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credit score: Three digits that determine your ability to get a loan, a mortgage for a home, or a credit card.   

Your score: A number between 300-850—determined by a complicated cocktail of statistics, algorithms, and data sets (which you really don’t care about)—that represents your ability to pay your debts. Each month that you make a payment on your credit card or installment loan, your lender shares that information with one or all three credit bureaus, and voila SCORE!

Who are these people? The major players are Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Each credit bureau whips up a number just for you, based on your credit history, credit usage, debt ratio and more.

Who cares? We’d normally tell you not to worry about what other people think, but in this case, what you don’t know will cost you! If you’re looking to buy a home, you’re going to need to sport a sexy 700+ to score a mortgage.  

Jones-ing for that amazing credit card that offers miles or cash back rewards?  The higher the score, the lower the interest rate, meaning those rewards might actually be worth something!  Your credit is going to fluctuate each time you use your lines of credit or open (or close) an account.  Here’s how you reach the top.

Make your payments on time – all the time!

This is 35 percent of your credit score. Pro tip: Set it and forget it. Use the automatic pay option to make the minimum monthly payment and pay more later. At least you’ll never forget to make the payment on time.  

Keep revolving lines of credit below 30 percent.

This is 30 percent of your credit score. We’re looking at the TOTAL available credit on all of your credit cards. Do the math and know your limit. Also, try not to carry a balance on too many of your cards over several months.

Don’t open too many accounts at once.

This is 10 percent of your credit score. Opening several new credit lines in a short period raises a red flag that you may be high risk.  A double whammy: Too many new accounts at once will also shorten your average account age, causing a quick drop, and a sudden stop on your stellar credit score!

Don’t use it? It’s cool, just don’t close it.

This is 15 percent of your credit score. What the average age of your accounts says about you is pretty straightforward: you’re either building your credit and have some new and some older accounts yielding a shorter average age; or you’ve been managing revolving credit for a while and you’re making good choices about the types of accounts you have and know how to use them wisely.

Closing an account can have a bad effect on your score, dinging you in the credit utilization area and average age of accounts. Put the card in a safe place and let it age like fine wine. Unless you’re paying an annual fee, then cut that sucker loose, and let time do what it does best…heal all wounds! Because credit is all about time.  It takes time to build it and it also takes time to repair it.

Mix it up!

This is 10 percent of your credit score. Not only are you being measured on how you use your credit lines, but also the type of accounts you use. This is where your credit demonstrates your ability to manage different types of financing like revolving lines of credit, credit cards and installment loans, such as auto or student loans. The strongest credit scores usually have a mix of different types of accounts and a history of managing them responsibly. There’s no one-size-fits-all fix to this mix.  If you have several credit cards and store card accounts, you could consider an installment loan to pay off revolving lines of credit, and lower the interest you’re paying.

Pro tip:  Avoid finance companies or “last resort lenders.”  Not only will you pay higher interest rates but having a finance company on your credit record could cost you points as well!