In an effort to help readers better manage their finances, mental_floss has teamed up with personal finance expert, Chase Slate financial education partner, and award-winning podcast host Farnoosh Torabi to answer your most pressing credit- and money-related Big Questions. Have a question you’d like to ask? Ask it here, or by tweeting it @mental_floss.

Next to your social security number, your credit score might be the single most important set of digits you associate with. Lenders look at the score tabulated by credit bureaus (using FICO®’s algorithm) to quickly assess whether you pay bills on time, how much existing debt you’re responsible for, and whether you’d be a good “risk” when it comes to extending you more credit. The higher the score, the more favorable their terms will be, although the “optimal” score varies depending on what kind of loan you’re seeking (it’s generally much harder to be approved for a home loan than it is an auto loan, for example). 

If your score is under 700, there are some easy steps you can take to improve it. According to personal finance expert Farnoosh Torabi, the best way to remedy an ailing score is to reduce the total amount of debt you have on record. “Start by paying all your bills on time and paying more than the monthly minimum,” she says. “Ideally, the full balance. If you have outstanding balances on credit cards, knock them out! I would also immediately automate my payments to avoid late payments and maintain a positive credit history.”

 While you monitor the credit already extended, try not to repeatedly apply for new credit: frequent inquiries can have an impact on your score.

With proper credit management, Torabi believes that you can see an improvement in your score within six months to a year. If you’re questioning whether or not you can afford to chip away at your debt now, remember: the money you apply toward paying down what you owe today can pay off in lower interest rates later.

By taking simple steps today, you’ll be working towards a more successful future tomorrow. Chase Slate cardholders have access to a custom Credit Dashboard that provides a comprehensive view of their credit health, including their monthly FICO® Score for free along with the reasons behind the score, the top positive and negative factors impacting it and tailored tips for improving credit health overtime. Visit Chase Slate to learn more about this resource and other ways of managing your credit.

FICO® is a registered trademark of Fair Isaac Corporation in the United States and other countries.