I Have One of the Lowest Scores in the U.S., and I’m Proud of It
NEW YORK (MainStreet) – When you’re born with the surname Penny, you can’t help but think about money. As the runt in my family (and the youngest), my fascination has always been with living at zero. For me, a perfect credit score is absolute zero (I’m aware it doesn’t go that low), and currently I’m in the bottom seventh percentile. So I write this blog not to brag, but to hopefully zero in on the masters who have achieved the arcade top 10 of low FICO scores.
Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion are the final boss of personal finances, and I know some of you are beating me to a bottom balance, so I beg of you for tips. As a sign of good faith, I’ll remove my invisibility cloak and share with you my secrets of trolling macroeconomics on a micro-level.
Here’s what worked for me…
Minors and Contracts
The hardest hackers to catch are intelligent minors who understand contracts don’t apply to them. You’ve never been anonymous, even before the Internet, because the banks have always tracked you for the government. Why do you think they never do much of anything to each other?
When I was 11, Napster didn’t even exist, so I had to walk uphill both ways barefoot through broken glass in the snow just to listen to music.
I signed (not clicked) my first contract (not terms and conditions) with the BMG Music Club (not The Pirate Bay) after pulling (not hacking) my Dad’s junk mail (not email) out the trash can (not folder), accepting his offer for 12 CD’s (not .mp3’s) and signing (not typing) my name. Then I took a 20-cent stamp from the kitchen drawer, and walked (not clicked) it down the street to the mailbox.
I was now in their database of customer data, which was sold to all sorts of companies that began sending me junk mail.
By 12 I joined Columbia House. By 17, I had accumulated over 500 CD’s from about a dozen contracts with these companies that I never paid a single penny for. Don’t even get me started on the magazine subscriptions. Sue me – I was a minor. Which reminds me…
I’ve worked since I was 5 – from selling Kool-Aid at family yard sales (collecting Kool-Aid points to upgrade my life) to delivering flyers on my skateboard and BMX bike, I knew how to hustle the streets at a young age.
My brother Frank was two years older than I, so when he turned 10 and qualified for a newspaper route, I was instantly jealous. I helped roll and wrap the papers and offering to deliver the free editions. Eventually, the family tired of my constant whining and begging, and my brother conceded to allowing me to split the route with him, alternating delivery and collection days and splitting the profits evenly.
The Christmas after I turned 12, Santa Mom got extra savings accounts with First Interstate Bank and assigned me and my brother each as cosigners to what we considered our first bank accounts. It was the best stocking stuffer ever – a record for the next time someone stole my money. It wasn’t until my meditation practice later in life I realized the cost of that information wasn’t worth it. Liquid assets can’t be frozen…
At 16, I convinced the manager at the local Jack in the Box to hire me part-time for the graveyard shift. She was hesitant at first, but she saw how bad I wanted to finally get a real job. Soon after, First Interstate Bank allowed me to get a student savings and checking account of my own, but I was still a ways off from my first debit and credit cards.
On my 18th birthday, I proudly walked into what was by that time Wells Fargo to obtain my first debit and credit cards. I qualified for their student accounts with a lot of extra features and higher limits because I was a legacy customer of the regional First Interstate Wells Fargo consumed on its quest to become too big to fail.
I was a proud n00b, eager to level my troll.
Rotating Consumer and Student Debt
We’re lucky enough to live in a country where debtor’s prisons are illegal, which is to say they can’t hold you in jail over a debt. What creditors can do, however, is force you to keep showing up to mandatory court dates until you slip up and are held in contempt of court.
Contempt of court is a civil misdemeanor judges and commissioners use to hold deadbeats in jail on a purge instead of a standard bail. A purge can be set as high as the debt owed, and you won’t be released from jail until you pay the purge. If ever held on a civil purge, be sure to be polite to the judge at all times, or you’ll be held in county jail (not state or federal prison) indefinitely.
Understanding the rules and social contracts of the game, I began my quest by gaining credit card XP. By using my credit card to pay utility bills and rent, I was able to buy a cushion of time where I could make minimum payments on the card, stretching out my liquid assets and, after 6 months of on-time payments, slowly raising my credit limit.
Bankruptcy is unnecessary and expensive – I can just rotate balances until they’re maxed out, wait 7 years, and start all over. But first, a side quest about paying for higher education.
Loopholing Government Subsidies and Quotas
At the same time, I pulled out the maximum amounts of both subsidized and unsubsidized student loans in addition to my Pell Grant and full-ride minority scholarship at Arizona State.
Minority scholarships work similar street maintenance contracts in that if the organization giving out the money doesn’t spend this year’s quota, their budget is lowered the next year. So, if they don’t get enough qualified minority applicants, they’ll award them based on academic merit to the rest of the applicant pool.
This SWM applied for every minority scholarship I could, obtaining a full-ride Maroon and Gold scholarship from ASU, which I later walked away from after making the Dean’s list to avoid giving credit for any future achievements, though they still occasionally manage to find me for fundraising and alumni spam.
The Benefits of Fraternizing
By the time I maxed out my Wells Fargo Credit Card, I had already gotten a job (and employee bank accounts, safe deposit box, and credit card) working as a 6th bucket collections agent, skip tracing for Chase Manhattan down University Drive from the Tau Kappa Epsilon house I lived in my sophomore year.
ASU’s official records will only show me attending one year, but the student president at the time was also the TKE Praetonis, and is still a Facebook friend of mine who can confirm I was there.
