Get a credit makeover

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - When Nicole Carmichael decided to write an essay for the credit report company Experian, she was trying to win a contest that could change her life.

"I can't continue to do this to me and my daughter every day, month and year," she wrote. "There has to be a better way to handle all of this debt."

Like millions of other people, the recession ruined her financially. She lost her job. "You kinda have to decide whether you're going to buy groceries, pay for gas, or pay for your lights to stay on," Carmichael says. And then she lost her credit. "Probably within six months my credit score dropped maybe a hundred to a hundred and fifty points."

But Experian was so impressed with her will to change, she won their national contest. Carmichael got five thousand dollars to help pay off her debt, and credit lessons that are simply priceless. Lessons that can help you too.

First, as tempting as it might be, Carmichael says don't hide from debt collectors.

"I know a lot of people ignore the phone calls from the creditors," she says, "but because I talked to them, a lot of them have had some really good programs that have helped me.

Second, don't close your credit cards when you pay them off - use them responsibly to build credit.

"Pay them off at the end of every month so you won't be charged interest," Carmichael advises.

Also, try to bring in money any way you can while you're paying down your debt.

"I took anything," Carmichael confesses. "If they would have said 'can you shovel snow," I would have done it."

And finally, she advises, don't buy anything without searching the Internet first for coupons.  These days, there's one for just about anything you might need.

"I'm definitely a coupon person," Carmichael says. "I mean, that's a job in itself. But I have saved so much money...there's not enough days in the month of April for the free food I get."