You should be laser-focused on your score when you know you'll soon need credit. In the interim, take care of your bills and use credit responsibly. Your score will reflect these smart spending behaviors.
Are you getting ready to make a big purchase, such as a home or car? At least a few months in advance, spring for a copy of your credit scores, Sherry says.
The score you can buy may not be the exact same one your lender uses, but it will grade you on many of the same criteria and give you a good indication of how well you're managing your credit, she says. It will provide you with specific ways to improve your credit score -- in the form of several codes or factors that kept your score from being higher.
If you are denied credit (or don't qualify for the lender's best rate), the lender has to show you the credit score it used, thanks to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
Another smart move is to regularly keep up with your credit report, says Sherry.
You're entitled to one free copy of each of your three credit bureau reports (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) every 12 months through AnnualCreditReport.com.
A smart tip is to stagger each of the three reports, Sherry says. Send for one every four months, and you can monitor your credit for free.