How This Mechanic Paid off His Debt and Raised His Credit Score by 219 Points

Nicholas Lawrence posing for a portrait at his repair shop
Within 10 months, Nicholas Lawrence had fully paid down his two credit cards, was given a credit line increase, and was approved for a rewards credit card. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder
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Nicholas Lawrence was maxed out.

A year and a half ago, he had hit the spending limit on his credit cards, and he was struggling to bring the balances down. He owed $2,000. His credit record was damaged by missed payments from the time he was in the hospital for meningitis and the time he lived in Japan for a few months.

His credit score had plummeted to 515, preventing him from getting any more credit.

“It was all on me,” says Lawrence. “I wasn’t really managing my finances properly. I’d try to put myself on a payment plan to lower my balance. I’d keep doing that, and I’d keep doing that, but then I might make just the minimum payment the next month. And then a couple months later, I’d be back to where I started.”

It was demoralizing. It was like running in place, never getting anywhere.

Since then, though, he’s turned things completely around with an app called Debitize.

Today, this 23-year-old mechanic, college student and entrepreneur from Tampa, Florida, has his finances firmly under control. He owns a growing business and has a wallet full of high-limit credit cards — plus $1,400 in travel rewards.

His credit score shot from 515 to 710 in only 10 months. It kept rising, and now it’s up to 734 — an increase of 219 points.

This App Turns Your Credit Card Into a Debit Card

Lawrence uses the Debitize app on his phone to help pay his existing balances down over time.
Lawrence uses the Debitize app on his phone to help pay his existing balances down over time. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

Lawrence’s sister told him about Debitize, an innovative app that turns your credit card effectively into a debit card and helps you stay on top of your credit card payments.

Here’s the basic idea:

Whenever you make a purchase, whether it’s at the grocery store, the gas station or the Gap, you could use either a credit card or a debit card. (OK, you could also use cash, if you’re some kind of weirdo.)

Either choice — debit or credit — has pros and cons.

Premium credit cards offer perks, such as cash back or travel rewards, but they also make it easy to rack up debt. If you don’t pay off your balance every month, you’ll wind up paying a lot of interest. And if you miss a payment, there are late fees. On the positive side, you have the flexibility of spending money you don’t have.

Debit cards don’t usually offer cool rewards, but they won’t get you mired in debt, either. It’s pay-as-you-go spending. The debit card is linked to your checking account, so you literally can’t spend money you don’t have — as long as you don’t overdraft.

Debitize has combined the best of both worlds? It basically turns your credit card into a debit card, for free.

Lawrence used Debitize to connect his credit cards to his checking account. (The app is secured with 256-bit encryption, which is what most banking apps use.)

Whenever you swiped your connected credit card, Debitize pulls the same amount of cash from your connected bank account and transfers that money to your Debitize reserve account. Then it automatically uses that money to pay your credit card bill a week before it’s due.

For Lawrence, it’s the best of both worlds: He can build credit and get those sweet credit card perks, and he can prevent himself from running up unmanageable credit card debt.

Also, to prevent overdrafts, Debitize won’t withdraw funds below the minimum balance in your checking account. Any credit card purchases that you make beyond that will just get added to your credit card debt — Lawrence tries to avoid that.

‘It Did It on Its Own’

That’s just the free version of Debitize, by the way.

Lawrence upgraded to the premium version, which costs $4.99 a month. It has a feature called “Credit Optimizer,” which pays his credit card bills once a week instead of once a month.

Every week, when Debitize paid off that week’s credit card purchases, Lawrence was also having the app automatically pull extra money out of his account. That extra money in his payments steadily chipped away at his credit card balances.

The weird thing is, he didn’t even have to sacrifice much to do all this. He barely noticed it as it was happening.

“It pretty much just brought down my balances on its own,” he says. “Yeah, it’s expensive to pay off your debts, but Debitize was doing it behind my back with my permission. Because it was automated, I didn’t fall off the boat.”

