For those of us actively trying to improve our financial situation, it’s inspiring to read about others who have succeeded. Dilenia Frias is one such example, embarking upon Wise Bread’s Total Financial Transformation Plan, and successfully improving her credit score, better managing her debt, and on the road to higher earnings in just a few, short months.

When we first met Dilenia in August, she shared her financial concerns with us: Over $200,000 in student loan debt, tens of thousands owed on credit cards, personal loans, and a timeshare, a damaged credit score, and relatively low earnings despite graduating law school. To top it off, Dilenia was recently unemployed for two years, and is a single mother residing in New York City, an area with arguably the highest of cost of living in the country. (See also: The Fastest Way to Eliminate Credit Card Debt)

We decided to help Dilenia tackle these challenges one-by-one, by providing methodical advice for stabilizing her debt, raising her credit score, and improving her earnings. Read on to hear Dilenia’s story in her own words — and even better, her remarkable progress in the two months since we first talked.

Credit Cards

I have $8,500 in credit card debt, spread over three cards — American Express, Children’s Place, and Discover cards. My cards’ interest rates are anywhere from 10.99-24%, and most are maxed out or over their credit limit.

Our advice:

  • Contact your creditors, explain your situation, and request lower interest rates, if possible. Always pay on time — even if it’s only your minimum payments.
  • Try to bring your balances under the credit card’s limit — this will have an immediate impact on your credit score. Long-term, your goal should be to keep your balances under 30% of your total available credit. This will significantly boost your credit.
  • One useful trick for repaying cards is to make two payments per month, instead of just one. For example, if you normally make one monthly payment of $100, try making two payments of $50 each. Since interest is calculated over the entire month, this will reduce your interest owed. Plus, depending on what time of the month your card reports to the credit bureaus, it may also show a lower debt level and boost your score.
  • Don’t close your credit cards — even once you pay them off! This reduces the amount of credit you have available, which lowers your credit score.

Dilenia’s credit card situation now

My Equifax credit score went up 48 points to 677!

I hadn’t used my Children’s Place credit card in about a year, and the suggestion was to use the card for at least a small amount, so that my account wouldn’t get closed for lack of use, so I spent $125 on gift cards in August. I received my bill later in August and paid it on time. I received an email approximately a week ago that my credit limit was increased from $500 to $750.

I also paid my American Express enough so that my statement only showed a $99 balance when the statement printed (so I was using a little under 20% of my credit limit). My Discover card was also a bit over the…