Credit Score 101: Why It's Important and How to Improve It

Personal Finance

Welcome to Credit Score 101! Your credit score is a crucial aspect of your financial well-being, and understanding it is the first step toward managing your finances effectively. Whether you're looking to buy a house, finance a car, or even apply for a credit card, a good credit score is key. In this guide, we will cover everything you need to know about credit scores - what they are, why they matter, and how you can improve yours.

As financial expert Suze Orman once said, "Your FICO score is the most important number in your financial life. Your credit plays a huge factor in your financial health." So, let's dive in and learn how you can take control of your credit score and build a strong financial foundation for yourself1 .

What is a Credit Score?

Your credit score is a three-digit number that reflects your creditworthiness based on your credit history and financial behavior. It is a crucial factor that lenders, landlords, and even employers use to evaluate your trustworthiness. As finance expert Suze Orman puts it, "Your credit score is your financial reputation. It determines your ability to borrow money and the interest rates you pay".

Reasons a Good Credit Score Matters

Your credit score influences various aspects of your financial life, so it's essential to understand why it matters.

Firstly, a good credit score can save you money. The better your credit score, the lower the interest rates you'll qualify for on loans and credit cards. This means you could potentially save thousands of dollars over the life of a loan. As financial expert Suze Orman put it, "The higher your credit score, the more likely you are to get the best deals on credit cards and the best interest rates on mortgages and other loans."

Secondly, a good credit score can make it easier to get approved for a loan or a new credit card. Lenders and credit card issuers use your credit score as a measure of your creditworthiness. A high score indicates that you're a low-risk borrower, making it more likely that you'll be approved for the credit you apply for.

Additionally, your credit score can impact non-lending decisions, such as your ability to rent an apartment or even secure a job. Landlords and potential employers may check your credit to gauge your level of responsibility and reliability. As personal finance expert Dave Ramsey advises, "Your credit score affects almost every aspect of your financial life. It can be the determining factor in whether or not you get the job, the apartment, or the loan you need."

Understanding why a good credit score matters can motivate you to take steps to improve and maintain it for your financial well-being. Strengthening your financial future is within your reach with a strong credit score. As financial coach Tiffany Aliche encourages, "Your credit score is not just a number, it's the key to a better financial future for yourself. Take the necessary steps to improve it and reap the benefits in the long run."

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Photo by Joel Filipe on Unsplash

Starting Steps to Build Your Credit

So, you've decided it's time to start building your credit. Where do you begin? Don't worry, we've got you covered. Here are some starting steps to help you on your journey to a stronger credit score.

  1. Open a Credit Card: If you don't have a credit card yet, it might be a good time to consider getting one. Look for a card with a low credit limit and use it responsibly. By making regular, on-time payments, you can start to build a positive credit history.

  2. Become an Authorized User: If you have a family member or close friend with a good credit history, ask if you can become an authorized user on their credit card. This can help establish a positive credit history for you, as their account activity will be reflected on your credit report.

  3. Apply for a Secured Credit Card: If you're having trouble getting approved for a traditional credit card, a secured credit card may be a good option. With a secured card, you'll need to make a cash deposit as collateral, which will then serve as your credit limit.

  4. Take Out a Credit-Builder Loan: Some financial institutions offer credit-builder loans specifically designed to help people establish or improve their credit. These loans work by holding the loan amount in a savings account while you make payments, helping to build a positive payment history.

Remember, the key to building credit is to use credit responsibly. As Farnoosh Torabi, financial expert and author, advises, "Only charge what you can afford to pay off in full each month. This way, you'll never carry a balance or get into debt, but you’ll be able to build a solid credit history."

Now that you have some starting steps, it's time to take action and begin your journey to a stronger credit score.

Common Habits that Hurt Your Credit

When it comes to managing your credit, there are certain habits that can have a negative impact on your credit score. It's important to be aware of these habits so you can avoid them and maintain a healthy credit profile.

One common habit that can hurt your credit is making late payments. According to financial expert Suze Orman, "Payment history makes up 35% of your FICO score, so paying your bills on time is crucial for maintaining a good credit score". Late payments can stay on your credit report for up to seven years and can significantly lower your score.

Another habit to watch out for is using too much of your available credit. Maxing out your credit cards or having high credit card balances can indicate to lenders that you may be overextended and have trouble managing your finances. In the words of personal finance author, Ramit Sethi, "You should aim to keep your credit utilization under 30% to maintain a good credit score".

Closing old accounts can also negatively impact your credit score. Length of credit history is an important factor in determining your credit score, and closing old accounts can shorten your credit history. As financial advisor David Bach advises, "Keep old accounts open, even if you're not using them, to maintain a long credit history and improve your credit score".

