Many companies featured on Money advertise with us. Opinions are our own, but compensation and
in-depth research determine where and how companies may appear. Learn more about how we make money.

Advertiser Disclosure

The purpose of this disclosure is to explain how we make money without charging you for our content.

Our mission is to help people at any stage of life make smart financial decisions through research, reporting, reviews, recommendations, and tools.

Earning your trust is essential to our success, and we believe transparency is critical to creating that trust. To that end, you should know that many or all of the companies featured here are partners who advertise with us.

Our content is free because our partners pay us a referral fee if you click on links or call any of the phone numbers on our site. If you choose to interact with the content on our site, we will likely receive compensation. If you don't, we will not be compensated. Ultimately the choice is yours.

Opinions are our own and our editors and staff writers are instructed to maintain editorial integrity, but compensation along with in-depth research will determine where, how, and in what order they appear on the page.

To find out more about our editorial process and how we make money, click here.

Jeff Overs—BBC News & Current Affairs via Getty Images

If you want to improve your financial life, start by taking a look at your credit score. Good credit scores open doors, giving borrowers like car buyers or homebuyers access to the best rates and most favorable terms. A good credit score might even impact the deposit amount required when signing up for a new electric utility account.

A good credit score begins in the mid to high 600s for the widely-used FICO scores, according to Consumer Reports. Here are 20 actions you can take to improve your own credit score so that you can secure better interest rates, get approved for a loan, or open some other door for greater financial opportunities.

1. Budget for Loan Payments

Although everyone should have a budget to help keep track of money flowing out of a household, budgeting is particularly important because it can help you keep on schedule with credit and loans, like car loan payments or financing payments home renovation. Budgeting for these expenses as well as credit card payments reduces the likelihood of late or missed payments and helps improve your credit score and build long-term, sound financial habits.

Read More: What Is a Good Credit Score?

2. Get a Credit Card

If you don’t already have a credit card, or if you have a credit card with a balance on it close to the limit, getting a new card and keeping a zero balance or a very low balance might improve your credit score. A new credit card might help your credit score depending on the other information found on your credit history and your overall credit utilization, which is the percentage of available credit on your credit cards and revolving credit lines that you’re actually using.

A new credit card increases your overall credit limit, and if your balances remain low, having a new card would actually decrease your credit utilization, which could improve your credit score over time. You’ll need up-to-date income information and I.D. to apply.

3. Make Loan Payments on Time

Your history of making payments on time is the most important part of your credit history affecting your credit score. On-time payments account for about 35 percent of your credit score, so make your credit and loan payments in full and on time, every time.

The time it takes for your credit score to recover from one or more damaging missed payments could be 18 months or more, depending on the other information in your credit history.

4. Automate Bill Payments

It’s one thing to budget for credit and bill payments, and quite another to make sure you actually make the payments when you’re supposed to. Continually missing these payments could result in your account being sent to collections and showing up as a public record and collection item that damages your credit.

Automating your bill payments can help raise your credit score because you’ll reduce the risk of forgetting to pay these bills. Contact your bank or payees to set up automatic payments.

5. Automate Credit Card Payments

Car payments aren’t the only thing you can schedule — many credit cards also let you set up automatic reminders and payments so you can start improving your credit card payment history. Check with your lender first, as automatic payments might only make the minimum payment required, which won’t help if you’re working on reducing your credit card balance as well as improving your credit score.

6. Make More Than Minimum Payments

Paying down your credit card debt does have a positive impact on your credit score. After the recession many Americans committed to paying down their debt, which likely benefitted their scores by reducing their outstanding credit card debt relative to their credit limits, said Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America, reported The New York Times.

Make more than the minimum payments on your highest interest rate card first, but ensure you pay at least the minimum payment on all other cards to keep the accounts in good standing.

Read More: 7 Ways to Raise Your Credit Score in 2016

7. Keep Credit Card Balances Low

If you have credit cards or credit lines that allow you to repeatedly borrow up to a set limit then pay the balance down, keeping your balances low — ideally, below 10 percent of your limit, according to The New York Times — relative to your limit can help improve your credit score. Credit utilization affects 30 percent of your credit score. Although it might take months to reduce your balance, it could pay off, as Forbes reported borrowers with the highest credit scores have an average credit utilization rate of just 5.6 percent.

8. Dispute Errors on Your Credit Report

It might take some time and effort, but disputing errors on your credit report to get incorrect and damaging information removed might help improve your credit. Order your free report once a year from AnnualCreditReport.com to see your current report from all three credit reporting agencies. If you find an error, follow the steps outlined on the Federal Trade Commission’s website to pursue a resolution, or register a dispute with the individual credit reporting agency online.

9. Borrow From Lenders That Report to the Credit Agencies

If you’re being diligent about budgeting to make credit payments in full and on time to improve your credit, make sure your lenders are reporting your actions to the credit agencies. Some alternative lenders, like payday loan providers, don’t typically report activity to the major credit bureaus like Transunion, Equifax and Experian.

