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Do you use credit cards? Would you like to own a home or a car someday?

If you want access to those and other loan products, you’ll likely need a decent credit score. The better your score, the more affordable the loans will be.

Even if you’re not concerned with the ability to get loans or the best credit card terms — should you still care about your credit score? Yes, because it’s based on your credit history, which can be used for more than loan decisions.

Understanding Credit Scores

Lenders use credit scores to determine whether or not you’re a good credit risk. If you have a low credit score, they may charge you a higher interest rate for the loan. A good credit score can lower your interest rates, which means you spend less money over the life of the loan.

There are hundreds of credit scoring models, but no matter the scoring model, you’ll want to focus on five behaviors to build a good credit history: your payment history, debt usage, mix of credit accounts, average age of accounts and number of credit applications. These factors carry different weights, but making loan payments on time is the most important of them. You can see how the different facets of your credit history impact your score with a free Credit.com account, where you can also make a plan to address your problem areas.

A Good Score Comes From a Good Report

Credit scores are risk assessments, but credit reports provide more detail on your credit standing. Some people feel strongly that credit reports shouldn’t be a factor in non-credit decisions, but at the moment, a variety of people can request your credit report, including future employers, landlords and insurance underwriters. In the case of an employer credit check, you have to give permission before they pull your credit.

In those situations, chances are you want to make a good impression, which should motivate you to maintain a good credit standing, even if the opportunity to get better interest rates does not.

Because your credit report determines your credit score, it’s important to pay attention to it. You’re entitled to a free credit report every year from each of the major credit reporting agencies. By pulling your free reports, you can look for any mistakes that are hurting your credit score, and any accurate but derogatory items that you need to address.

Achieving a High Score

It can sometimes be very difficult to establish a solid credit history, especially if you’re recovering from financial hardship. It definitely takes some patience. Work toward goals you can reasonably attain, and know that small fluctuations in scores are very common. Don’t go crazy trying to achieve perfection, but you should definitely have something to work toward.

More on Credit Reports and Credit Scores:

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Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

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The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

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Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

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Credit.com is owned by Progrexion Holdings Inc. which is the owner and administrator of a number of business related to credit and credit repair, including CreditRepair.com, and eFolks. In addition, Progrexion also provides services to Lexington Law Firm as a third party provider. Despite being owned by Progrexion, it is not the role of the Credit.com editorial team to advocate the use of the company’s other services. In articles, reporters may mention credit repair as an option, for example, but we’ll also be sure to note the various alternatives to that service. Furthermore, you may see ads for credit repair services on Credit.com, but the editorial team isn’t responsible for the creation or implementation of those ads, anymore than reporters for the New York Times or Washington Post are responsible for the ads on their sites.

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- The Credit.com Editorial Team