If the only offerings in your mailbox are from credit card issuers who want to charge you an annual fee and a 24.99 percent interest rate, you need help.

For their very favorite customers — those with perfect credit, a high income and big balances — the credit card companies will do a lot better than that number. These customers get offers for cards whose permanent rate can be as low as 7.99 percent — and no annual fee.

You may not reach that status right away, but there are steps you can take to push your rating up a notch and get a better offer. Here they are:

  • Only time — and on-time payments — will make a difference if you’ve had a history of late payments. So start with several months of on-time payments, even if all you can afford is the minimum payment.
  • Check your credit reports to make sure that they’re accurate. You want to make sure you don’t look any worse than you really are. For more details, check the Bankrate.com step-by-step instructions.
  • Next, call your existing lender. They’re no doubt happy that you’re paying their bills on time, but won’t call you to offer a lower interest rate. You need to call and ask.
  • If they say no, it’s time to shop for a better offer. You can, if you’re careful, transfer an existing balance to your new card.
  • Once you’ve started becoming a better customer, the card offers will start pouring in — and your existing company will start raising your limits, without you asking. Think carefully before accepting, and set your limit carefully. The unused credit limit for all bank-issued cards has soared 50.3 percent in the past two years, but too much unused credit actually counts against you when you apply for other loans. A mortgage lender, for example, will hesitate at making a loan to someone who could go quickly and deeply into debt.
  • Even if the offers are good ones, don’t try for too many cards too soon. Multiple applications for credit also look bad on your credit report — and if you’re successful in getting more credit, you’ll be tempted to dive back into debt.