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Perhaps you are looking to obtain a loan. Maybe you’re wanting to apply for a credit card or bank account. Or maybe you’re simply looking toward the future and wanting to prepare as best you can. It’s a great idea to start thinking about your credit score as early as possible because an excellent score can take time and effort to build. Follow these three strategies to raise your score and improve your financial options in the future.

1. Know What You’re Working With

You may not have a clue what your credit score is, to begin with. Maybe you were alerted to the importance of your credit score by a background check company or HR manager. A little due diligence can go a long way in helping you know what to focus on and what your issues might be. You can request a free copy of your personal credit report from a national credit bureau once annually. Some of the factors you might find either raising or lowering your score can include your payment history, use of credit, new inquiries into your credit, and how old your credit accounts are.

2. Pay off Bills ASAP

Late payments can ding your credit score substantially. Do everything you can to pay bills as soon as possible. You may want to set up automatic payments where you can, or at the very least arrange reminders on your calendar for when different bills are due. Sometimes putting bill payments on a credit card can help improve your score, assuming you stay on top of your credit card payments as well.

3. Use Less of Your Available Credit

When calculating your credit score, your credit utilization is extremely important. This means how much of your available borrowing power you are actually using. Try to stick with 30% or lower for the best boost to your score. This means that if your credit card allows you to keep a balance of up to $6,000, you never go above $2,000. An easy way to improve your credit score is to go online to your credit card company’s website and request an increase in your credit limit.

Credit scores can seem opaque and difficult to interpret. There are many ways to strategically borrow, pay, and hold money to raise your score. A better credit score can make it easier to buy a house, obtain a credit card, and even pay off student debt. Following these tips can jumpstart you on your journey toward excellent credit and give you the confidence you need to get started.