Although our credit score is not always an accurate representation of who we are or our ability to pay our debts, a low credit score can affect where we live, what we drive, and what we can afford for many years come. Fortunately, the removal of negative items from your report is an effective method of improving your credit, which I recently learned is easy and relatively affordable when you have a law firm working in your corner.

Last week, I saw an interview with Corey Jex, an IT worker for an e-commerce site, about his 8-month experience with Lexington Law, the leading credit repair service with over 25 years in the business. It prompted me to study reviews about the firm on publications and social media. Lexington Law had the highest ratings and the best success rate of all credit repair services I researched. Just last year, their clients saw 7 million removals from their credit reports with an average of 10.2 items removed in the first 4 months. From late payments to charge-offs to bankruptcies, their firm has improved their clients' credit by removing practically every type of questionable negative item.

Corey got his first credit card in college, where he studied economics. To his surprise, credit reporting and scoring practices were not in the curriculum. As a finance major myself, I also didn't learn anything about credit in school and made the mistake of taking out student loans with high interest rates that I wouldn't be able to afford later on. It's some very practical stuff that many of us have to learn the hard way.

Corey found his low score prompted him to have pay extra money in a lot of places like in additional security deposits, and higher interest rates. "I certainly didn't think my credit score was an accurate representation of what I brought to the table personally, professionally, from an accountability standpoint even."

Corey tried to improve his credit score and report on his own, by sending out challenge letters to each creditor, which was a lot of work. "I had a big Excel spreadsheet tracking when I had sent, and who I had sent to. Then I had to send it back to a bureau. I think in choosing to work with a law firm, like Lexington Law, I was not only able to make less work for myself, but also certainly expedite the process as well."

Lexington Law developed a streamlined processes to reduce costs so lawyer-backed credit repair services could be more affordable. Their experienced attorneys and paralegals are trained in consumer protection laws, helping you resolve items on your credit report in the fastest and most effective way possible. Corey described his experience with Lexington Law's staff:

"No one comes into this situation excited to talk about this stuff, right? You screwed up in college, or missed a couple credit card payments or whatever it was. And you're a little embarrassed. It was refreshing how enjoyable the people were to talk to, and they weren't judgmental; they were understanding. Their goal was not to talk about the past, but to talk about the future."

Lexington Law helped Corey get rid of all the big blemishes from two of his three credit reports, and they are currently working on the third. Corey's goal is to make the next big steps in his life (buying a house and starting a family) as easy as possible with the help of Lexington Law.

Update: Lexington Law is offering our readers a free credit repair consultation, which includes your FREE credit report summary and score. You can follow this link, or call 844-864-9095 to take advantage of this no-obligation offer.

Call anytime between 7am and 11:59pm EST to get your free credit report and score!

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Home garden and porch

As anyone who has ever sold a house will tell you, you must prioritize curb appeal. Before a potential buyer even considers looking inside your house, they notice the outside first. Does it attract the right kind of attention? Does it take away from the feel you're going for? If you plan to sell sometime soon, you must think about these things. Here are some landscaping options to increase your home's curb appeal, so you can get the best price on your home.

Extensive Plants and Greenery

A barren front yard won't get you the price you want on your home. So, invest in at least a little bit of greenery to keep the surrounding area from looking too dead. Shrubs and bushes tie the house to the lawn that precedes it, and flower beds bring a pop of color to an otherwise drab structure. You can also strategically plant some trees to improve the overall feel of your home's exterior.

Lawn Care

As we mentioned, your lawn is one of the most prominent features of your home's exterior. A patchy, dried-up lawn will quickly drive your home's price way down. Some of the best landscaping options for your home's curb appeal involve improving your lawn for the next inhabitant. Overall fertilization, ground aeration, underbrush removal, proper mowing—all of these lawn care tasks contribute to a greener and more lively area that invites people to see your house, rather than stay away from it.

Paved Pathways

There's nothing like a broken and disheveled pathway to make someone think twice about buying a property. Just as you want the entryway in your house to be welcoming, so too should the pathway leading up to the house be inviting. The pathway from the street to your front door provides plenty of real estate to get creative with. You don't have to settle for a boring concrete pathway. Consider something more eye catching, like a cobblestone path or intermittent brick patterns, as a way to better welcome potential buyers.

