Vanessa Worthen helps her daughter Avey Levin, 6, with her homework as her son J.J. Levin, 2, looks on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018 in their Novato, Calif. home. Eric Kayne for The Penny Hoarder

Vanessa Worthen just wanted to go to Disneyland.

A stay-at-home mom in the San Francisco Bay area, Worthen wanted to start traveling with her two children, a 6-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy. Naturally, she figured a travel rewards credit card would help.

“I wanted a card where I’d get points back,” she says. “I’m always at the grocery store, shopping for the kids, and I thought it’d be good to use a card where I’d earn travel points. I want to take my kids to Disneyland.”

So she applied for a popular travel rewards card. But she didn’t qualify, and she had no idea why. It was baffling.

Looking for answers, she signed up with Credit.com, a free credit monitoring service. She ended up being surprised by the difference it would make.

Learning What She Didn’t Know She Didn’t Know

Worthen raised her credit score by 75 points within 6 months and it continues to climb. Eric Kayne for The Penny Hoarder

“I never had a need to check my credit before,” says Worthen, 35, of Novato, California, “but I’ve been using their tips, and I’ve already seen my credit improve.”

In only six months, her credit score has shot up by 75 points. “It was 630, and now it’s at 705,” she says.

Credit.com supplied her with a free credit score and a “credit report card” identifying problems that were hurting her score. She got personalized tips for how she should manage her credit.

She quickly discovered one major problem: She owed a lot of money compared to her overall credit limit. That hurt her credit utilization ratio — the percentage of her available credit that she was actually using. That’s a major factor in credit scores.

Sure, she needed to start paying down her credit card balances. But at the same time, she also needed to acquire more credit. Believe it or not, she needed another credit card or two, or she needed to raise her credit limits on her existing cards.

“It’s kind of a funny thing,” she says. “To have good credit, you need to get more credit.”

Worthen matter-of-factly notes that she didn’t know much about all of this before signing up with Credit.com.

“There’s a lot of information I just kind of assumed I understood, and I didn’t,” she says.

The Curse of Unpaid Bills

Vanessa Worthen poses in front of a lake.
Credit.com helped Worthen navigate ways to pay off old debts and remove them from her credit report. Eric Kayne for The Penny Hoarder

After signing on with Credit.com, Worthen learned of another hidden problem that was hurting her credit: a couple of old, unpaid bills.

“There were accounts I didn’t know were in collections,” she says. “I just had no idea. I didn’t know those were on my credit report. They [at Credit.com] were able to bring that to my attention.”

“One was an old cable bill from an account that I had with an old roommate. She thought I had taken care of it, and I thought she had taken care of it.”

With Credit.com’s guidance, Worthen was able to work with the cable company, settle the bill for a reduced amount and get it off her credit report.

Now She’s Got a Game Plan

Worthen plays at a Novato, Calif., park with her children Avey Levin, 6, and J.J. Levin, 2, on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018.
Worthen plays at a Novato, Calif., park with her children  on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018. Eric Kayne for The Penny Hoarder

Now that she’s seen the results, Worthen is following a step-by-step action plan suggested by Credit.com, where her credit score and her report card get updated every two weeks.

“I’m using their budgeting techniques to get my credit card balances down,” she says. “Now I have a game plan for how I’m going to pay it off each month.”

Credit.com makes money by selling credit monitoring and identity theft protection services and by partnering with advertisers who pay for referrals.

Worthen gets what she needs for free.

And whenever she has a question, she actually calls the company on the phone.

“It’s very user-friendly,” she says. “Everyone I’ve talked to in customer service has been helpful, and they’ve followed up with me immediately.”

Now she has a credit score that’s north of 700, and she has her coveted Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card to earn travel rewards. She uses it every time she goes to the grocery store.

Sure, she earns double points when she spends money on travel or dining out. But more importantly, she earns a point for every dollar she spends on groceries for her 6- and 2-year-old kids.

Vanessa Worthen has a plan for next summer.

She’s going to Disneyland.

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He’s been to Disneyland.

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