10. Get Current and Stay Current on Credit Accounts

If you’re behind on any of your existing credit accounts, bring them up to date immediately. Then make sure you make all payments going forward in full and on time. Eventually, responsible credit behavior will help improve your credit score.

11. Don’t Lower Your Average Account Age

When it comes to your credit accounts and credit scores, older is better. If you’ve only had credit for a short time, then your average account age is small, and opening a bunch of new credit at one time only lowers your average. This is because you won’t have enough other, older credit to increase your average account age.

12. Get a Mix of Credit

Show you’re capable of making payments on time and in full to a variety of credit products, and your credit score will reflect your consistency. For example, making payments on a credit card or revolving credit line, a student loan and an auto loan could work well.

13. Pay Off Credit Instead of Moving It Around

Sometimes borrowers redistribute debt by moving it around; they might do this by taking a cash advance from one credit card to make a payment to a different card. Doing this doesn’t actually reduce your credit utilization, which is what you need to do to improve your credit score. Instead, pay off your credit — don’t just move it around.

14. Avoid Multiple Credit Card Applications

A relatively easy way to improve your credit is to avoid applying for new revolving credit — that includes retail credit cards and credit lines. When lenders process credit card applications they often perform what is known as a “hard inquiry” to look at your credit history, and these inquiries then become part of your history. Multiple credit card inquiries have a negative impact on your credit score as they indicate that instead of responsibly using what you have, you’re looking for more credit; multiple inquiries could even suggest to lenders that you’re having financial difficulties.

But multiple inquiries within a short time period from lenders for mortgages, auto loans or student loans typically won’t affect your credit score because they’re treated as one inquiry.

15. Rate Shop for Loans Within 30 Days

If you’re shopping for the best deal on a mortgage, auto loan or student loan, you might be concerned that multiple credit inquiries could negatively impact your credit score, especially if you’re trying to improve it. However, as long as these inquiries fall into a 30-day time frame, loan inquiries are treated as one inquiry only, unlike multiple credit line inquiries.

16. Keep Credit Accounts Open

In your quest to improve your credit score, don’t go overboard and close all your open credit cards. Doing so, especially for credit cards with zero balances on them, could have a negative impact on your credit utilization.

As you close credit card or credit line accounts, you’re reducing your overall credit limit — yet if you still have a balance on one or more of your cards, your credit utilization ratio actually increases, which is exactly what you don’t want. So if you think you’ll be tempted to use those credit cards, hide them away in a desk drawer or another safe place.

Read More: How Having Different Types of Credit Will Increase Your Credit Score

17. Get a Secured Card

If you’ve had past credit issues that have significantly damaged your credit score, you might want to consider applying for a secured card to work on improving your credit score. A secured credit card requires you to put up your own cash to get a card, then draw down on it the way you would with a traditional credit card. A secured card might help improve your credit, but only if the card issuer reports your activities to the three main credit reporting agencies. Also, know that it could take many months before a secured card positively impacts your credit score.

18. Check Your Own Credit Regularly

Knowledge is power, so check your own credit for free regularly. Doing this lets you see how many recent inquiries have been made, and can help you find any issues or problems before they damage your credit. You can also make sure there aren’t any errors that could damage your credit instead of improving it.

19. Get a Credit Card That Shows You Your Credit Score

More and more credit card companies are showing customers their credit scores periodically online when they sign into their accounts, according to The New York Times. Seeing this information on a regular basis might keep you mindful of how your actions impact your credit score. So if you’re looking for a new credit card anyway, consider one that offers your credit score for free.

20. Wait It Out

If you’ve had significant credit trouble, your best option might be to wait it out. According to credit reporting agency Experian, negative information remains on your credit report for years. Delinquencies, or late payments, show up for seven years. And although most bankruptcies remain on your report for seven years, some can stay on for as long as ten years. Even credit inquiries remain for two years.

Rather than get rejected for credit cards and loans because of a poor credit score from negative items, it might be better to hold off on applying for credit until those items are removed from your credit report. Just keep paying your bills consistently in the meantime.

This article originally appeared on GoBankingRates.

Advertiser Disclosure

The purpose of this disclosure is to explain how we make money without charging you for our content.

Our mission is to help people at any stage of life make smart financial decisions through research, reporting, reviews, recommendations, and tools.

Earning your trust is essential to our success, and we believe transparency is critical to creating that trust. To that end, you should know that many or all of the companies featured here are partners who advertise with us.

Our content is free because our partners pay us a referral fee if you click on links or call any of the phone numbers on our site. If you choose to interact with the content on our site, we will likely receive compensation. If you don't, we will not be compensated. Ultimately the choice is yours.

Opinions are our own and our editors and staff writers are instructed to maintain editorial integrity, but compensation along with in-depth research will determine where, how, and in what order they appear on the page.

To find out more about our editorial process and how we make money, click here.

EDIT POST