By Meghan Breen —

Credit scores can either open or close doors when preparing for life after college.

Commonwealth Credit Union’s branch manager Glenn Griffin and financial service representative Emily Slone say students need to prepare by building credit now.

Griffin explained that a credit score represents financial history. Lenders use the score to decide how likely loan repayment is. The range of scores is between 350 and 850. A great score is 720 or higher, a good score is usually 640 or higher. A low score can raise the interest rate to be paid, which means paying more money in the long run.

“Don’t let the number define you, let it drive you,” Griffin said. There are advisors at credit unions who offer advice to help keep you on track.

Credit scores are made up of different factors. Payment history is 35 percent and capacity, or the maximum amount a credit card can be charged, is 30 percent. The length of credit history makes up 15 percent and inquiries and types of credit used are 10 percent each.

The bulk of a credit score is keeping up with payments and if you have exceeded the limit on your credit card.

Credit Karma is a free site with capabilities to check the state of a credit store. The user receives an approximate number from factors like payment history and capacity.

There are small things you can do now to help your future credit score. To start, get a credit card with a trusted financial institution.

Limit yourself to one card. If you have a lot of credit cards don’t cancel them, this drops your credit score. Instead, stop using them, they will eventually go dormant and cancel themselves. 

Griffin said to stay away from opening retail store cards, there are better ways to raise credit scores.

Slone suggests getting a secure card. Some financial institutions offer cards with a fixed maximum amount based on money you deposit.  This money can be a safety net in case things don’t go as planned and payments can’t be made. Slone said this would be a great option for a first credit card.

Don’t make purchases if you can’t pay it back on time. Making payments on time is the key way to prevent the credit score from going down.

Credit cards can come with large limits, but be wary to not use it all.

“Just because you have a thousand dollar limit doesn’t mean you have a thousand dollars to blow,” Griffin said. Use the card for small purchases like groceries, gas or an occasional meal.

Car loans can be another way to raise it. Maybe your parents got you a car for your birthday and are paying loans on it. Slone suggests asking your parents to add your name to the loan. If the payments are made on time your score goes up. 

Start inquiring about your finances now so you can be prepared for the future.

Credit is lifelong, knowing how it works and what you can do to raise it will help keep you stress free about your finances.