my other post today, my credit has actually increased with my 7 new cards this year because I have a huge pool of available credit and pay my accounts in full every month.

    I would not advise those who have poor credit to apply for new cards. Fix it and get the score up before applying is the best course of action.

  • Anonymous

    Credit Karma is legit, but as dewhit6959 states, you are basically giving your information to them in return for their services. However, this isn’t really groundbreaking news, because anything you get for “free” on the internet has a price. Do you think Google gives Gmail for free to be nice? No- they make money on your information and try to sell you other stuff. Its no different for Credit Karma, Mint and the others.

  • Trent Swanson

    anecdotal: I submitted all personal details to CK to set up an account. Same day, I tried to access the account. The data got corrupted so I cannot access my account.. To date, CK has all personal data but cannot provide me access to my account.. 60 days ago and still not resolved with poor/nonexistent CK followup

  • Dewhit6959

    The fine print of the Lexington Law Firm has some interesting notes. They use many other firms and act as a clearing house and take a cut. The forte of these firms is known as “entry dilution” and it does very little if anything.

  • Anonymous

    I’m using them for the sole reason to manually dispute negative items on my credit report. I’m not expecting miracles and for the amount of time they will save me, it’s worth their $49.95 monthly fee. I will give a full report when all is said and done.

  • Walt K

    Credit Karma doesn’t provide FICO scores. So long as you understand that, it is the real deal. It gives you free information about what is on your TransUnion report, not a full report, but you can see when inquiries pop up, aggregate balances, etc. Also, it gives you your Vantage score. Vantage isn’t quite as worthless as some of the other non-FICO or FAKO scores. Chase has stated that it uses Vantage, although it isn’t clear exactly how they use Vantage.

  • Jimgotkp

    Interesting story. I’m very surprised about your past history! At least it isn’t like that anymore :)

  • Shahyan Ahmad

    Started using religiously about two months ago… one of the best decisions I’ve made this year… it’s free, easy to understand, secure (from the makers of Quicken) and it opened my eyes to a lot of holes in my finances.

  • Anonymous

    No one is perfect :-)

  • Chris Hutchins

    What’s the best place to get your true Fico score?

  • Bucky Katt

    Can you expand on what you’re saying? What terms and conditions should people be concerned about? I’ve read pretty good reviews of CK, but if there’s an issue (or if people have just flat-out missed it), it would be helpful to know what it is . . .

  • Guest

    What am I missing? When do you cancel all these CC you have accumulated for the bonus bumps? At some point, don’t you just have too many CC?

  • Anonymous

    I usually downgrade to a no-fee card with the same issuer or simply transfer credit lines to new cards that have new bonuses :-)

    Canceling too many cards at once will likely hurt your credit.

  • zzd

    This is a handy and free tool for estimating your credit score within a range. No warranties, but not much risk either.

  • PJ

    i think it is helpful: 1. AUTOPAY everycredit card to a checking account or saving account with no possibily to overdraw 2. I even pay off ALL outstanding balances before the due date when auto pay will pick up 3. I still use cards done with promotion bonus to pay for tiny online purchases, such as paying $5 on ez pass or a few dollars on amazon gift card to yourself etc credit bureau loves to see ” you spend and you pay ONTIME everytime”

  • Michael Acevedo

    +1 for Site is a life-saver.

  • Walt K

    Canceling a card only affects your score to the extent it reduces your overall credit lines and thereby increases your utilization. Average age of accounts is also important, but FICO scores all accounts, opened or closed. A closed account will generally report for the next 10 years. So, to a limited degree, canceling a card will cause a negative effect in 10 years, but there is no immediate effect other than the effect on utilization. Oh, oldest account is also important, so don’t close your oldest card. But other than that, the only effect is utilization.

  • Walt K

    Obviously it won’t help if the card has negative history. But some other things to consider are whether the card is older than the average age of your accounts or younger. If it is older, it will help you. If younger, it might ding you a bit for AAoA. Also, consider utilization. This is one of the most heavily weighted scoring categories. If you are added as an Authorized User on someone else’s account, and that person carries a high balance, that will be factored into your score.

