SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (News4Utah) Good credit can save thousands of dollars in interest in everything from credit cards to a mortgage. For many, establishing or rebuilding bad credit is nothing short of a mystery.      
Eighteen-year-old Jessica Gonda’s having a big year: she moved out, landed her first full-time job and got married.

Her credit score, however, has caused setbacks. Like most her age, she just doesn’t have it.

“You have to be really patient because it takes a lot of time to build your credit up,” Gonda said. 

Eventually, she wants to buy a house for her family. But when she needed a new car last month, she couldn’t get a loan, rent an apartment and had trouble getting a cell phone.

“I got really, really frustrated and it upset me,” Gonda said. 

Gonda admits she’s clueless when it comes to credit. She’s not alone. According to financial website NerdWallet, most Americans are confused, too.

“You don’t build credit until you have credit,” said Utah State University Extension Associate Professor Amanda Christensen said. 

Christensen said it can take six months to a year to build or re-establish credit. 

The easiest thing to do? Get a credit card but don’t max it out. Don’t even get close. A balance of more than 30 percent of the credit limit will hurt your score.

 What will help? Paying credit cards off every month. 

“You are showing that you can use and then you can pay off what you use. You are credible and not as risky as someone who maxes out a card,” Christensen said. 

What about old, unused credit cards? Christensen says don’t close them! The longer you’ve had credit available, the better your score.  

“I have a card that I opened when I first left for college. I have never closed it. I don’t use it. I have better cards now with better rewards but I don’t touch that card anymore. But I don’t touch it either,” Christensen said. 

Credit scores get dinged when possible lenders take a look. If you’re shopping around for a car loan or mortgage, do it during in a ten-day window. 

However, you won’t be penalized if you monitor your scores.

For the very first credit card, Christensen suggests just using it for one purchase, such as gas, and pay it off at the end of the month.