Good Day

Today, I received the biggest news since finding out we were pregnant over two years ago. I know many of the LEO wives out there will understand this one.

My husband is moving to day shift.

Having a one-year-old and a husband on nights has been miserable for the last year and some change. For me, but mostly for our son. He has been to young to understand, and he spends most of his time alone with me frustrated, pointing at pictures of his Dad, and trying to run up and hug every police officer we pass. My husband and I saw each other an average of one hour a day, and for my son, sometimes less when he goes to bed early. While I have dealt with the night shift thing (sometimes not as well as I could have), I have been praying for the longest time for God–if it was in His will–to bring my husband to days, somehow. Night shift has grown on me in that I’ve learned to handle the chaos and have found some pros that day shift doesn’t have, but ultimately, our family was suffering.

I can’t imagine how hard of a decision it was for my husband to request days. Coming out of a deployment, he craves the action of nights. He has awesome stats–some of the best in the department, and he’s only been there 13 months. He’s also so close to most of the officers on his shift. I know that my husband will be a little less enthused with day shift calls versus the crazy night shift ones. Ultimately, though, we have to put family first, and I guess that finally clicked. I’m so very thankful that he made this sacrifice for our family. Though the action may be less, the love and joy of our family will be more, and I hope that makes this all worth it for him.

I’m sure I’ll post about the being a night shift wife versus day shift wife come switch time (which isn’t until January), so look out for that!

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Two Week Whirlwind of…Happiness

I haven’t written in 2 weeks. So many times, I’ve told myself, “You haven’t blogged in too long” or “You need to blog today” or “You have time to blog today.” But do I ever end up having time? Nope. The last two weeks have been some of the craziest times, but in some weird way, I feel all too sane. Like, it’s kind of eerie how calm I am. In the last two weeks, I purchased a home with my husband. We took two days to paint, one day to move, and one day to unpack. We unpacked on Monday (Labor Day), and my first day back to school with kids was Tuesday. On my first day of school, I was pulling my work clothes out of plastic trash bags to put them on. I was digging through boxes to try to find my school ID badge. Pure mayhem. On top of that, I’m teaching collaborative this year, so I’m working with students whom I’ve never worked with before, and I also have another teacher in my room. A whole new environment. And any working mother (especially teachers) know that having a long vacation with your little one taken away and having to go back to real life is never enjoyable. I think there were tears on both ends.

But, almost at the end of the second week of school, it’s time to take a breather. Looking back, I handled it all too well. I may sound like I’m bragging…well, maybe I am. In the past year, my life has been mayhem, and while I survived it, I did it barely holding on. Barely above water. I always felt crazy, hectic, chaotic, about to lose it. I still carried the lingering effects of postpartum anxiety with me. I carried the weight of my husband’s PTSD, which flared in some horrible way last school year. At the end of last school year, and even early summer, I found myself unpleasant to be around. Negative. Maybe even a little depressed.

But I told myself: THIS YEAR WILL BE DIFFERENT. (And I’m a teacher, so anytime I refer to year, it means school year). I told myself I would be positive. I told myself that I would carry a smile on my face, with the intent of it being contagious. And I never looked back.

In the last two weeks, I have been happier with my career than I did at all last year. I can feel with friendly vibes with my co-workers, vibes I didn’t get last year. Students have been making a point to come visit my room or talk with me in the halls. I just feel really good about work. We are getting settled into our new home, minus area rugs and pictures on the walls. Our new home–even though it’s a tri-level–has this open and airy quality where I feel relaxed. My marriage has been making strides. My husband has learned to hold back explosive anger and replace it with calm conversation (most of the time), and that’s huge for him. I am starting to feel like I don’t have to walk on egg shells, and if I feel something is wrong or needs improvement, that I can actually bring it up.

It’s good to just stop and take a look at life and be proud of where you are. Even if it’s not exactly where you want to be, you’re on your way. All it took for me was an attitude change. A true change. Not one that I exhibit some days but not others. There is the quote,

“Happiness is a choice,”

and I have found it to be completely true.

Our Experience Buying Our First Home using VA

Below, you’ll find many “dairy entries” describing our process of buying our very first home and using the VA home loan. Hopefully this will help any service members, vets, or their spouses!

