If you’ve ever gone online to check your credit history or visited with a lender to borrow money and found your credit score to be lower than you expected, you may have initially had a moment of panic – “I didn’t know it was that low!”

So, let’s talk through what may have happened. A few things can impact your credit score, sometimes in small ways that don’t last very long, others in more powerful ways that can damage it for a substantial amount of time.

Next time, before you try to borrow or request a line of credit, take a look at your credit score and your credit report. First and foremost, if your credit report shows no late payments and reasonable levels of borrowing and debt, then most likely, your credit score will also reflect what a wise consumer you are. To ensure you maintain a positive credit history here are a few things you can do.

Avoid late payments

Your payment history heavily factors into how a credit bureau evaluates your credit score. The goal is never to pay a bill late, but if life deals you a hand that makes this one impossible to keep occasionally, call your creditor AHEAD of the due date and tell them exactly what’s happening.

Request they make a note in your record so that lenders looking at it later understand how responsible you tried to be. Never make the creditor spend their time and resources to track you down or contact you first!

Take responsibility for past-due bills

Sometimes you write down a goal that slips out of your grasp. While it hurts, it happens. So, even if you swore never to make a late payment, you may still find yourself facing that exact situation someday. Don’t let falling behind discourage you. Instead, use it to motivate your and do your best to catch up on any past-due payments or accounts. While there will be an impact on your credit report, it looks better to be currently up-to-date. It shows that you are making an effort to improve. Also, it makes it more manageable to avoid future late payments from stacking up.

If you’re having trouble with a specific type of debt, consider talking to a credit or debt counselor. They may be able to work as an ally and help you negotiate with your lender. Or, they can help you map out ways to avoid the same problem in the future.

Cut down on accounts

If you are trying to be more accountable with your payments, consider ways to make it easier on yourself. You can ask to set up an automatic payment schedule, or you can cut down on the number of money-suckers you purchase regularly. It’s easier to pay for other, more critical, debts when you don’t have multiple services and subscriptions that you don’t use, eating away at your finances.

Keep all credit cards open

Don’t close a line of credit or credit card without assessing if that closure will unbalance your debt to available credit ratio as indicated on your credit report. Closing an account can raise your credit utilization ratio, which may cause your credit score to decrease. In other words, using a more significant percentage of your credit can impact your score.

Forgo applying for multiple lines of credit at once

Do NOT attempt to open several lines of credit over a short period. For example, you may be renting an apartment while simultaneously working on getting utilities, renters insurance, cable, and other services all lined up. Then on top of all of this activity, you open a home store account, so you can start decorating.

This kind of credit request flurry will only make some creditors fearful that you may be getting in over your head and not be able to repay. So, in the middle of all your work to get settled into a new place, you could end up seeing your score go down and possibly see some rejections for credit as a result.

The takeaway

The bottom line is this - if you are looking at your credit report annually and paying close attention to how you manage all your finances, your credit score should never be an issue. However, consider the long-term impact you might have on it if you don’t think carefully and research how to best approach each new financial endeavor. You might damage your ability to use credit to your advantage for a very long time.