Remember in grade school when your teachers would warn you about your “permanent record?” At some point, you most likely figured out that was just a scare tactic to keep you in line until you graduated high school.

Once you entered the “real world,” you were soon introduced to another permanent record of sorts: your credit score. However, unlike the enigmatic permanent record of your schoolyard days, your credit score does, in fact, exist, and absolutely will affect the rest of your life in one way or another.

So how do you keep it in good standing and ensure that you’re never denied from taking out a car or home equity loan?

Check your credit score often

If you’re gearing up for a large purchase that will depend on your ability to receive a loan, you should keep up-to-date with your credit score on a monthly basis. There are many ways to check your credit or CIBIL score for free, or you might opt for a more in-depth report that will usually come with a fee. While it’s a good idea to keep track of your credit score even if you’re not in the market for a new car or home, you shouldn’t obsess over it; it won’t change more than once a month. Focus less on your actual score, and more on improving it as best you can.

Keep credit balances low

A lot of people fall into the trap of overspending using their credit cards simply because they can. This sort of irresponsible behavior can lead to missed payments, increased interest rates, and decreased credit scores. On the other hand, using your credit cards only for expenses that will immediately be paid off will show creditors that you are responsible with borrowed money, and they’ll be more likely to offer a loan in the exact amount you’ve asked for. A good rule of thumb is to keep your balances under 30% of your maximum; this shows lenders you have restraint, and will also give you some wiggle room if an emergency arises.

Pay your balances on time

While it’s pretty obvious that letting your bills go unpaid will result in a low credit score, it needs be said that late means late. It doesn’t matter if you’re a day late, or 29 days late: if you’re late with a payment, it’ll immediately be reflected on your credit score. Though it’s recommended that you pay much more than the monthly minimum, you should always pay at least that every single month. This goes back to the last point: if you’re unable to pay off your debt, you shouldn’t have made the purchase in the first place.

Take care of small debts

As should be clear by now, credits and loans should only be used to make purchases that you’ll be able to pay off in the near future. You should never use a credit card simply because you don’t feel like “actually” paying money out of your pocket at that very moment. If you run into a jam and absolutely must use a credit card for a purchase while you’re out, make it a point to transfer money over to pay off your debt the first chance you get. You don’t want to be late on a small $30 payment because you forgot about it later in the month.

Similarly, don’t spread out these small debts over multiple credit cards. Keep your debts focused into one or two accounts, and close out the rest. There’s no need to tempt yourself with five different credit cards with no balance. Remember: the limit on your card does not represent money you actually own, but it could represent money you owe.

Flaunt your good standing

It’s possible to request that certain loans be removed from your credit history once they are paid off. However, doing so will usually end up doing more harm than good to your ability to receive a loan. Say you’ve paid off a car loan in full at some point in the past. You made the monthly payments on time, and even paid it off quicker than you had planned. Why would you want to hide this? You want potential lenders to see that you can take out a loan and repay it responsibly. The only time you’d want to hide an account is if it’s in bad standing; of course, getting this history off your report won’t be nearly as easy.

Don’t give out more information than is reported

Credit scores exist for a reason: they give lenders a ballpark idea of how trustworthy you’ll be with their money. If lenders operated on the information given to them by potential borrowers…well, I’m sure you know what would happen. If your credit score comes back lower than expected, don’t make excuses. Everyone has a sob story to tell, so it won’t help your cause explaining that you broke your leg last year and couldn’t work, or you lost everything in a flood and needed to max out your credit cards. Your lender might feel for you on a personal level, but when it comes to business they’ll have to deny you the loan based solely on your low score.

On the other hand, if your score comes back better than expected, keep your mouth shut! You’re right where you want to be, but anything you say has the potential to be misconstrued. Save the happy dance for your living room after you’ve signed the loan papers.

Featured photo credit: JJ / Piggy bank full of dirty coins / Flickr via farm4.staticflickr.com

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