In 2015, Credit Karma went to Charlotte, NC and invited people to talk to us about their experiences with money and credit. We talked to people with many different backgrounds. Some were Credit Karma members, others were not. Participants were told in advance their stories might be shared online. These stories helped us understand the financial struggles that many people face. We thought they might help others too.
These are real stories, told by real people in their own words.
They received a financial gift for sharing their stories, but we want to take this time to thank them again. Check out our My Money Story series on YouTube.
Leah's husband passed away when she was in her late thirties. He didn't leave her in any debt, but most of their shared credit accounts were in his name. To get a fresh start, Leah decided to ask the bureaus to remove these open accounts from her credit history, so she called the credit bureaus and they updated her report.
However, she quickly realized that this was a mistake. Doing so greatly decreased her score, Leah says.
"(Before), I had all the resources - but life can take a turn. It made me wake up," she says. Until then, she hadn't truly understood that credit can affect huge life milestones such as getting a job or buying a home - or even something more intangible like your self-esteem.
More painful lessons followed - her car insurance premium doubled now that her score had dropped and one boyfriend broke up with her because she had no credit score and a lower earning potential than he did. Her advice on that one? "Don't date dumb dudes," she jokes.
To rebuild her credit history, Leah got a secured credit card. Every time she made a purchase on it, even if it was just $20, she would immediately pay it off. In addition, she began to pay more attention to her credit report. Over time, she saw improvements in her credit score.
Now, at 45, Leah's in a much better place, both financially and emotionally. "It's just a learning lesson. Things are speed bumps, not stop signs. ... Having everything and losing everything - the most important part about it is being able to come back from the bottom," she says. As for her credit? "I want to be at an 800 credit score - that's my goal."
She also recommends taking the time to learn about credit and getting over the fear of asking people for help or advice. She says, "Study, read, especially if there's something about your credit that you don't know."
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