July 25: Yesterday, we officially got pre-approved for the VA VHDA home loan! VHDA means first-time buyer (because that’s what we are!). The minimum credit score for this loan (as well as the standard VA loan) is a 620. If you read my post about his credit score experience, you know we worked long and hard to get here! My score was far past that, but because it’s VA, only his mattered. My score will only be used as a small push. It will not be factored into any rates or payments. The interest rate our lender gave us was 3.8%, which is pretty good. Tomorrow, we are officially going house hunting with our awesome Realtor.

July 26: Well, that was quick. Around 7pm tonight, we officially signed an offer on a home. In our area, there isn’t much to choose from. In the city and neighborhood we wanted to be in, most homes are owned by 80-year-olds–and they have the decor, walls, and bathrooms of an 80-year-old. Today, we found the rare gem that was owned by an 80-year-old with great test and reno skills. We knew we had to jump on it! Did I mention it’s 100 yards from the doors of my work? The seller has until 8pm tomorrow to answer our offer. Praying like nobody’s business! Also, today, we started squaring away the financial side of things–the side I know nothing about. I’m going to do a separate post on this. I had no idea what money we’d have to have going into this, and I didn’t find much luck on-line, so hopefully that post will help. Our set closing date, if approved by the seller, is August 27th. In other words, we’ll be moving in the week before the school year starts. Ouch.

July 27: The seller responded with a (crazy) counter-offer today. We asked full listing-price, closing costs, home warranty, and the fridge, washer, and dryer. Considering the housing market sucks and no one asks full price anymore, I figured that would be an easy yes. They came back with full asking price, less than half the closing costs, warranty, fridge, washer, dryer, and the real kicker: they want to stay in the house a month after closing without paying any rent to us. I’m laughing. Not really. I’m irritated. We countered back with our original offer, but asked $1,500 less in closing costs than originally and said they could stay for 7-10 days after closing–which still pisses me off–but not enough to let a house go. Heard back from our realtor and she said they want overnight to think about it. Ugh. We decided that if they come back with anything crazy again, we’re out.

August 1: Yesterday, the sellers officially signed the contract, so we’re all locked in and official. We ended up with a better deal than where we I left off. We upped the asking price by $1,500 and asked for that $1,500 in closing costs, and we finally won with an accepted offer. They even said they wouldn’t need to stay there anymore. Thankfully $1,500 only will cost us one fast food meal a month. Doable! Also yesterday, we signed FIFTY SEVEN pieces of paper with our loan officer, Chris Norwood of TowneBank Mortgage. He is freakin’ fantastic! He has jumped through so many hoops for us, and I’ve felt he’s actually invested in us and our home. We cut his company a $430 check to cover the appraisal fee and the credit report fee. So now, it’s just a waiting game. Waiting on (1) the lender appraisal, (2) the VA appraisal, (3) the home inspection on August 5th, and (4) the final loan approval. I’m so nervous about all of this. If things go wrong, this is where it’s going to happen. So I’m just praying that this is the right time and God has great plans for us and this house! If the house doesn’t appraise, we’d either have to (a) bring the difference in cash–yeah, no, (b) drop the asking price and hope the seller agrees, or (c) walk away. So while B is ideal, it’s probably the least plausible. And of course it’s scary having someone look at all of your finances and deciding whether you’re worthy of their money. Knowing they could knit-pick at one little thing and that could decide our entire future–it’s nauseating, actually. As the old Army motto goes,lets Hurry Up and Wait!

August 6: We had our home inspection yesterday. I was so nervous leading up to the 1 P.M. appointment time that I was sure I was going to hurl. I didn’t hurl. The home inspection went about as well as home inspections can. Mostly small things like “That vent under the house needs to be open in the summer” or “Those shingles need to be nailed down more” or “This valve is missing the knob.”  The homeowner is a retired Army officer turned DOD Civilian, so you can imagine that he kept up the house. Now we’re in the position where we have to decide what to ask them to fix or what to take on ourselves. These homeowners (while probably loaded due to above careers) are nearing 80, the wife has dementia, and he’s taking her to Florida to be with their children. It’s so hard for me to ask them to fix this stuff because I know, for them, it requires calling people in and paying them. Clearly they aren’t getting on a roof anytime soon. Nothing is urgent, and we’re leaning towards not asking them to fix anything. We’re young and we have time and the little bit of money it will cost to fix the minor things. But I reckon we’ll talk to our realtor and see what she thinks before we make any decisions. We have until the 10th to decide. Now it’s waiting on appraisals and the loan. The scariest parts.

