For more than 15 years, Tina H. took public transportation or, weather permitting, rode her bike to her various jobs. Sometimes that meant doubling up on everything from socks to gloves and standing in freezing, single-digit temperatures to wait for a bus that was running late—again.

Her husband didn’t have a car either. But he had good credit. So when the couple needed a car to make an out-of-town trip, he put the car in his name. The daughter of first-generation immigrants, Tina says she had been raised under the traditional ethos that the men took the financial lead of the household.

Then, a counselor from Working Credit came to Tina’s employer to give a presentation about the power and necessity of good credit in today’s economy. And her mindset shifted.

“The counselor looked up my credit score and told me that I didn’t have any credit history and that it was hurting me, but that she would help me change that,” she says.

Moving from zero to prime
Tina was making $12 an hour as a direct services worker at a nonprofit that provides services and support for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“I thought improving my credit was going to be a long, drawn-out process,” she says.

She was wrong. Truth was, Tina didn’t have “terrible” credit, as she had feared. She had no credit history and therefore fell into the category of “unscored.” Unbeknownst to Tina, the impact of no credit had the same impact as “bad” credit. That’s why when she filled out applications to rent cars, she was always denied.

Tina’s Working Credit counselor told her to apply for a secured credit card—and to her astonishment, she was accepted. Within six months, her credit score rose to 686. For the first time in her life, she had a prime score. But the everyday benefit that the score had on her life was what really blew her away. Specifically, the positive changes that swept through every level of her life when she walked into a Chicago car dealership and bought a brand new, steel grey, 4-door Kia Sportage—at an interest rate of 6 percent.

A new safety net
The extra bounce in her step is accompanied by an unexpected sense of empowerment that has touched many aspects of her life, she says. Not only does she have more control over her daily schedule, but just as important, she no longer needs to rely on anyone for what a good score can bring—be it a rental car, or a $6,300 line of credit, which she now also has.

“It feels good to have a safety net like that,” she says. “I no longer have to panic about everyday emergencies.”

One financial lesson she would like to share with anyone else who might be in the position she was in over a year ago: “I would tell them credit is not as intimidating as it seems. I was astonished by how easy improving my credit could be.”