Florida Man Dramatically Improves His Credit

Lawrence poses and works at his truck repair shop in Ybor City in Tampa, Fla.
Lawrence works at his truck repair shop in Ybor City in Tampa, Fla., on September 20, 2018. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

A year and a half ago, Lawrence had two credit cards — a Capital One and a Discover — each with a $1,000 limit, and each maxed out.

Here’s what happened once he started using Debitize:

  • Within six months, he’d paid down his balances enough so he had about $600 credit available.
  • He applied for a Capital One secured credit card and got one with a $500 limit.
  • One of his existing cards got upgraded to a Capital One Quicksilver card with 1.5% cash back on purchases, a $1,000 credit limit, and an additional $2,500 credit line.
  • Once his credit score hit 680, he got approved for a Chase Sapphire Reserve card with a $10,000 credit limit. Chase quickly raised the limit by $4,000.
  • His Discover card upped his credit limit to $2,000.

Total credit available to Lawrence: $19,000.

As for credit card rewards, he currently has about 80,000 points, which he figures is worth $800 in cash or $1,400 worth of travel credit. He has previously used his points to book a free flight to Rome. Sometime next year, he intends to fly to Japan with points.

How Much of Your Credit Do You Use?

Debitize’s Credit Optimizer keeps his credit card balance lower throughout the month, which helps lower Lawrence’s “credit utilization ratio” — the percentage of his available credit that he actually uses. That’s actually a major factor in your credit score.

Debitize says many of its Credit Optimizer users have seen a significant boost to their credit scores.

Now, Lawrence was able to hike up his score by 219 points over a year and a half. That’s because the app helped him improve his credit by eliminating late payments and lowering his credit utilization — and as the process went on, it started accelerating and feeding into itself.

As Lawrence’s credit improved, he got those three new credit cards in the next 18 months — and better credit cards, too. He acquired more and more credit, which meant he had a lot of credit that he wasn’t even using. That meant his credit utilization rate got better and better. Which raised his credit score. Which got him offers for more credit. And so on and so on, a perfect circle of life. (Cue “The Lion King” soundtrack: “It’s the ciiiiirrr-cle of liiiiiife… ”)

Bottom line: “I started keeping my balances under 30%,” Lawrence says.

Boosting His Business

Lawrence poses and works at his truck repair shop in Ybor City in Tampa, Fla.
Lawrence uses his repair shop to fix cars he buys at auction before displaying them for sale on his lot. His growing amount of credit has made the buying and selling process easier. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

Lawrence is an entrepreneur, and his financial turnaround and expanding credit have helped him ramp up his business.

He’s a diesel mechanic, and he inherited a truck repair shop from his retired dad. The garage is in the rear of a building he owns. Out front of the building, he’s running a small car dealership.

He buys cars at auction, fixes them up in his shop, and displays them for sale on his lot. He typically has seven to 10 cars at a time.

The growing amount of credit at his disposal has made it easier to buy and sell cars.

“Having high-limit credit cards has given me the ability to move money around,” Lawrence says. “And because I can move money around, I’ve been able to make more money.”

Oh, and he’s also attending business and communications courses at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

‘This Was Completely Unexpected’

Nicholas Lawrence poses for photos at The University of South Florida in Tampa, Fla.
Lawrence sits on campus at The University of South Florida in Tampa, Fla., where he attends business and communications courses before work, September 20, 2018. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

Lawrence has come a long way from the guy who felt boxed in financially. He’s got enough credit for anything he needs, he’s been able to pay off his balances, and it’s been surprisingly painless.

He’s been able to buy computers and gear for his garage, so he can work on BMWs, Mercedes and Audis, the way he likes to.

He just bought a tricked-out 2018 MacBook, and he used plastic to do it. “I was able to put it on my credit card,” he says. “I’m like, ‘Hey, I can factor this into my budget.’”

Lawrence says Debitize has helped him with three things. First, he lowered his debt. Second, he improved his credit.

“The third thing, which was completely unexpected to me, was this: Debitize has really taught me how to manage and save my money better, you know?”

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He has maxed out more credit cards than he can remember.