August 11: We decided not to take any action on home inspection items. We got an email from the selling agent saying it was such a blessing because the couple was under so much stress. It really confirmed our decision. I also found in that email that the owners are planning on being out by the end of this week. Seeing as our current closing day is slam in the middle of my first week back to school, I just emailed our lender to see if it was possible that we close even earlier. Probably not, but it’s worth a shot to avoid the stress of school starting and moving! Crossing my fingers we can get into the house early, even if by just a few days. UPDATE: The lender said it all comes down to the appraisal; after that, things move pretty quickly. The appraisal is being done tomorrow, so [prayer hands], we may be able to get in this house a little early!

August 20: There’s a dead period after the home inspection that’s enough to drive Hilary Clinton nuts. We close in a week, and we still haven’t heard a word on our appraisal or our loan. Our realtor emailed our loan officer, but he hadn’t received the appraisal info (the appraisal was done exactly a week ago). I’m literally going crazy. Here I am packing up our entire house, and the two biggest things that could totally ruin our home-buying haven’t been cleared yet. It’s super terrifying to think about. So I’m just trying to have faith that if this is our house, I have nothing to worry about.

September 4:
Well, we have been in our new house for one week. We closed on August 29th (a Friday). Closing took thirty minutes. We cleaned and painted Fri/Sat, and moved in Sat evening and Sunday. Unpacked on Monday. Pure chaos seeing as the school year started on Tuesday. I have so much painting to do still, but I did get painted the ugly bright red kitchen and dining room, as well as M’s room. Obviously can’t paint that one during baby naps!! Look out for lots of house project posts.

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Lonely LEOW

Well, summer is officially over as I lay here in an empty bed before my first day back to work tomorrow. As sucky as it feels, I am so thankful to have been able to spend all summer with my baby boy. I think what I dread most about going back to work is the loneliness that comes with it. Where I just go through the endless motions–hardly seeing my child–and seeing even less of my husband. It crushes me, really. I just always wanted that life where husband and wife rise together, get through the work day together, spend family time together around the dinner table talking about their days, and then melt into bed together at the end of the day, knowing they can breathe a sigh of relief that the day is over and they’re still there together. Realizing I’ll never have that–ever–it’s really been breaking my heart lately. I just want to feel like I have a family, but instead I feel like I have a bunch of puzzle pieces I’m constantly trying to fit together, but that never quite fit. I know there’s nothing I can say or do except grin and bear it for the sake of trying to give my boy a normal life, but I just pray God has different plans in store for us. I don’t know how I can do this forever without eventually breaking down for good. Sorry to be leaving you with a bummer post, but my heart is just heavy tonight.

Dinner Planning 101

I have found that a sure-fire way to get fat and be broke is to not plan weekly dinners (and lunch if you work in an office or home setting). I’m a teacher, so I don’t have a choice but to pack breakfast and lunch (which is typically leftovers). However, on weeks when I don’t plan and shop for set dinner meals, we end up eating out like 3 of the 7 nights, and eating random junk another 3 of the 4 nights left. Ouch on the abs and the wallet. My pretty fail-proof method is:

1. Pin realistic dinners on Pinterest.
I have a whole board dedicated to dinners, and I have another board called “Meals that Worked.” When one of those Pinterest recipes turns out successful, I move it there. One easy mistake to make is to pin gourmet chef meals that require a lot of time and strange or uncommon ingredients. Chances are, you’ll never actually make it.

2. Each Saturday (or whatever day you pick), access your Pins or your brain for a week’s worth of recipes.
Pick 7 and simply write them down or keep mental note. If you know there’s going to be a few days where you have to eat on the go, then just pick 5 or 6. I always shoot to eat in at least 5 days a week. On the weekends, we treat ourselves.

