If you keep up with financial news at all, you know your credit score is one of the most important and widely circulated bits of information about you. It determines the outcome of many of your adult life decisions. The kind of car and house you can afford, the rates you’ll pay for insurance and credit cards, and even the kinds of jobs you can get all hinge on your credit score. While much of credit-building will have to wait until after graduation, there are ways you can control your credit score now: Pay your bills (and pay them on time), keep your debts low and keep your name off credit card applications.

1) Get (and keep) a clean payment record
Pay your bills on time. It’s good advice anyway, but if you’re trying to build a credit history, making on-time monthly payments is a critical first step. This includes both credit cards and other monthly bills (electricity, Netflix, gym memberships). Don’t have a credit card? Consider opening an SDFCU Savings Secured Card, where your balance is secured by the funds in your savings account. When you start making regular payments it is reported to all three credit bureaus.

2) Manage your debt use

On one hand, you want to build up a payment history. On the other, you don’t want to max out the amount that’s available to you (your available lines). Don’t charge more than 30% of your available credit. Use your credit card for small, regular purchases – a daily coffee or monthly tank of gas – and pay it off in full each month. One way to make sure you are not overspending is to set up credit card alerts through online banking. The alerts will let you know every time that when a credit card purchase has been made above a certain amount. This will help keep you accountable.

3) Guard your credit history
A lot of inquiries (or hits) on your credit history is a sign to lenders that you’re using credit to finance your lifestyle. This makes them hesitant about lending to you and they lower your credit score as a result. This may mean fighting conventional wisdom and turning down free pizza if it requires a credit card application. Similarly, don’t co-sign loans for friends, and don’t apply for store credit cards. Just like dining hall burritos, one is usually enough, and more can leave you in a world of hurt later. After that, continue to monitor your credit using SavvyMoney, SDFCU’s free credit monitoring service, to watch your credit score improve.

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