I learned you can sit in on any classroom of 80 or more for free (and I was surrounded by students from a variety of majors), so there was no need to confine my learning to only six classes a semester when I could jump in and out of 50 in a year, network, and manage an organic knowledge bank while working at the bank. I don’t need to know all the answers so long as I know someone who does.
Pledging the fraternity was nothing compared to passing Chase’s fingerprint background checks though. I only had to last six months to get vested in their employee stock, which had split several times, both before and after my 5 month tenure in 2000.
I didn’t need their stock – my gold reserves were fine, and I had no loan on my mount.
I saw the backend of the major credit scores and bank skip-tracing software. Chase paid me, an AP math whiz, to train me on their collection processes and procedures, along with the Fair Debt Collection Act and several other laws, rules, and regulations. Upgrading those stats was much more valuable; it made trolling bill collectors throughout my life much more entertaining for everyone but the bill collectors.
To hedge my bets, the same day I opened my employee accounts with Chase, I opened up the same accounts with Bank One on the corner directly across the street. Then I walked down the street to the Wells Fargo ATM, deposited an envelope with a slip of paper inside that said “Fuck You! ;P”, input it as a $500 check deposit, and withdrew $100 from my $0 balance account.
I still have that Wells Fargo student debit card and ATM receipt in a box somewhere with other souvenirs and trophies I’ve collected over the years, like an American Express Black card that says “Your Name Here” from my days working for their Membership Rewards premium department.
Age 21: Breaking Out the Army Insurance
A year later, I rotated my consumer debt around enough to max it all out and started looking at how to get rid of the student debt. Being raised on Army bases (and, at that age having Tri-Care health insurance and having not even the first clue real health insurance is like), I decided I was finally old enough to troll real contracts, so I enlisted in the Army.
The day after my 21st birthday (which was on Thanksgiving in 2001 and 9 weeks into basic training), I had surgery to remove a cyst from my hip and was put on a medical profile that gave me full immunity to any conceivable punishment the drill sergeants could come up with. I was also introduced to codeine and OxyContin, which was prescribed like candy.
High on government-issued opiates I started skipping around the base with my full medical profile, loudly singing the Smurfs theme song and greeting each combat-seasoned veteran training us for the new war with a cheerful “’ello Drill Smurf” after stopping to stand at attention.
When they sent me home for Christmas, I immediately weaned myself off the opiates with cannabis and crashed on my soon-to-be girlfriend’s couch to wait out my leave and the AWOL timeframe. I had plenty of time before the clock ticks deserter, but I had to make good use of it. I studied my training manuals and enlistment contracts, scoured Internet forums (emailing questions to a couple lawyers), and memorized as much information as I could before turning myself in at the 11th hour.
My mom already warned them I planned to break their contracts, and they knew from my ASVAB scores and decades of data they collected when I was using their computers at the Department of Defense Dependents School system during my childhood in the 80’s and early 90’s that I was intelligent enough to game their system.
After a couple months of hard labor, the Army discharged me with Uncategorized listed on my DD-214. This bought me a six-month safety net in case I need it later in life.
Age 27-30: Debt Recycling
By 27, my initial consumer debt had fallen off my FICO score, which included my student debt through a balance transfer to a consumer credit card. I had to request a few copies of credit reports from all three credit agencies online, then mail the disputes in, but I eventually got them removed. Occasionally a third-party debt collector will still illegally report a balance from those days, and I have to redo it.
Now working in Bank of America’s mortgage and insurance tracking operations, I used the employee accounts and safe deposit box to supplement the previous Wells Fargo and BofA accounts I opened as an employee of University of Phoenix and Verizon Wireless, bypassing FNIS’s ChexSystems.
This left me free to apply for credit cards with Capital One and Wells Fargo again (along with Xbox Live, and a bunch of other random cards to see where they’d lead), of which I obtained multiple in order to rotate debt again.
Age 30-35: Whistleblowing and Returning Students
After blowing the whistle and leaving the bank with in-depth back-end knowledge of mortgage and insurance tracking systems, processes, procedures, laws, rules, and regulations, I still had time to kill before my consumer debt would reset, so I fell back on student debt.
I moved to Clearwater, FL to return to school, restarting the student loan process and taking classes without books in order to purchase a van to live in and save money. I’m sure I can string forbearances and deferments along long enough to hit my scheduled timeframes.
St. Petersburg College gave me a student deposit account through Higher One to deposit the Stafford loans into. Soon it evolved into another checking account through WEX Bank, bypassing my ChexSystems blacklist.
I also opened a few PayPal accounts, and obtained PayPal Credit. Withdrawing from the PayPal Credit account isn’t possible, so I transfer between the accounts often. If they were FDIC-insured, it’d probably be considered money-laundering, but what do I know? I’m just a consumer.
Soon I had accounts with Google Wallet, Apple Pay, and Green Dot bank through a refillable pre-paid Rush Card that also bypassed my ChexSystems blacklist. By the end of this year, my previous debt will have expired, and I’ll restart the process to have it all removed from the three major credit reports to restart the process once again.
In the meantime, I received a letter a few years back stating my FICO credit score is in the bottom 7% of America, and I want to know how some of you people are managing to beat me. I want to hear tips from the pros of low credit scores so I can finally achieve my childhood dream of appearing on the start screen of that arcade machine with the lowest score possible, and the initials “ASS.”
Brian Penny is a former business analyst and operations manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. He’s a frequent contributor to Huffington Post, Main Street, Fast Company, Cannabis Now, and Hardcore Droid.