3. From those meals, make a grocery list.
Check out the Pinterest recipes, or the ones you’ve memorized, and make a grocery list for the meals. I usually make my list on Saturday and shop on Sunday (a.k.a. Sunday paper coupon day). I prefer a paper list over an app.

4. Look at your weekly schedule and place meals on certain days.
Something else to consider is how ling each meal takes to prep and cook. I save quick meals for hectic nights or days I have faculty meetings. This is where crockpot meals come into play, too!

To do step #4, I use the app MealSchedule. I searched through a billion apps that wanted me to enter in full recipes before I could drag and drop them to the weekly menu. This 0.99¢ app lets me JUST plan meals, nothing more, and that’s all I needed. My favorite part is that you can move meals (or just parts of a meal) to other days in an instant. Plans never work 100% when you have a 1-year-old, a demanding job, and a night-shifter husband. This app isn’t a mega popular one, so it’s a little primitive looking, but it functions perfectly! See my screen shot of this week’s meals below. (We are moving Thu/Fri, hence the takeout meals).

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I Hate Night Shift

It’s not easy to pretend otherwise. This morning, I lashed out at my husband for not cutting the grass on his two days off. While that did irritate me, it wasn’t about the grass. It was about the fact that he is about to be gone for three days (three more days the grass won’t get cut because I can’t cut the grass with a one-year-old alone in the house or running around a yard five feet from the road). The only time we’ll see him is the two hours or so that our waking/sleeping hours overlap.

I try really hard to be supportive of my husband’s job as a cop, but that involves a lot of pretending, and it eventually bubbles over. It’s so hard to pretend that it’s all good when I have to drag a crying one-year-old away from the door when his dad leaves for work. I have to pretend that it’s okay that I literally have to lock my son outside of our bedroom because he knows his dad is in there and wants in. I have to pretend that I enjoy tip-toeing around…and trying to make my one-year-old tip-toe. Ha. I have to pretend that I just love all the extra bed space to stretch out when I sleep alone. Really I still sleep on my side of the bed and feel every chill on my side where he would be. I have to pretend that I like going to functions without you and hear people ask, “David has to work tonight again?” Thanks for the reminder that my husband has been at 1 of the last 5 family parties or get-togethers. I have to pretend that I don’t mind taking on the entire house, our child, and everything else all on my own. Or at least 90% of the time. I have to pretend that I’m okay with the fact that I’m about to have to pack our entire house and move us on my own. I have to pretend that it’s okay every time I have to throw his dinner in the trash because he can’t stop by home and get it, and instead blows money on fast food all night. I have to pretend that I’m okay not being able to go to the gym or for a run when I want to because there’s no one to be home with M.

All that pretending is dangerous in a person. Lashing out over the grass is probably the best case scenario. The truth is, I don’t think a man with a young child should be working night shift. I think he should be there with his young family as much as possible during those hectic years, years when his child can’t understand why he’s gone. When M is 9…10…11, he’ll understand, and he’ll also be able to take care of himself, and night shift would be much easier on us. But right now, it just sucks.

Maybe the worst part of it is that my husband wants to work nights and has turned down day-shift offers. I’ll just keep pretending. Sigh.

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Why Bedtime Still Matters, Especially for Marriage

I have determined (through nothing but sheer experience) that waking and sleeping together is one of the most important things in making a marriage work. I am just sure there are psychological studies to back my claim, but who needs numbers?

Growing up, my mom always made a big deal of bed times. Even into my teen years, she still climbed in my bed and tucked me in. She always stressed the importance of no TV or phones in bed—maybe a book. Going to bed was quiet reflection time. And as an adult, I’ve found that it’s a shame that we often don’t practice this still. While it may no longer be a bed time story or lullaby, it should be relaxing and reflecting (and in my bed, praying) about where the day left us and what tomorrow will bring.

