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While your credit score is never a direct representation of you, it is a number that certain companies and institutions will use to judge you.

A bad credit score is something that happens over time by not paying your bills on time or, worst case, forgetting to pay your bills altogether. You might not even realize that your habits are negatively affecting your credit score. This is why it is important to be mindful of your score, especially before you make any major financial decisions.

If you have a bad credit score, it is not just a number that you can easily bring up. It is something that can really cause you to experience a significant amount of roadblocks as you go through the motions of life. For example, banks may not grant you the loans you need in order to purchase a new vehicle or a mortgage that will help you put a down payment on a house.

Don’t let a number get in the way of living your life. Even though the process of raising your credit score isn’t easy, it’s not impossible. Follow these steps for getting your finances and your life back on track:

Get Your Credit Report

By law, you are allowed to request a copy of your credit report a minimum of once a year for free. Take advantage of this because you will need to go through your report in order to determine what is causing you to have a low score in the first place. Once this is determined, you can go through the necessary steps in order to improve your number.

Dissect Your Credit Report

This is going to be the most time-consuming and mentally draining step in the entire process, but it is the most important. Look for incorrect information and for accounts that have either not been paid or have been charged off. If you find any errors, dispute them. Here is a step-by-step guide for the best practices for disputing credit report errors.

Pay Off Accounts That Are Past Due

35 percent of your credit score is determined by your payment history. If there are any outstanding payments, you want to make sure you take care of those so that on your credit report they can be reported as “paid” or “current.”

As you work towards improving your credit score, keep these 4 tips in mind:

1. Do what you can. Your “current” accounts are still very important, so don’t sacrifice them in order to pay off accounts that are past due.
2. Don’t send your disputes all at once. If there are areas of your credit report that need disputing, take care of them one at a time.
3. Try not to close credit cards. Closing credit cards may seem beneficial, but this could also have a negative impact on your credit score.
4. Consider working with an expert. If this all seems overwhelming, work with an expert who can both help you improve your score while also helping you maintain a high score in the future.