How to increase your creditworthiness without breaking the bank


When I was a freshman in the second semester at the University of Pittsburgh, I was your typical “broken” student. I had less than $ 100 in my bank account and the majority of my undergraduate college education was funded by student loans. I managed my daily expenses through my paid work, extra money from my student loans, and financial support from my mom.

It was a tough time not having a lot of money and working to get into the industrial engineering program; however, I was determined to succeed and become the first engineer in my family.

During the spring semester, I wanted to join my college roommates on a spring break trip to Florida. However, I did not have any money set aside in my bank account. I didn’t want to ask my family for extra financial help, and working an extra job wasn’t an option due to my full-time class schedule. I had very limited options, but knew I wanted to go and experience my first vacation as a student while catching my first plane flight.

After I left one of my college classes, I saw a credit card company promotional table outside my dorm. Those at this promotional table were encouraging students to apply for credit cards. I had no financial literacy or experience with a credit card. Also, I didn’t know how credit cards worked or how I would pay back what I owed.

Black woman pays her bill with credit card,
(Photo: Adobe Stock)

However, I had no other options to fund my Spring Break trip, so I applied for my first credit card. A week later, I was approved for a $ 500 credit limit, and it was maxed out for the next four weeks. By the time I entered my final year of college, I had two credit cards in collection and my credit score was between 550 and 600.

Over the next 20 years, I accumulated over $ 200,000 in consumer debt, which included student loans, credit cards, and rental property. I was living paycheck after paycheck with no clear solution on how I was going to eliminate my six figure debt. In addition, I used credit cards to finance my lifestyle and pay for my monthly expenses, like groceries and dining out with family and friends.

In December 2017, I decided that I needed to change my financial situation because I was desperate to try something new that would generate immediate results. In February 2018, after doing some research online, I decided to sign up for a nine-week financial coaching.

Based on my research, I was aware of this financial coaching program which had a good track record of getting people who made less than six figures to eliminate debt fast. Within 20 months of completing the program, I eliminated $ 169,000 in my consumer debt (including credit cards). From today, my goal is to be free of all debt by December 31, 2022.

Here’s what you need to do if you want to increase your credit profile without breaking your wallet at the same time.

Know your credit score

When I started focusing on eliminating my consumer debt in 2018, I rarely checked my credit score because I thought it would be below 600. Also, I didn’t want to confront myself. and realizing how my past mistakes and ignorance with using credit cards impacted my credit rating. However, I realized that in order to make a change you have to confront your mistake so that you can learn from it and not repeat it in the future.

One free tool that I used to help me review my credit rating was Credit Karma. Credit Karma provides free access to your credit score and report anytime to monitor any inaccuracies or new trade lines associated with your account. Every month I review Credit Karma to verify that the information listed is correct and to see any increase in my credit rating. In addition, most banks offer a feature that allows you to check your FICO credit score each month as part of your online banking service.

Photo: Adobe Stock

Spend within your credit limit

In addition to reviewing my credit score monthly, I inquired about how my credit score was calculated. I discovered that 30% of my credit score is based on the outstanding credit card balance. When I first started using credit cards I was using 100% of the credit card limit. I had no idea that doing this every month had a huge impact on my credit rating. This behavior showed the credit card company that you were heavily dependent on your credit cards and that I was not responsible for the credit.

When you get a credit card, you should aim to spend less than 30% of your credit limit to maintain and / or improve your credit score. This shows that you only need your credit card for financial emergencies or that your account remains active. Also, you can manage your debt repayments more effectively because you will likely be focusing on using your bank account rather than accumulating consumer debt.

Pay more than the minimum payment

In order to raise your credit score and eliminate debt, you need to focus on paying more than the minimum payment owed on your credit cards. When you just make the minimum payment each month, the majority of your payment covers any interest and charges during your bill cycle. Plus, paying off credit card debt can be time consuming. According to Nerd Wallet, it can take 6 years and 11 months to eliminate a $ 5,000 credit card balance with an APR of 16% and a minimum payment of $ 100.

When I started developing my debt elimination plan in April 2018, I focused on paying the minimum payments on my credit cards and adding extra money to the smaller credit card balance. unpaid credit. This strategy helped me eliminate $ 169,000 in consumer debt in 20 months and motivated me to find ways to save extra money in my monthly budget.

(Image from Adobe)

Pay your credit card payment on time

After I became a senior in college, I enrolled in a credit counseling service program because I was behind on two credit cards due to my inconsistent payment history. My credit cards were in the collections, and I didn’t know what to do next. I decided to sign up for a credit counseling service because I needed additional advice and a financial solution to help me deal with collection notices and phone calls that I avoided.

When I made a serious decision to eliminate debt in April 2018, I focused on all of my minimum credit card payments. I have reviewed all of my credit card statements and documented the due dates in my calendar to avoid missing a payment. Payment history represents 35% of your credit score and I knew that maintaining my credit score was essential as I moved towards financial independence.

In order to avoid missing payments before the due date, I set up an automatic payment from my bank account. Additionally, if you need to move your credit card payment due date, you can call the credit card company to request courtesy service to avoid late fees. Finally, if you are having financial difficulties, you can make payment arrangements within the credit card issuer.


Looking back on my financial journey, I can say that I have made a lot of mistakes while using credit. However, I have learned that using credit can only be a useful tool if you have the knowledge to make it work for you without damaging your credit score or your bank account. Through my business as a financial coach, my goal is to help professional millennial women of color start using their bank accounts to build wealth without needing to use credit to fund their dream lifestyle.

Shaquana Watson-Harkness,

Shaquana Watson-Harkness is a wealth literacy expert and personal finance contributor who has been featured on Grow, CNBC Make It, KYW News Radio, Next Advisor and Black Enterprise. She is the founder of Dollars make cents and her goal is to help millennial professional women of color achieve financial independence by shifting their mindset towards wealth creation. Stay connected through it Blog, Instagram Where Facebook for more personal finance tips and resources.

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