Your credit score responds quickly once you start managing expenses differently. Pay these expenses first to avoid common credit score pitfalls.

While financial experts may disagree on many topics, they all agree that a strong credit score is vital to financial freedom. In fact, you probably agree, too. Improving that number is always a worthy goal. Fortunately, building your credit isn’t hard with a few lifestyle changes. You’d be surprised at how quickly your score can respond to your actions, once you start managing expenses a little differently.

To get started, check out the most common expenses that threaten typical consumers’ credit scores. If you can navigate this minefield without more than a few missteps, you can get your score in great shape.

Past Medical Bills

Bills from the doctor’s office often go through a number of insurance channels. By the time you’re aware of it, the clock has been ticking, or worse—time’s up. Many people find old bills on their credit reports instead of from a courtesy call or postal mail, and that’s especially discouraging.

You’ve heard of people being harassed by collections agencies, but sometimes, silence is even worse. Medical bills can make their way to collections without a patient’s knowledge and negatively affect credit without a word.

Avoid this financial pitfall. When a medical bill arrives, pay it. If you don’t have a sufficient emergency fund, set up a payment plan to ensure a bill doesn’t slip into a delinquent status.

Late Payments

If you’re struggling to make ends meet, phone your creditors and request a rundown of your options. They’ll typically work with you to keep your credit in good standing. The folks on the other end of the line are people, too—no one wants to ding your score. Being honest about your situation can keep you off the naughty list at your lender’s office, so even if it’s hard, make the call.

Late payments—and the subsequent fees—are one of the biggest threats to your credit score, so stay current. If life’s circumstances get in the way of managing expenses and paying your debts on time, alerting lenders is the best move to make.

Sub-Prime Loans

When bad choices or tough circumstances put a hurt on your finances, your credit score dips and enters a category called sub-prime. As you might expect, this is less than ideal. Entering loan agreements while your credit is on life support can add unnecessary pressure to your bank account—as you’ll likely pay higher interest rates and fees—and begin a vicious cycle. The substandard loan costs you a ton and stresses your credit score, which is a real recipe for trouble.

High Balances

Another threat to your credit score is the percentage owed on each line of credit you hold. If, for example, you have a credit card, do you max it out or try to pay it off? Have you been paying down the biggies (mortgage, auto loan, installment debts) consistently? Staying too far in the red means higher monthly payments. Plus, it threatens your credit score. Pay down your balances to a manageable amount as soon as you can. Your credit score will thank you.

Frankly, smart money moves. Aggressive saving, upgrading, and investing can be put on hold if your credit is in trouble. Neutralize these big credit score threats first so when it’s time for the next step, you’re undeniably ready.

Bethany Johnson

About the AuthorBethany Johnson, Contributor

Meet Bethany Johnson, pop-culture and modern corporate reporter. Before the days of SEO, Bethany was immersed in the professional snowboarding industry. Through sponsorships, interviews, press releases, and public conduct, she promoted gear, brands and concepts. In 2007, Bethany went to the National Championships and won a bronze medal (3rd place) in the SnowboardCross event.  Coming out of the world of professional snowboarding, she chose the office of a private investigator on Capitol Hill.  There, she says her hunger for a good story only grew.   Like many milennials, Bethany is industry certified in (seemingly) random things: Oracle 11g SQL, snowboarding movement analysis, Microsoft Access database systems, and pet therapy.  For years, corporate clients like Tom's of Maine and Purina have relied on her to generate buzz on their sites.  Media consumption for media consumption's sake is finally history. So get to clicking, and enjoy.