Lastly, applying for multiple new credit accounts within a short period of time can hurt your credit. Each time you apply for credit, a hard inquiry is made on your credit report, which can lower your score. It's important to be selective about applying for new credit and only apply when necessary.

By being mindful of these common habits that can hurt your credit, you can take proactive steps to improve and maintain a healthy credit score.

Ways to Boost Your Credit Score

Your credit score plays a crucial role in your financial well-being. If you want to improve your score, here are some actionable steps you can take:

  1. Pay your bills on time: According to financial expert Suze Orman, "Paying your bills on time is the most important factor in your credit score." Set up automatic payments or reminders to ensure you never miss a due date.

  2. Keep your credit card balances low: Aim to keep your credit utilization ratio, which is the amount of credit you're using compared to your total credit limit, below 30%. Financial journalist Jean Chatzky advises, "The lower your credit utilization, the better your score will be."

  3. Limit new credit applications: Every time you apply for new credit, a hard inquiry is added to your credit report, which can temporarily lower your score. Try to limit new applications, especially if you're planning a big purchase, like a car or a home.

  4. Diversify your credit mix: Having a healthy mix of credit types, such as credit cards, a mortgage, and a car loan, can have a positive impact on your credit score. "Lenders like to see that you can handle different types of credit responsibly," says financial advisor Liz Weston.

By implementing these strategies, you can begin to see positive changes in your credit score over time.

Understanding Your Credit Report

Your credit report is a detailed record of your credit history, including your payment history, outstanding debts, and any other financial obligations. It's important to understand your credit report because it directly impacts your credit score and ability to secure loans or credit cards with favorable terms.

When you receive your credit report, take the time to review it carefully. Look for any errors or inaccuracies that could negatively impact your credit score. According to financial expert Suze Orman, "Always review your credit report for errors. Even small mistakes can have a big impact on your credit score".


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Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

Maintaining a Strong Credit Score

Once you've worked hard to build up your credit score, it's essential to maintain it and continue to make smart financial choices. Here are some tips to help you keep your credit score strong:

  1. Pay Your Bills on Time: "Paying your bills on time is crucial for maintaining a good credit score. Late payments can have a significant negative impact on your credit score," says financial expert Suze Orman.

  2. Keep Your Credit Utilization Low: Try to keep your credit card balances low in relation to your credit limits. Aim to use no more than 30% of your available credit. This shows lenders that you are responsible with your credit and can help improve your credit score.

  3. Avoid Opening Too Many New Accounts: Opening several new credit accounts in a short period can lower your average account age and can also make you appear risky to lenders.

  4. Monitor Your Credit Report Regularly: "Be proactive about checking your credit report for errors or signs of identity theft. Staying on top of your credit report is essential for maintaining a strong credit score," suggests financial advisor Dave Ramsey.

By following these tips, you can continue to build upon the solid credit score you've worked hard to achieve.


Congratulations on making it to the end of this guide! By now, you should have a better understanding of what a credit score is, why it's important, and how you can work on improving it. Remember, your credit score is a reflection of your financial responsibility, so it's crucial to take steps to maintain a good one.

As you continue on your journey to financial wellness, keep in mind the words of financial expert, Suze Orman: "Your credit score is a powerful tool. It helps determine how much you pay for the credit you use."

So, whether you're looking to buy a home, get a new car, or simply secure a low-interest credit card, a healthy credit score will work in your favor. And don't forget, building and maintaining good credit takes time and effort, but the rewards are well worth it.

If you find yourself struggling with your credit score, don't be afraid to seek help from a trusted financial advisor. With the right guidance and a bit of discipline, you can take control of your credit score and set yourself up for a secure financial future.

Keep practicing good financial habits, stay disciplined with your spending, and regularly monitor your credit report. With patience and perseverance, you can achieve and maintain a strong credit score. Good luck on your credit-building journey!

1Suze Orman, The Money Class: How to Stand in Your Truth and Create the Future You Deserve (2012)
2Suze Orman, The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke (2005)
3Suze Orman, The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke (2005)
4Dave Ramsey, Financial Peace (1992)
5Tiffany Aliche, Get Good with Money (2021)
6Farnoosh Torabi, "You're So Money: Live Rich, Even When You're Not" (2008)
7Suze Orman, The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke (2005)
8Ramit Sethi, I Will Teach You to be Rich (2009)
9David Bach, Smart Women Finish Rich (1999)
10Suze Orman, The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke (2005)
11Jean Chatzky, Make Money, Not Excuses (2006)
12Liz Weston, Your Credit Score, Your Money & What's at Stake (2012)
13Suze Orman, The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke (2005)
14Suze Orman, The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke (2005)
15Dave Ramsey, The Total Money Makeover (2013)
16Suze Orman, The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke (2005)