One error many consumers make is confusing credit with debt, says John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education for SmartCredit.com.
You need credit to have a credit score. However, you don't need to saddle yourself with debt -- or carry a balance -- to have a good credit score. In fact, it's better for your score if you don't.
In the case of credit cards, light use is best for your credit score. Pay off credit card balances immediately to stay out of debt.
Since your credit score is based on the information in your credit report, it's wise to check your credit reports periodically to get an overview of your credit use and payment history.
A smart money move: "Request a copy of your credit report each year from the each of the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion)," says Jill Gianola, CFP and author of "The Young Couple's Guide to Growing Rich Together."
For free yearly copies under federal law, head to AnnualCreditReport.com. Each of the three major credit-reporting agencies are required to supply a copy of your credit report for free once every 12 months upon request through this site. In some states, you're allowed additional free copies. You can also order your reports by calling (877) 322-8228.
If you want to view your credit reports regularly, simply request a report from a different bureau every four months.