Many creditors allow us access to our credit scores for free, however it is not clear exactly how our scores are calculated. Knowing what counts can mean the difference between an 11.9 annual percentage rate and a 1.9 APR. Here are the basics:

Pay every bill on time every time. This accounts for as many as 192 credit points. If you think you may be late on a payment, do not hesitate to call your lender. They may be able to defer or wave a payment so you will not be late. Communication means everything.

Keep the usage on each of your credit lines below 30 percent. Example: a credit line of $1,000 should not carry a balance greater than $300. If it does, your score will be affected. Maxing out your credit lines can impact your score as much as 165 points.

Establish long term relationships with your creditors. The length of your history with creditors account for approximately 82 points, opening and closing accounts can impact your score significantly.

Do not apply for multiple lines of credit within a short period of time. No more than two "hard" inquiries within a two-year period will keep your score healthy. Having more than two can affect your score up to 55 points. An inquiry is considered "hard" when you request for credit. An inquiry is considered "soft" and does not affect your score when you pull your own credit, an insurance or credit company is offering a preapproved offer or your creditors are just monitoring your credit to see if they should offer you a higher credit line.

Be warned though, many people in your credit file that you did not ask to be there could spell "identity theft." Not to say that there are thieves working for insurance or credit companies, I am saying that the more individuals who are looking at your credit without your knowledge could spell trouble. Consider opting out of those prescreened offers by going to www.optoutprescreen.com and requesting via online for 5 years or forever, in writing. If you are a service member, or related family member or you just move around a lot, you must opt out with each new address.

The types of credit you use may affect your score. Revolving credit lines (credit cards) count more than your mortgage or car payment because they are a better predictor of debt management. This accounts for up to 55 points.

Want to learn more on credit and debt, the Army Community Service Financial Readiness Program staff members are ready to help. For more information, or to speak to a financial counselor, call 573.5636.0212.

(Editor's note: Fink is an ACS Personal Financial Readiness specialist.)