Your credit score is checked for many transactions—purchasing a car, renting an apartment, buying a house, getting a credit card, and even student loan refinance. Lenders check the number as an indication of your risk as a borrower. The higher your score, the more lenders you’ll have to choose from for a loan refinance.

It’s sort of like a gatekeeper to the things you want in life. With a good credit score, the door will swing open. But if your credit score is low, you may be getting turned away more often than you’d like. If your score isn’t strong right now, follow these tips to improve it and start hearing more “yes.”


1. Improve your credit usage ratio

One factor that goes into your credit score is your available to used credit ratio. People with the healthiest credit scores usually use less than 30% of their available credit. So, for example, if you have a $5,000 limit on your credit card, this would mean having a balance of less than $1,500. Take a look at your ratio and try to get it into a more favorable zone. That might mean pulling back on some purchases, or using cash more frequently than you use credit.


2. Keep up with payments

Many people mistakenly believe that having any debt makes for a bad credit score. That’s not the case. In fact, having good debt—like a mortgage or car loan—that you pay off in full every month contributes to your credit since it shows a history of successful borrowing. But for credit to be healthy, it’s crucial that you pay on time. If you have trouble staying on top of payments, try signing up for autopay or sent reminders through a service such as Mint.


3. Pay off balances

Your credit score is also affected by how many separate entities of debt you have. You can decrease your spread of debt by paying off credit cards with low balances. Concentrate on cards you don’t use often, such as store-specific cards, and get those paid down with any spare cash you have. Reducing your total number of balances will improve your score.


4. Get a credit card

Alternatively, you may have poor credit because you have no history of borrowing. If this is the case, you should sign up for your first credit card. Using a credit card responsibly—i.e. only using up to 30% of your available credit and paying it off in full every month—actually contributes positively to your credit score. Just be careful, studies show that credit cards subconsciously trick you into overspending. Try choosing just a few expenses, like a cell phone bill or your morning coffee, that you know you know you can afford every month.


5. Stop applying for cards

Yes, we just said to get a credit card. However, tip number four is for people who’ve never had a credit card before. But to put it bluntly — if you’re in the habit of signing up for lots of cards, you need to stop. The 10% store discount or bonus points you’ll get for a new card is not worth the hit the process takes on your credit score. Plus, multiple cards make you more likely to lose track of balances and accumulate a wide spread (see number three).


6. Check for inaccuracies

According to a study done by the FTC, one in five people have errors on their credit report. Before you get your hopes up, these errors could be for or against you. Either way, it’s important to check. Get a credit report and take a deep look at your history. Check for accuracy in the number of credit accounts that are reported, any late payments you don’t remember, or any applications or credit pulls that seem false. Everything may be in perfect order, but it’s worth a look.


7. Contact collectors

If you have debt collectors after you, you probably spend a lot of time trying to avoid their calls. In order to improve your credit score, you’ll need to do the opposite. Debt collectors report your failure to pay into the credit bureaus, and the damage can last up to seven years. Paying off any debt that’s in collections won’t automatically stop this reporting, but it will ease the burden. As a second measure, you can try contacting your collectors to see if they’ll be flexible about reporting you to the credit bureaus once you’ve paid off your debt. It may violate their agreement with the bureaus, but it never hurts to ask.


A better financial future can sometimes feel like a riddle—you need to improve your debt situation in order to improve your credit score in order to improve your chances of student loan refinance in order to improve your debt situation. Don’t get frustrated, and take action instead. If you do it in small steps, like those mentioned above, you’ll solve the riddle in no time.