Your 5-minute guide to winning at credit

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Building credit is a lot like playing cards. Winning is all about how you play your hand, but first you have to know the rules—like whether aces are high or low.

The stakes might be higher than you think. For example, did you know that a person with an excellent credit score could end up paying $230,000 less in interest over their lifetime than someone with poor credit? A typical 30-year-old could save more than $5,600 in a year just by having excellent credit.

Fortunately, a great credit score is within your grasp—even if you’re starting out at zero. Since it’s Credit Education Month, why not take a few minutes to learn how to save thousands of dollars over your lifetime? This quick guide will give you the basics you need to achieve a stellar credit score.

1. Understand your FICO score.

FICO is a data analytics company that focuses on measuring consumer credit risk. Your FICO score measures how responsible you are with credit. Lenders use it to decide whether to loan you money—and how much interest to charge you. But how is it calculated? What can you do to move the needle? Learn about the factors that make up your credit score.

2. Escape the credit catch-22.

You can’t have a credit history without credit. But you can’t get credit without a credit history. Or can you? Getting out of the credit catch-22 isn’t as hard as you think. Find out how to establish a credit history while avoiding common pitfalls along the way.

3. Increase your credit—not your debt.

It’s not enough to simply have credit. You need to use it if you want to raise your score. But that doesn’t mean you have to bury yourself debt. Building credit is all about using it responsibly, a little at a time. These tips will help you boost your credit score while staying (mostly) debt free.

4. Build something better.

What does good credit get you, anyway? You might be surprised at how many areas of your life it affects. A high credit score can make it easier to buy a car, move into a new home and even rent an apartment. It can also open up new job opportunities and save you money on utilities. Learn how to use credit to build the life you want.

5. Become your own credit manager.

So you’ve built some credit. Maybe you’re even happy with your score. But that doesn’t mean you should stop thinking about it. Like all things in life, credit takes managing. Discover a few simple financial habits to help keep your credit in good working order.

If improving your credit sounds simpler than you thought, that’s because it is. Once you know the rules, all you need is time, effort and a little bit of strategy to win the credit game.