Dear Credit Care,

When I was in college in 2005, I let a credit card go into collections. When I left college a year later and joined the military, I found that my student loans went into collections. I contacted these agencies and paid off all the debt I have. My credit score is currently 625 and my husband's is in the mid-700s. Most of the bills are in his name, and the ones I have are not on my report.

I want my score to go up, but most of all I do not want to ruin it any further. How do I build credit while not bringing my husband's down? We pay all of our bills on time and neither of us have credit cards. I am in good standing with any loans that I have gotten in the past few years, but it feels like it is taking forever for me to achieve good credit. 

- Channing

Dear Channing,

Congratulations on paying off your old student loan and credit card debt. You have done the hard part -- coming up with the money to make good on your obligations. Improving your credit is simply a matter of making good credit decisions moving forward and being patient. From the dates you have given me, it appears that most of the negative information from your credit card and student loan accounts should be removed from your credit reports in a year or so. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that most negative information be removed seven years after the card goes into collections or the bank charges it off. That typically happens about 180 days after the debt first goes delinquent. 

Once the negative accounts are removed from your credit reports, your credit score will be based on the current and positive accounts that you have. To better understand your credit score and how to improve it, I recommend that you do a little research. CreditCards.com has an in-depth look at each of the factors that make up a FICO score. (Check out "How your FICO score is calculated.") Also, the credit scoring gurus at MyFICO have an excellent credit education section on their website that point out all the credit scoring information you need to build a better score.

You have already put into practice one of the major ways to improve a credit score -- paying your credit obligations on time. Payment history is the single biggest factor in calculating your FICO score, totaling 35% of the score. The second biggest factor, at 30%, is how much you owe. In general terms, you want to keep your balances as low as you can and pay off debt rather than consolidate it.

They aren't the only factors, however. For one, the fact that you don't have a credit card may actually be keeping your score lower. That's because FICO's scoring model rewards people who use many different kinds of credit wisely. Your credit mix -- the types of credit you've used -- accounts for 10% of your score. You need both installment and revolving accounts to receive the highest score in this category. You might consider opening a credit card account, charging purchases regularly and paying off the balance each month.

As for your concern about causing damage to your husband's credit, it would only be possible for your actions to negatively affect your husband's credit if you had any joint credit accounts owned by both of you or any accounts where you are an authorized user on one of your husband's accounts. Any credit that you now have or acquire in the future in your name only would be reported on your credit report, but not on your husband's credit report. For example, if you have a car loan in your name only and make a late payment, the negative listing of the late payment on your credit report would in no way affect your husband's credit report. However, if you make a late payment on a jointly held credit card account, for example, the negative late payment item would appear on both of your credit reports.

Keep making on time and as-agreed payments for all of your credit obligations, and follow any other credit score boosting tips that make sense for you. Then, with time, your credit score will continue to increase to the number that you would like and deserve.

Handle your credit with care!