While my husband was in the Army, I always made sure we went to bed together. Most nights, we did. We didn’t have a TV in our room and often put our phones up. It was our time to talk about life, dreams, maybe even peacefully solve an earlier argument we had just dropped, and, well, do other things that are great for marriage. Now, my husband is a night shift cop, and the single thing I miss the most is going to bed with him each night. Now, I find myself lying in bed for hours, unable to sleep. Thinking about what he’s doing at work. Thinking about buying a house. Thinking about how to more effectively discipline my son. Thinking about the future. Thinking about the rapidly approaching school year. But not having anyone to tell these things to allows for me to keep thinking and thinking…and thinking, until it’s 1A.M. and I finally pass out in delirium. Those words “goodnight” and rolling over into our “sleeping positions” (you know, the set ones you always get into every single night) tells my mind, “It’s time to let it all go.” Not just for the night, but for good. And those deep conversations are so good for a marriage. Complete strangers can small talk, but complete strangers can’t talk about things like God’s timing in their relationship, how much their children are just like the other, how they can’t wait until they can take this certain vacation. Intimate conversation brings couples together just as much as other intimacies, and when you have a one-year-old, bedtime is the only time you can hold a conversation for longer than one minute.

I feel like this is a badly written vent, but I guess it’s just what I needed to do. I miss my husband beside me every night. On the nights he is home, the difference in our relationship is miraculous. Now, that may have something to do with my bitter attitude that I sometimes let sneak out. But bedtime, people. Try it. It does wonders for your marriage.

The Domino Effect of Generosity

I always like to share moments that restore faith in humanity, even if just a little bit.

Yesterday, I sadly drove by a closed Chick-Fil-A as I was leaving BootCamp at the gym. After literally dripping sweat from my nose and eyelashes, all I wanted was a chicken sandwich and sweet tea. Literally every time I leave the gym, I’m starving. And literally every time I leave the gym, I’m forced to drive by Chick-Fil-A. Needless to say, today, I was gonna get my chicken sandwich, dag on it! I packed up the kiddo when he woke up from his nap and we headed out.

Single mothers will definitely understand the next scene, only I’m not single. Just the wife of a night-shift cop.

I’m being stared at from the moment I walk in the door because my kid’s shoes have fallen off and I’m trying to wrestle him because he wants to walk but he doesn’t have shoes on so I won’t let him. Then I’m trying to dig through my purse for a debit card while holding him. Then I’m trying to carry him, two drinks, and a tray to a table…while steering a highchair. And everyone is just watching me do it all and either wondering how or contemplating helping me. Then, thank goodness, we have a peaceful lunch with no food-throwing or tantrums. Then it’s time to leave. I’m steering his highchair with one hand (he thinks it’s a fun ride) while balancing the tray of trash with the other. I need to order my husband’s food and tea to take home and get a refill for my sweet tea. I get that done. I get to my car and place our drinks, his food, and M’s shoes (which have fallen off again) on the roof. I get him strapped in his seat, and then it happens.

I hear a thud. Nope not a car accident. Worse. D’s sweet tea falls off the car (somehow) and crashes to the ground with such ferocity that the cup breaks. I immediately decided I’d just give him my refill. To save the God-awful seagulls, I pick up the cup, lid, and straw and proceed to throw them in my car to throw away at home. Then, an angel in the form of a Chick-Fil-A manager appears. I’m sure everyone in the restaurant was watching my fiasco, including her. Out she comes with another sweet tea–even though she wasn’t the one to even take my order. I guess I just look like a sweet tea kind of girl. That kind gesture absolutely made my day.

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So much so, that the rest of the day–at two banks and at the grocery store, I found myself being generous and extremely kind to everyone I come in contact with.

We often underestimate the power of a kind gesture. A sweet tea, a dollar, a helping hand, a smile. These things have a domino effect. When someone shows you one of these generosities, it’s almost as if you can’t help but feel to return the favor to another stranger. If you’ve gotten through my longwindedness (a.k.a English teacher syndrome), I challenge you to do one generous act today or tomorrow. Even if it’s something so simple that you think that it won’t matter. Trust me, it will.

Money Matters: Homebuying Costs, Paperwork, and the VA Loan

Today (gasp), we officially put in an offer on a home! The seller has until 8pm tomorrow to answer it, and I’ll be freaking out and will have high blood pressure until then. Needless to say, I’ve been doing some researching on this process in the last few days. Something I wanted to know was, “Exactly what kind of money will we have to pay out of pocket?” I found a few vague sites that were speaking finance talk that I didn’t understand. That didn’t help. So, now that we’ve gotten it all squared away ourselves, here’s some info that might help you out if you’re in that boat. Note: We used the VA loan, which isn’t a standard loan, so some requirements might be different (like the fact that we don’t have a down payment). We also had a 30-day closing timeline, so some time frames may differ. We asked for closing costs, too. I’ve also included a list of paperwork we needed. That would have been helpful. Instead, I ran around like a crazy person looking through filing cabinets and calling companies for records.

