Clark.com is "going yellow" in support of the brave men and women who've fought for our freedoms as Americans. Our hope is to spread awareness about the issues impacting all veterans of the United States Armed Forces. Learn more at clark.com/vets.

Service members and their families face a variety of financial challenges, during both their time overseas and here at home. So to help relieve some of that stress, we want to make sure that you are aware of the free resources and programs available to you as members of the United States military.

Keeping tabs on your credit score

Your credit score is a number that represents how well you’ve managed all of your financial obligations — so your bills, accounts and debts — over time. 

For any American, your credit score is one of the most important aspects of your financial life -- as banks and other lenders use it to determine things like your interest rates on a car loan or mortgage. So it's crucial that you not only keep tabs on your credit score, but also understand what impacts it.

Your true credit score is a number between 300 and 850 that represents your risk as a borrower. Since the number is based on how you’ve managed your money obligations, lenders use it determine how big a loan you can handle and the likelihood that you’ll pay it back.

There is one source and one source only for your true credit score — the Fair Isaac Corporation. Your true score is known as your FICO score.

How to get your score

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), which oversees the brokerage industry, has a special website at SaveandInvest.org/Military that offers the real FICO score for you and your spouse if you’re married. Not only will you get your score at the website above, but you’ll also get an explanation about why it is what it is, how you can raise your score and how your score compares to others.

The factors listed below comprise the total number of your FICO score, which generally ranges from 300 to 850 (the higher, the better) — and the percentages represent how much each factor influences your score.

1. Payment history: 35% (i.e. whether you pay your bills on time).

2. Credit utilization rate: 30% (how much of your available credit you're using).

3. Credit history: 15% (total length of time that you’ve had credit in your name).

4. Credit mix: 10% (different types of credit you have -- credit cards, car loan, mortgage etc.).

5. New credit: 10% (how much new credit you have and how quickly you got it).

Take these steps to improve your credit score

1. Always pay your bills on time and pay down the total amount you owe.

2. Keep a low credit utilization rate. For a good score, aim to use 30% or less of your available credit at any time. If you want to have a really great score, aim to only use 10% or less.

3. When you pay off a credit card down to a zero balance, don’t close the account. Doing that only reduces your available credit and that hurts your credit score.

4. Skip the store cards. While it can be tempting to do instant in-store financing, you want to stay away from these inferior lines of credit that can harm your overall credit score.

5. Don’t open too many new lines of credit at once. Doing so makes lenders think you may be struggling financially and you won’t be able to meet your financial obligations going forward.

More on your credit:

More military resources:

How military spouses can get free financial education and credentials

Buying a home through the VA loan program: What you need to know

Buying a car: A lesson in auto finance for the troops

The Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act: A financial safety net for the troops