5 Strategies I Used to Raise My Credit Score From Low 400s to Over 650

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  • I suffered from drug addiction for a decade and destroyed my credit during those years.
  • I got sober in 2012 and immediately got to work fixing my credit to have a better future.
  • I got a co-signer, educated myself, negotiated old debt, opened new lines of credit, and set my bills to autopay.
  • Read more from Personal Finance Insider.

Recently, my girlfriend and I had to move due to a rat infestation at our old apartment, and we wanted to upgrade our interior decorating at our new place.

When we went to IKEA, I was approved for a $2,500 credit line. That may not seem like a big deal to most people, but for me, it was huge. I’m a recovering drug addict, and I absolutely destroyed my credit score during the years I suffered from my addiction.

From a young age, I learned terrible spending habits and lacked financial literacy. Nobody taught me about the importance of credit, or how my credit score would affect me for the rest of my life.

In my addiction, the only thing that mattered to me was getting drunk or high, and so all financial obligations were at the bottom of the list.

During that decade, I was missing payments on my cell phone bill and utilities, and accruing tons of medical debt because I didn’t have health insurance. In addition to these bills, I also ruined my credit through breaking leases and not paying back payday loans.

When I got sober in 2012, it took me a long time to finally check my credit score to see the damage that I did. It was in the 400s, and I knew it was time to do some work.

I wanted not only to create a good financial situation for myself, but to provide a better life for my son and teach him about financial literacy.

After years of hard work, I can happily say that I now have a credit score of over 650, and can actually start thinking about buying a house with my girlfriend in the near future.

Here are five steps I took to get my credit score from the low 400s to over 650.

1. Got a co-signer

The first strategy I used to fix my credit was sweet-talking my dad into co-signing on a new car with me. By this time, I was five or six years sober, and his credit to him was good enough to help me out.

Having my dad co-sign added a layer of responsibility. It’s easy to let down a faceless financial institution, but I didn’t want to harm my dad or the credit he worked hard on building. That monthly payment was my top priority, and I paid it religiously.

2. Educated myself about how credit works

After a couple of years of keeping my head down and just making the payments, I decided to check my score again, and it had gone up to the 500s.

Now that I could see that improving my score was possible, I took a significant step that I should have started with; I picked up books and did the important strategy of educating myself.

Books like “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” by Ramit Sethi and Erin Lowry’s “Broke Millennial” taught me the ins and outs of credit as well as much more about saving and investing.

3. Negotiated with collection agencies and paid off old debts

I learned that my debts in collections were weighing my credit score down like an anchor, and I was going to be at a plateau until I took care of those.

After I started reading and learning about credit, I also learned how collections worked, and realized that I could settle some of my old debts.

So, I called all of the collection agencies and settling my debts in full for upwards of 50% less than what I owed. Doing this and getting a letter of deletion from the collections agencies made my credit score skyrocket.

4. Open new lines of credit

As my credit score rose, I eventually came to a point where I no longer needed to be tethered to a co-signer. After two years of owning that car, I went back to the same car dealership, and I was able to purchase a car on my own with my own line of credit.

I also tested the waters with a low-limit credit card of about $300 and used it for small purchases.

Opening both of these lines of credit improved my credit even more, but I had to ensure my credit utilization rate on that card was low, or else it would undue some of the work I did to build my score back up.

5. Set my bills to automated payments

The last major lesson I learned from educating myself about credit and reading so many books is that automating your payments is the best strategy. While only some of my bills are on auto-pay, if anything has a high impact on my credit score, it’s automated.

I’ve set up a separate savings account with my bank that’s used to pay my credit cards and car payment. To ensure that there are always funds in that account, I have money from each of my paychecks automatically moving money to the savings account.