Basics:

Asking Price of Home: $180,000

VA Funding Fee (financed with price above): $3,870

Approximate Closing Costs: $5,715.13

What’s Due and When:

  • What: Deposit / Due: when writing offer
    • We wrote this check for $500 to our real estate agent’s company at the time we wrote the offer with her. Basically, this deposit ensures the buyer that you’re serious. If something falls through, you typically get this back. The only way you won’t is if you just randomly peace out on the seller (“I found a better house. I don’t want yours anymore”).
  • What: Appraisal Fee and Credit Report Cost / Due: in the 7 days after offer is accepted
    • For us, this totaled $430 ($400 appraisal and $30 credit report). This check was due to the lender by the 7th day after our offer was accepted. Not 7 business days. 7 days.
  • What: Home Inspection / Due: in the 10 days after offer is accepted
    • The home inspection has to take place in the 10 days after the offer is accepted. This amount all depends on the square footage of the home. Ours is 1,903 sq. ft. and the approximate inspection cost is $350.
  • What: Escrow or “Good Faith” Fund / Due: from time offer is accepted until closing
    • This was definitely the most confusing concept for me. This sum of money, 1% of the asking price ($1,800) for us, is “due” from the time your offer is accepted until you close. For our lender, we didn’t have to cut him a check for $1,800. Here’s the deal. The $500 deposit and $430 check to the lender count towards this (considering they prove that you really are invested in making this home yours). The inspection does not count towards this–in most cases. So, let’s subtract $930 from $1,800. We’ve got $870 left. Basically, all we had to do was provide bank statements showing we had this much money or more in our regular (checking/savings) bank accounts. And that’s it. I have read where some lenders do require a check in hand, but thankfully, it wasn’t ours! If you follow through with the deal, this money is credited back to you at closing.

Paperwork Needed for Lender

  • Lenders don’t like when family members gift you with money to cover the out of pocket expenses of home-buying. My dad sends me a monthly check to help with student loans, so I had to have him write a statement that it was not a gift and is for student loans. The repeated check from him on our bank statement was additional proof for this.
  • W2’s from the last 3 years
  • Federal tax returns from the last 3 years
  • DD 214 (for VA loan only)
  • Paystubs for most recent 30 days
  • Copy of Driver’s License of Gov’t ID
  • Home buyer education class
  • Proof that any collections are paid
  • Landlord information
  • Copy of last three months of bank statements
  • 2 examples of 12-month-long good payment history (credit cards, loans, phone bill, electric bill, insurance payment, etc.) – We used phone and insurance

Fixing His Credit Score

Recently, my husband and I had to do some major work at tackling a bad credit score. We wanted to use his VA loan to buy a house, but he wasn’t approved at first. Due to military pay gone horribly wrong (that we are still fighting), my husband’s credit needed help. After researching the heck out of what a credit score really was, and by watching his like a hawk, we managed to make his score go up 58 points in just 3 months. We are now VA approved and house hunting! Below, I’ve tried to sum up the basics of a credit score. Be advised that I am not a financial officer, and I have an English degree. I hate numbers. This is your average gal talking about money. The best advice will come from a financial adviser or lender.

What a credit score is: a number, determined by an equation with many factors (an equation that no one knows), that shows how financially responsible you are. Note: It says responsible. Not stable. Not wealthy. You can have $1,000,000 in your bank account and have an awful credit score! When applying for any type of loan, credit card, rental house, even electricity or cable TV, companies may require your credit score to be above a certain place so they can be sure you can and will pay their bills. What your credit score needs to be depends on what you’re purchasing. It’s always a good idea to be in the 650-700 range or higher. Most home loans require a minimum of around 640 to 660.

