Whether you’re applying for a loan or trying to rent an apartment, your credit  is important. In fact, your credit score may be the difference between you being accepted or not. If you’re trying to fix bad credit, it’s important to get educated. As far as FICO scores go, a good credit score is anything above 660 and the best credit scores are between 760 and 850. On the other hand, a bad credit score is anything below 560. If you fall in that category, or just want to raise the credit score you have as much as possible, here are 4 important steps you need to take in order to fix a bad score:

1. Determine the cause of your low credit score.
Not making your loan and/or credit card payments on time is a sure-fire way to stay in the bad-credit zone. Make sure you are keeping track of your due dates and paying your balances off every month. If you can’t pay the entire balance each month, make sure you are constantly trying to pay above the minimum payment. Paying more than the minimum due amount can help your credit score, and also save you money on finance charges.

Make sure you are keeping your old credit cards open, even if you do not use them. Credit scores take into account your “credit utilization ratio,” which measures your credit limit-to-balance ratio on your credit cards. Thus, if you pay off the credit cards you use every month, and keep credit cards you do not use open, it will show that even if you have a large amount of credit available for you to use, you are responsible with it. Keeping old cards open is also good because a long credit history helps your credit score.

2. Start monitoring your credit reports and scores. 
If you want to raise your bad credit score, it’s important to stay on top of it. In addition to providing you with your full 3-bureau credit reports and scores from Experian, Equifax and Transunion so you can keep track of their progress, the top credit monitoring services, such as the ones reviewed in our credit monitoring rankings will alert you of any changes to your credit file in real-time. This is important because any new information on your credit report can affect your credit score and your ability to get credit. According to the FTC, almost 52 million Americans have errors in their credit reports. These errors have a negative effect on your credit score, and in turn, will cause you to pay higher interest rates.

Not only do credit report monitoring services open your eyes to inaccuracies in your credit report, but they also protect you from identity theft by alerting you any time your social security number and other personal information is used to open accounts. The top services even come with complimentary Internet security software, going further to protect you from identity thieves. You can read full reviews, compare services side-by-side and sign up for free trials by visiting our credit report monitoring comparison page.

3. Fix errors on your credit report.
As mentioned above, errors on your credit report can have a negative effect on your credit score. Many errors are the product of office error, but others may be more serious like identity theft, for example. Either way, it is important to fix any and all errors if you want to be on the road to a better credit score. Once you’ve signed up for credit report monitoring and identified an error on your credit report, take a look at this blog post that goes through each step required to fix a credit report error.

4. Build a credit history. If you have no credit history and this is causing you to have a bad credit score or no credit score at all, it’s time to take advantage of the credit opportunities open to you. If you are a student looking to build credit, take a look at these college credit cards. Another option is getting a secured credit card. Unlike a regular credit cards where you borrow money from lenders, you are required to put a deposit on the secured credit card, then spend the money as you would a regular credit card and pay it back each month. Some of these cards report your payment history to the 3 credit bureaus, which allows you to build a credit history. Additionally, if you are responsible with the card and make your payments on time, the company may offer you an unsecured (regular) credit card. Take a look at these secured credit cards and find the one best for your needs.

Even if you’re not planning on applying for any credit soon, it is important to get on top of it as soon as possible. Not only will this protect you from unnecessary fraud, but you also never know when you w