    Remember, your reports only see what is on your statement. So even if you are Paying in Full, you can look like you’re carrying a lot of debt. To control this, you can pay your balance down before the statement generates, then pay the remainder right afterward to avoid interest. Best FICO scoring is generally one account posting a balance that is 9% or less of that card’s CL (utilization rounds up). All other accounts should report 0. This is a general rule and might not hold for everyone.

    If you are added as an AU on an account and the person misses a payment or starts carrying higher balances or letting higher balances report and you want to have it removed, it is pretty simple. Cancel the AU account with the lender, and if it doesn’t automatically come off your CR, dispute the account as “not mine” with the CRA.

  • Walt K

    Yep. Although, Walmart’s credit card apparently gives you a monthly TransUnion FICO score for free as a benefit of having the card. It isn’t clear which version of the TU FICO score it is. That’s another fun wrinkle. There are multiple versions of each FICO score. One problem with is that they only provide TU98 (and I think FICO claims it is TU’s fault they can’t provide other versions). TU98 is an older version. Most mortgage lenders I believe use TU04. So for all the crap you hear about FAKO scores, for alot of people, TU98 offered on myfico, might as well be a FAKO. There are lots of people reporting 20, 30, 40 point differences when they have their scores pulled by a lender.

    There is a credit union in Pennsylvania called PSECU that anyone used to be able to join by giving money to a parks charity. They give a monthly Experian FICO score. I think that is the only place you can get that other than through a lender.

    And I believe there is some service where you can get a cheap EQ FICO. I know I read about it at, but I can’t remember now. Probably could search the forums and find out.

  • David

    7 hard pulls is not a high number at all, unless you have a low credit score, and you worry that it will drop more… I have 19 on Experian currently with a 740-765 score (depending on the month/balances)

  • David

    exactly. I have no problem with them having my information to solicit advertisements in exchange for all of the valuable credit information they give me. More offers in the mail, with the small chance of a good one? Sure, that’s fine.

  • curiousgeorge

    You can still join PSECU by donating to a parks charity but the website doesn’t mention the Experian FICO score.

  • Seedling Finance

    If you anticipate applying for a mortgage, auto loan, or doing any other significant borrowing in the next 12 months, the score you want is the FICO score. The best place to get it to ensure you are indeed getting a true FICO score (and not some other scoring model, aka FAKO) is directly from Fair Isaac (the company that invented the FICO scoring model) at

    If you’re not expecting to take out a big loan in the near future and you just want to monitor any changes to your score, can still be very helpful. Credit Karma provides your TransRisk score and your Vantagescore for free. In return for the free scores (which can be accessed and updated any time), they deliver offers to you for credit cards, bank accounts, mortgages, etc. Just remember that each scoring model is slightly different (in terms of how significant each factor impacts your score) and has a different score range.

    You can also get a free Experian FAKO score (Experian National Equivalency Score) from


  • Paul

    Hey TPG, this is where I get a little bit confused. I see that there are a lot of great ways to get points through credit cards… but every time you open a credit card, doesn’t that lower your credit score? I would love to open an American Express and another travel credit card with their pretty cool promotions… but when you do it hurts your credit right?

  • ceesiren

    TPG, I know you’ve already mentioned that you can manually repair or dispute items on your credit report yourself, but I just wanted to chime in and mention how extremely easy it is to do this. Any completely wrong information on my reports was immediately removed with absolutely no problem. There were a couple of disputed items that called for me to write up a more detailed explanation, but those were removed within a few months too. It was MUCH easier than I had been led to believe and I suggest everyone try it on their own first.

    I use Identity Guard (cheaper through Costco) for monthly monitoring of all 3 main credit bureaus and the credit scores they assign (not actual FICO, but very close and good for having an idea of what your credit profile looks like to creditors). That service also offers analysis and calculators that will help you figure out what effect different actions will make (closing cards, paying multiple ones down or paying one off, etc.)… they also provide you with forms and advice for challenging information on your report.