Things that determine your credit score:

  • Open Credit Utilization: The percent of your credit card “allowance” that your actually using. It = credit card maximum allowances divided by credit card balances. Ex. If you have a $10 balance on your credit card with a $100 max, your credit utilization is 10%. You want to keep your credit utilization between 1% and 20%. 0% will hurt you just as much as 50% will. For this reason, I never fully pay the balance on our credit cards. If my balance is $30 come due date, I’ll pay like $25. The amount you leave on it (in that case $5) will acrue interest, but if it’s only $5, your interest may be all of like 0.30 cents, which is worth not risking your score dropping due to a 0% utilization.
  • Percent of On-Time Payments: This is just what it sounds like. It’s the number of payments you’ve had divided by the number of them that were paid on time. You want this number to be 100%, but not lower than like 98% or 97%.
  • Average Age of Open Credit Lines: This is the average of how long you have had credit accounts open. This is where young people get hurt because most won’t have more than 2 years or so. If you’ve had a credit card for 2 years and student loans for 4 years, your average age of credit will be 3. The higher that number, the better. That’s not something you can change quickly. What you can do, however, is not close out your oldest credit card. For example, my husband has a credit card through the Army PX (Military Star Card) that he no longer uses. However, because it is his oldest credit card, I did not close it out because it would make this number drop.
  • Total Number of Accounts: This is simply how many credit lines you’ve had open–ever. Again, this number makes young people suffer because we have less credit experiences. Most young people will only have 2 to 3. Having student loans helped me drastically here. Do not rush into getting new credit lines to improve this number. It will happen over time.
  • Hard Credit Inquiries: A credit inquiry is where a company pulls your credit to see whether they should approve you for their loan or service. A hard inquiry is a detailed one that goes on your credit report. You only want between 0 and 2 at a time. If you go applying for a bunch of credit cards and loans at once, it will destroy your credit. There are soft inquiries (done by home loan lenders, etc.) that do not go on your credit report, and, therefore, do not affect your credit. Hard inquiries usually take 12 months to fall off your credit report (making your credit score go up when it does), but some can take longer. So, when you apply for something that pulls credit, make sure it is worth it!
  • Derogatory Marks: These are kind of like stamps from companies that say “You are bad with money!” They usually happen when you continually miss or refuse payments with a company. These derogatory marks only come off after months and months of improving your on-time payments with that company. It’s hard to get one of these, but when you get one, you can almost be guaranteed to be denied for a loan or credit card. One or two missed payments rarely ever make a company give you a derogatory mark.

Steps to Improve Credit:

  1. Shop for a credit card. If your credit score is low, look into a secured credit card (where you pay the max on it…so you’re spending your own money…thereby eliminating the risk for the credit card company). My husband got the Capital One secured card and we only put a $200 max on it. It worked wonders!
  2. Use the credit card like I explained under the “credit utilization” section. We put $30 of gas in a car once every credit statement period. That was an easy way to make sure we didn’t go over-board on spending and ruin our utilization. This method alone did amazing things with credit!
  3. Use a free app like Credit Karma. While the credit score is not exact (because it’s not a FICO [a.k.a. official] credit score), it will give you an accurate picture of the categories listed above. My credit score on CK is about 40 points lower than Experian, while my husband’s is 20 points higher. So, don’t worry too much about the exact credit score it gives you. However, if your credit score jumps by like 30 points on Credit Karma, you can bet it probably made a big jump with FICO, too.
  4. Use your one free credit report per year. You can get it online through various websites. Just make sure it’s actually free! You shouldn’t have to put in any credit card info. This is how my husband found out he had a student loan debt in collections, which of course killed his credit a few years ago. The school told him he wouldn’t have to pay the loan back while he was in the Army, but he was told wrong. And of course, when they tried to contact him about the loan being due, he was on the other side of the world and never got a word of it. The only way we found out was by pulling his credit report a year later. It will let you see exactly what may be hurting your credit score. There are also cases where someone may have stolen your identity or opened a card or loan in your name. This will alert you to anything like that, and you can then dispute that item.
  5. You can get a small personal loan (for, say, $1,000), but this is a long-term change. It can take 1 to 2 years for this loan to positively affect your credit score. As you see with my husband, a credit card works much faster (and is easier to get).

I hope this info will give you a basic no-brainer look at what it takes to, hopefully, pull your credit score up! Have you found anything else that works? What advice do you have for other readers?