How I Paid off $10K & Raised My Credit Score Above 700

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For Robina Way, life has taken an unimaginable turn. She’s driving a beautiful new car. She’s working steady. She has health insurance. She’s debt free.

And that’s where she plans to stay.

“If I don’t really need something, I don’t think I’m going to want it,’’ said Way, 46 and a resident of Lake Elsinore, Calif. “I’ve lived that other kind of life. I like this kind of life a lot better. I feel like I’m free.’’

Way can hardly recognize her past. At her most perilous financial moments, she was maxed out on most of her 10 credit cards. The engine blew in her car, leaving her with no reliable transportation. She was drawing $450 monthly unemployment after being laid off from her security job. Her credit score was abysmal.

“I did not see a way out,’’ Way said.

Then she called InCharge Debt Solutions. She said the agency’s credit counselors provided expert advice that gave her education and confidence. She said it wasn’t a “magic formula.’’ It required discipline and sacrifice. She learned about herself, mostly discovering some errant spending patterns and the traps they created. She was determined to follow a plan that worked so well that she started looking for a new car before finishing InCharge’s debt management program.

“I had heard about the program from a co-worker at my old security job and I was interested because they got her out of debt,’’ Way said. “That got my attention.’’

About a year later, in 2012, it became more relevant.

Way had worked security detail for 17 years with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in El Segundo, Calif. She was hard-working, dependable and loyal. Then one day, she was called into the office.

“They said they no longer needed my services,’’ Way said. “Laid off. That was that. It was pretty devastating because I thought I was going to work there forever. That was the plan anyway.

“There’s no easy way for something like that to happen. Suddenly, I didn’t have my regular job and that created some problems.’’

Working in government services taught Way about the need for good credit. She had previously maxed out her credit cards, then got things in order when she was seeking a top secret clearance status. She didn’t have A-1 credit, but her effort to pay her bills was enough. She didn’t want to lose her security clearance due to debt.

Still, old habits seemed to die hard.

“I fell back in the same hole,’’ Way said. “After paying them off the first time around, I went out and got some more cards. I maxed them out again. That was totally my fault.

“You’d think I’d know better because working for the government keeps you on point. But it was bill after bill after bill. I was just paying the minimum. The interest rates were atrocious. It wasn’t getting any better. I needed some help.’’

Way was only marginally aware of her credit score before entering InCharge’s debt management program.

“I knew it wasn’t the best,’’ Way said. “And I knew it was going to cause me some problems. But what can I say? I had the kind of lifestyle where I spent money and wanted things.

“Any kind of new electronics that came out, I had to have it. I spent a lot of time in malls. It wasn’t smart, I know. Things eventually caught up to me. It wasn’t one big thing. It was a lot of little things that added up to big things.’’

Her credit score was in the 500 range — very poor — when she reached out to InCharge credit counselor, who taught her more effective techniques.

“As bad as it was, I thought I’d be told to shut it down and not even apply for any more credit, but they told me, ‘You never know, down the line you might want to purchase a home,’ ‘’ Way said. “So I needed to have a credit history. But I needed to go about it in a different manner.

“They told me if I had a $1,000 limit on a card to never go past $50. Let’s say I charged $150. Well, I’ve got to pay that off, maybe $50 here, $50 there, not all at one time. Pay that off, then you can charge something else. Don’t keep charging over and over until you put yourself in an impossible situation. That’s how I had always done it.’’

To ensure improved credit, Way said she learned to never settle for the minimum payment.

“If your minimum payment is $25 and there’s 15% percent interest, send in the $25 but add 15% interest to that,’’ Way said. “It’s little subtle things that make big differences.’’

When Way entered InCharge’s program, she wasn’t permitted to use her credit cards until they were paid down (and eventually paid off). She became excited when one card, then another, then another, dropped to zero balances.

But her biggest surprise came when she shopped for a car. She simply needed a dependable used vehicle. The salesperson urged her to shoot higher. She thought that was foolish.

“I thought my credit was bad,’’ Way said. “I didn’t realize that as I was paying off my bills, my credit score was actually going up.

Way didn’t think she could get a car loan on a debt management program. “I didn’t know I could actually get a car while I was with InCharge. Not only could I get a car, I got a great car.’’

Way was stunned to learn her credit score had surpassed the 700 mark, making her eligible to lease a 2016 Kia Forte, a vehicle well beyond her dreams.

“It showed me that InCharge’s program really works and it made me a believer,’’ Way said. “This program has changed my life so much for the better. It’s so different than it used to be.’’

Way said she remembers purchasing her first used vehicle. On the lot, the price was $12,900. But with an interest rate that was “through the roof,’’ when she brought home the car, she was actually obligated for payments adding up to $24,000.

She remembers one of her credit cards reaching a 29.9% interest rate. After adhering to InCharge’s advice and paying down the debt, that card’s rate was reduced to 6%.

“These are things people don’t know,’’ Way said. “They think they’re good paying the minimum. All the while, that interest rate keeps getting jacked up and you’re stuck. It happens to people all the time.

“The InCharge counselors really taught me a lot. They gave me the tools necessary for me to make it on my own. It’s still up to me. I have to do it. And I’m going to do it.’’

Way now works at an Amazon fulfillment center warehouse. It’s less money than her old security job, but she now has health insurance that is partially compensated by her employer.

It’s hard work, putting plenty of wear and tear on her body. The Amazon plant is about a mile long and three flights of stairs high. She’s constantly moving up and down, stocking the shelves. But it’s a booming business and she feels secure. Recently, she moved closer to the warehouse, reducing her 80-mile round trip commute to a 28-mile jaunt.

The other day, a co-worker approached Way.

“What was that company you used to get out of debt? I think I need to call them.’’

Way was happy to oblige. The direction from InCharge Debt Solutions has changed Way’s financial outlook — and her life — forever.

In her old life, Way bought a flat-screen television that she really couldn’t afford. To help finance her move closer to work, she pawned that TV. She sold some furniture and shifted to a prepaid phone card.

She never thought she’d be living without a television, but she watches some shows on the Internet while doing without other things she once deemed as necessities. She doesn’t miss the cable bill.

“Somebody was telling me, ‘You lead a really happy life,’ ‘’ said Way, whose family consists of siblings and other relatives, mostly in California. “I know it’s a stress-free life. I don’t have those problems, those money woes. It’s a feeling of security.

“I have a place to lay my head, food on the table, clothes on my back, a way to get back and forth to work. I’m good. I’m grateful for the help I got from InCharge. I’m never going back to that old way. I feel like I accomplished something and learned some big life lessons.’’

About The Author

George Morris

In his 40-plus-year newspaper career, George Morris has written about just about everything -- Super Bowls, evangelists, World War II veterans and ordinary people with extraordinary tales. His work has received multiple honors from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press and the Louisiana Press Association. He avoids debt when he can and pays it off quickly when he can't, and he's only too happy to suggest how you might do the same.