Having an excellent credit score isn’t something that happens on its own. It takes years of financial responsibility, mostly demonstrated through the reliable management of loans and lines of credit.

Those with no credit or bad credit are encouraged to take steps towards improving their credit scores. The following are five effective ways to do so, starting today:

Build positive payment history

Someone’s credit score is based on their financial track record. A history of on-time payments on loans and lines of credit is essential. With this in mind, consider applying for bad credit loans and secured credit cards with the intent of paying the money back as soon as possible. Positive payment history is the single most significant factor affecting your credit score, so get started on this process as quickly as possible.

Pay on time

On-time payments are crucial when it comes to positive payment history. The credit boosting benefits of 6 months of on-time payments can be wiped away by missing a single due date. Set reminders on your phone, set up auto-payments, and write it on your calendar as a final safeguard. Furthermore, stick to a budget that leaves room for payments every month as a way to avoid missing a payment because you didn’t have the funds available.

Lower your credit utilization ratio

While using credit is critical for improving your credit score, the amount of available credit used at any given time is key. Known as your credit utilization ratio, most experts recommend capping CUR at 30%. For example, if you have four credit cards with a combined line of credit worth $20,000, you want to cap your outstanding debt at $6000.

Check your credit report

Every American is entitled to an annual look at their credit report for free. Take advantage of that every year. Doing so enables you to spot any errors in your report. Inaccurate negative credit history can be removed, and doing so will lead to an almost instantaneous boost to your credit score.

Use your credit cards for monthly expenses

The best way to use credit cards is to do so routinely and pay the balance off at the end of every month. Doing so is easier and safer than you think. All you have to do is use your credit card instead of your debit card for groceries, gas, and other monthly expenses. Then, use the money in your bank account to pay off the credit card balance. In doing so, you establish a positive credit history when you otherwise wouldn’t. It’s by far the easiest way to improve your credit score fast.

Perhaps you’re wondering why it’s so important to have good credit in the first place. For one thing, it makes financing more affordable in the future by qualifying you for lower interest rates. It also plays a role in deciding if you qualify for car loans, home loans, and other forms of financing that have the potential to change your life. Lastly, many employers incorporate credit scores into their hiring decisions.

Again, it’s imperative to remember that great credit doesn’t materialize overnight. It’s a long process involving years of financial activity. Those who stay the course will reap the benefits.