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In America, your credit score is a valuable piece of financial information. Banks, credit card companies, and sometimes even employers will use your credit score to determine whether you're reliable enough for a loan, a new credit card or even a job.

Staying on top of your credit health is pretty important. But we're all human. Sometimes, we lose track or need guidance when we're just starting out. Here are a few things to keep in mind whether you're trying to repair your credit score or you're building it from zero.


1. Don't apply for too many cards or loans

Routinely applying for credit cards or loans over a longer period of time will cause a dip in your credit score. If you're shopping for a mortgage, auto or student loan, make sure all of your applications are sent within a 30 month period.

Your FICO score ignores inquiries made 30 days before scoring. If it finds inquiries before those 30 days, it'll count those as one application. That's because it is generally understood that applying for several house, car and student loans doesn't mean you will take out all of those loans. You'll probably just settle on one. However, if you apply for several credit cards, these will each count as a separate inquiry. Send your applications wisely.

2. Keep your card balances low

With your credit cards, it is better to keep your balance low. The closer you get to your credit limit, the worse your credit score will be. Maxing out your card is terrible for your score. You generally want to stay at or under 30 percent of your limit. Even approaching your maximum can reflect poorly on your credit habits. In addition, limiting your credit usage will help you pay your balance at the end of the month.

3. Always pay your bills on time

Your credit score will take a dip if you ever make a late payment or miss it entirely. That's why auto pay is useful. You'll never forget to make a payment. But you should also keep track of your bills in your calendar. Computer systems are generally reliable, but can sometimes fail. It's better to safely confirm that the withdraw is processing or has been made by the due date, rather than finding out your payment didn't clear on time. If you are ever struggling to pay your full balance, pay at least the minimum required to maintain your credit score.

4. Avoid carrying a balance on your cards

Contrary to popular belief, you don't actually have to carry a balance on your credit cards to build your score. And especially if you're credit score isn't ideal, you could end up paying pretty high interest rates on carried balances. To save yourself money, don't charge more to your cards than you can pay back within the billing cycle. This will help you keep your balance low as well.

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