Usable Outdoor Furniture

Landscaping doesn't just involve the ground you walk on; also included are the items you use as extras to the overall look. Outdoor furniture is one such extra that you don't necessarily need but can look quite attractive if done correctly. Staging is important with outdoor furniture. Old, broken-down pieces will only look like more work to the potential buyer. A few comfortable chairs, a bench, or a table with an umbrella really go a long way to improving your outdoor aesthetics.

A good tip for deciding on curb appeal items is to decide what you personally would want to see as a part of a welcoming home's exterior. You don't need to go overboard, but a little bit of forethought could net you quite a lot of extra cash in the sale.

Unfortunately, giving back can sometimes go haywire. If you're ready to make a donation, first consider common mistakes made when giving back.

Many people strive to support their community by donating their time or their money. When you find a meaningful cause, you might be quick to cut a donation check. Though it's admirable to be quick to act charitably, you should be wary of several common mistakes made when giving to charity. Being mindful of these mistakes and learning tips for making informed charitable choices can help you make the most out of your generous check.

Acting Quickly Out of Emotion

Mission statements are meant to be compelling. If you're an emotionally driven individual, it's natural to pull out your wallet at the sight of a sad puppy on TV or when informed about food insecurity over the phone. Unfortunately, not all charities are as effective or official as they may seem.

Take your passion for helping others one step further by making sure your chosen charity is legit. Speaking with a representative, reviewing their website and social media accounts, and looking at testaments online can give you a better idea of whether the organization is worth your donation.

Forgetting to Keep Record of the Donation

Don't forget that you can reap some financial perks from giving back! With the proper documentation of your donation, you can acquire a better tax deductible.

If you donate more than $12,400 as a single filer or $24,800 as one of two joint filers, you're eligible to deduct that amount from your taxes. So, when a charity asks if you'd like a receipt of donation, always answer yes.

Donating Unusable Materials

Most charities can utilize a monetary donation—it's the physical donations that usually cause some issues. Providing a local nonprofit with irrelevant materials or gifting them with unusable products are surprisingly common mistakes made when giving to charity.

Always check your intended charity's website for a list of things they do and do not accept. The majority of places will provide a guideline to donating or offer contact information to clarify any questions.

Strictly Giving at Year's End

As more and more people get into the holiday spirit at the end of the year, nonprofit organizations see an influx of donations. While it's great to spread holiday cheer via a monetary donation, it's important to keep that spirit going year-round.

With regular donations, charities can more effectively allocate their annual budget. Setting up an automatic monthly donation with the charity of your choosing can maximize your impact. You can account for a monthly donation by foregoing a costly coffee every once in a while.

Knowing how much you should spend on home maintenance each year is hard to figure out and may be preventing you from buying your first home. The types of costs you'll incur depend on the house you buy and its location. The one certainty is that you should start saving now. Read on to figure out how much to start setting aside based on the home you own.

The Age of Your House

Consider several factors when budgeting for home repairs. If you've purchased a new home, your house likely won't require as much maintenance for a few years. Homes built 20 or more years ago are likely to require more maintenance, including replacing and keeping your windows clean. Further, depending on your home's location, weather can cause additional strain over time, so you may need to budget for more repairs.

The One-Percent Rule

An easy way to budget for home repairs is to follow the one-percent rule. Set aside one percent of your home's purchase price each year to cover maintenance costs. For instance, if you paid $200,000 for your home, you would set aside $2,000 each year. This plan is not foolproof. If you bought your home for a good deal during a buyer's market, your home could require more repairs than you've budgeted for.

The Square-Foot Rule

Easy to calculate, you can also budget for home maintenance by saving one dollar for every square foot of your home. This pricing method is more consistent than pricing it by how much you paid because the rate relies on the objective size of your home. Unfortunately, it does not consider inflation for the area where you live, so make sure you also budget for increased taxes and labor costs if you live in or near a city.

The Mix and Match Method

Since there is no infallible rule for how much you should spend on home maintenance, you can combine both methods to get an idea for a budget. Average your results from the square-foot rule and the one-percent rule to arrive at a budget that works for you. You should also increase your savings by 10 percent for each risk factor that affects your home, such as weather and age.

Holding on to savings is easier in theory than practice. Once you know how much you should spend on home maintenance, you'll know what to aim for and be more prepared for an emergency. If you are having trouble securing funds for home repairs, consider taking out a home equity loan, borrowing money from friends or family, or applying for funds through a home repair program through your local government for low-income individuals.