Both short and long-term issues can lower your credit score, and sometimes, those issues can be out of your control — unexpectedly high medical costs, credit report errors or simply forgetting to pay bills on time.

But getting your credit back on track is certainly possible when you take control of the aspects you can change (if you’re using LendUp, you may already be taking steps to raise your credit score). And your FICO score is important — 90 percent of top lenders use it when making a lending decision.

The first and most urgent goal in improving your credit is to begin paying off your debts, which make up more than half of your FICO credit score in the form of your payment history and the amounts you currently owe.

  • Payment History: According to FICO, payment history accounts for 35 percent of your credit score. It considers how you pay back your lines of credit, such as credit cards or a mortgage. Other factors that weigh heavily on your payment history include bankruptcies (visible on your credit report for a minimum of seven years), liens and foreclosures.
  • How Much You Owe: This affects 30 percent of your overall FICO score. It considers not just total amounts owed on all accounts, but also the type of accounts you have (like credit card debt versus student loan debt). Credit utilization, or how much of your available credit you actually use, is also a factor here.

Your payment history has a big effect on your credit history. Over time, on-time payments will appear in your credit history to show your progress. That said, staying current may sometimes seem challenging if you have a lot of debt — which brings us to how much you owe.

To tackle your debts, consider taking care of smaller-balance, higher-interest debts first. By paying off smaller balances, you can achieve a victory more quickly and use those additional funds toward your next largest debt (this is known as the “snowball effect”). And by paying down higher-interest debts, you can avoid accruing costly interest.

Another option you may consider is a credit counseling service. Just be sure to do your research and only work with companies that are upfront about the costs or services they offer. Also remember that if you see an error on your credit report, you should work directly with the credit reporting bureaus to have it removed.

As you get a better handle on your debt, a nice complement is to create a good budget. This could help you stay on top of your current balances and prevent you from getting deeper into debt. Here are a few budgeting tips:

  • Consider setting up autopay so you’ll never miss a payment, and plan for the funds to be in your account in time for the payment.
  • If possible, pay for your everyday expenses with cash and pay your monthly bills out of your bank account. With a debit or credit card, you may not always realize how much you’re actually spending. Paying cash will really force you to think about every penny.
  • Try to make adjustments in spending and income by focusing on the essentials for a while until you see the changes you want in your report. You don’t need fancy budget software to track your spending habits — you could simply keep a journal to see where you might be able to cut back.
  • If you’re really low on money, you might look into asking for a raise, picking up more hours at work or finding additional income with a second job or side gig.

Regardless of your credit situation, you can start on the path to a positive credit history. It takes some time and commitment, but that dedication could unlock opportunities in the long run. A better credit score could help you access better financial products, which could make reaching your goals even easier. Take LendUp’s courses on budgeting and building credit to learn more.

Lauren Keys is a Contributing Editor for Lauren's personal goal is to break down difficult-to-digest topics so readers can start making more financial successes. She enjoys learning about the people and businesses that choose to be a positive solution for readers with credit issues.

Disclaimer: LendUp is not providing financial, legal or tax advice. If you need or want such advice, please consult a qualified advisor.