What grads should know about their credit score

Getting a credit card is a rite of passage for many college graduates. Yet they often have little or no idea of the impact their credit use — and credit score — will have on their financial future.

More than half of college students surveyed by LendEDU, a student loan marketplace, couldn't even describe what a credit score is.

Here are some tips to help you establish credit and improve your score.

Get a secured card

Your own money serves as collateral by putting down a deposit with the bank, which typically becomes your credit limit.

"Once you prove you're responsible, your deposit is refunded and you can upgrade to a regular credit card," said Julie Pukas, head of U.S. Bankcard and Merchant Service at TD Bank.

Keep your utilization rate low

Your goal should be to never let your spending exceed 30 percent of your credit limit, Pukas said. The lower your utilization rate, the better your score.

Use the card for needs, not wants

When you're paying for an item with your card, "think of it as a loan to yourself," Pukas said. And "pay it back as soon as possible to avoid interest charges."

Pay in full and on time every month. Your ability to pay on time is one of the most important factors that make up your credit score. Lenders also want to see that you are responsible by only charging what you can afford. A history of onetime payments can help improve your score over time.