Member Stories: Donna

Donna helps her grandson tend the gardenImage: Donna helps her grandson tend the garden

In a Nutshell

Donna Shiley spent years looking for the perfect home, but her credit prevented her from qualifying for a loan. Then she found Credit Karma.
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Donna Shiley spent 25 years trying to purchase a home, but one thing held her back.

“I always struggled with my credit score,” admits the mechanical engineer and single mother of two.

Donna knew that her credit was responsible for all the rejected loan applications piling up on her kitchen table. Still, she couldn’t believe that a three-digit number could stand between her and her dream home.

Right after denying her, the mortgage companies all left her with the same boilerplate advice on how to build her credit: Keep your credit card balances low, pay your bills on time and eventually you’ll qualify for a loan. Donna had done her best to follow that advice, but it hadn’t brought her any closer to owning a home.

“I always paid my bills on time and I really didn’t take out any credit cards, because I didn’t want any debt,” she recalls, “so I didn’t understand why I couldn’t build my credit score.”

The rejections were disappointing enough. But being told “no” without knowing what to do next? That’s what broke her heart.

“I was disappointed and confused,” Donna says. The prospect of owning a home began to feel distant, bordering on impossible. It was an especially crushing blow to her as a parent, as she’d grown up in a family that moved nearly every year.

“I wanted to give [my family] a permanent home,” she says. “I wanted to dig in some roots.”

Today, Donna spends a lot less time worrying about mortgage applications. That leaves more time to tend the garden with her grandson, Daniel, or take leisurely walks down the tree-lined streets of South Chesterfield, Virginia. She recently purchased a beautiful two-story home, complete with a huge backyard and four bedrooms for the kids.

So, how did Donna go from being rejected for mortgages multiple times to owning a home in the perfect location, mere blocks away from Daniel’s school?

It started in the least likely of places: her couch.

“I was sitting on the couch and I had just paid my rent,” she recalls. “I saw a commercial on TV for Credit Karma, and I said this might be something I could look into.”

So Donna downloaded the Credit Karma app and was shocked by what she found. “I was horrified at my credit score,” she laughs. “It was pretty bad.”

This time, though, Donna did some extra digging. With Credit Karma, she was able to get her free credit scores from TransUnion and Equifax as well as check out the factors that impact those scores. She could also view her free credit reports to make sure all the accounts looked right and she wasn’t neglecting some small bill from years in the past.

Donna walks her dog in the neighborhoodImage: Donna walks her dog in the neighborhood

Looking over those reports, something clicked for Donna. She finally knew why she kept getting denied for home loans, despite her great job and responsible spending history.

“I was really shocked to see some of the things on my credit report,” she remembers.

A few of those things didn’t look quite right, so one of Donna’s first steps was to dispute them. She took advantage of Credit Karma’s Direct Dispute™ tool, which allows members to dispute an account error directly with only a few simple clicks.

But Donna wasn’t done there. “I also found some little, small bills, stuff I didn’t even know I had,” she admits. Some of those accounts had gone into collections, which may have caused her credit scores to drop substantially. Though different credit scoring models weigh factors differently, accounts in collection and other derogatory marks generally have a high impact on credit scores.

As Donna addressed these old accounts one by one, she noticed something thrilling — her scores were going up.

“It was very encouraging,” she says. “It made you want to work harder to get the things that you could with good credit. I [saw] myself getting closer and closer to that goal of purchasing a home, so it was really exciting.”

Every time she opened the Credit Karma app and reviewed her credit reports, Donna saw something else drop off.

After a while, Donna got to the point where she could apply for a loan with confidence that she’d be approved.

member-stories-donna-2Image: member-stories-donna-2

“I’m 50 years old and it’s my first house, OK?” Donna says with a laugh. “I’m allowed to be excited!”

She’s seated in the kitchen of her new home. Every so often, she glances around as if she’s still trying to absorb every square inch of this place that’s definably, indisputably hers.

“When I was first approved for my home, it was almost disbelief,” she says. “I’d rented in this neighborhood for five years … Daniel has been going to the nearby school for four years now. When I come home from work every day and pull into the driveway, it’s really satisfying to know that this is something I was able to do.”

It's really satisfying to know that this is something I was able to do.

Donna Shiley, Credit Karma member

Donna remembers pulling into the driveway with her key in hand for the very first time.

“I was almost in tears,” she says, “and when I walked up to the door and unlocked it with my key, I was shaking.”

Donna has made that journey from the driveway to the front door countless times since then, but it never feels anything less than amazing. And the Shiley family will soon have one more place to call home.

“My youngest son [Michael] lives in Pennsylvania, he’s 27 years old,” she says. “He called me all excited because he’s getting ready to close on his first house for him and his family.” Donna told Michael about Credit Karma about a year ago, and he’s since built his score to the point where he can qualify for his own loan.

Donna can’t wait to visit. But first, she’s got some of her own projects to take care of.

“I can’t wait to get started on my backyard,” she says.

Donna and her grandson water the gardenImage: Donna and her grandson water the garden

Ready to take the same steps Donna took to build her credit? With Credit Karma, you can:

About the author: Collin Brennan is Director of Editorial at Credit Karma. He has more than a decade of experience as a professional editor and writer, including six years of experience leading editorial teams at online publications. H… Read more.