    I couldn’t be happier with the information and empowerment that Identity Guard has provided through monthly monitoring. They also email me whenever there is the slightest change in my report or whenever anyone pulls information about me. Forewarned is forearmed! (And no, I don’t work for them or get paid a kickback for saying nice things about them… they have just really been a godsend to me.)

  • Paul

    Hey Jon
    This is where I get a little bit confused. I see that there are a lot of great ways to get points through credit cards… but every time you open a credit card, doesn’t that lower your credit score? I would love to open an American Express and another travel credit card with their pretty cool promotions… but when you do it hurts your credit right?

  • Seedling Finance


    When you apply for credit, it results in what’s known as a hard credit pull. You are correct that it lowers your score, but typically only by 1-5 points (per hard inquiry) and the drop is only temporary (the negative impact lessens over time and the inquiry drops off completely from your report after 2 years).

    Therefore, to your question, it is typically advisable to stay out of the credit card sign-up game if you expect to apply for a mortgage, auto loan, or do any other significant borrowing within the next year or two. Especially for a mortgage, where getting the absolute lowest rate could save you thousands (or tens of thousands) in the long run.

    However, if you don’t anticipate applying for a loan in the near future, the small reduction in your score may well be worth it to grab one or more of the awesome sign-up bonuses. That is for you to decide. From my own experience, having applied for 5 new cards in as many months, my score barely moved.

    Also, note that when a bank “pre-approves” you for a credit card or when you pull your own credit report, this results in what’s known as a soft inquiry. Soft pulls appear on your credit report, but have NO impact on your score. Thus, you should feel free to check your credit report ( free once per year from each bureau) as often as you deem necessary.

    Hope that answers your question.


  • Willomania

    WOW! Great post!

  • LR

    That was my question as well especially after the TPG year to date credit haul listing.

  • LR

    But what if the oldest card has no point benefits? I was just thinking of closing my oldest one that I have had since the early 90′s because of lack of benefits with it.

  • Anonymous

    Any updates with Lexington Law? Were they able to resolve your issue?

  • Anonymous

    They resolved 1. 2 are still pending… thanks for the reminder- need to follow up with that!

  • Charles Williams

    it is really important to ask for our credit report from the 3 bureaus. why 3? because your credit score may not be the same from the 3 bureaus. then check for any incorrect information listed there. if you found inaccurate data on your report, inform the bureau right away and request for a change or removal of that inaccurate data. you have to understand that any incorrect data on your report could drag your score down.

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  • stephanie

    Helpful. I was myself an over spender long ago. It’s actually my credit card that’s pushing me… Thank God that I went through it all, I am not what I am now if not for that realization.

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  • David Shefchik

    NO NO NO NO. Your length of credit history is VERY important in calculating your score. It’s the only part of my score (besides my student loans) that’s holding be back from having nearly-perfect credit (I’m 23). NEVER close your oldest card, regardless of what the benefits are. Also be sure to use it a couple times a year to make sure that it’s never closed. And apply for higher spending limits as well to decrease your utilization.

  • soidog

    Is similar to finance works? Thanks.

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  • TP

    Any update on this? Would really help my wife get into the game too. Thanks!

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  • chrisjczar

    with a score of 684 (experian), 720 on others, is it even worth the money to go with Lexington Law? I have 1 30+day late payment and 1 collection account.

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  • Ysywi

    We are also still waiting on the follow up post

  • Lamont Briggs

    How about just don’t over-spend. Keep out of debt by not buying stuff you don’t need. Live within your means. Then you won’t need to worry about improving your credit rating.

  • JiveAssNiggerPunk

    Never lend money to a Ni66er.

  • Jo

    I understand that every time you or the lenders, credit card companies check your credit score they add a point. Check this out, be careful.

  • AshamedofIgnorantPeople

    Inappropriate use of language. I don’t care what you are trying to communicate. Find a kinder way to say it. By the way the word you are trying to use means “ignorant”. Learn something about what you say before you use it.

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