When you pick up one of those application forms for a credit card, don't take it lightly.

You are being examined by a creditor, and how you answer the questions could greatly influence what kind of credit image you'll have in the future.

One big mistake people make when they first start applying for credit is to try to sign up for several cards at once. If you are turned down by the creditors, it looks bad on your record. The word "inquiry" is listed with no resulting contractual alliance with a creditor.

When others look into your record, they see the "inquiries" and guess that something must be wrong. Why is everybody turning you down?

Your best bet is to try signing up with one local department store first. More often than not, these local stores make excellent starters for a credit record. They're usually easier to break into than some of the bigger chains and they're definitely easier than Visa or MasterCard.

When you pick up your application form, take two of three with you to your work or your home. Study them carefully and fill them out completely (no blanks unless a question doesn't apply to you). Use a typewriter or print very carefully. If they can't understand the information you've filled in, you'll lose points.

You will be graded on a point-scoring system and you should know what gets positive points and what gets negative points. What they're generally looking for is stability. How long have you been at your job? How long have you been at your present address? Do you own your home?

Be especially careful with your job description. Many creditors give negative scores to people who they think might be in work of a transient nature such as waiters, waitresses, barbers, beauticians and cabdrivers.

If you can indicate that you are, somehow, allied with management at the place where you work, you'll get a much higher score. For example, if you are a waiter or waitress but also do the books for your boss or supervise others ask your employer if you can list yourself as an "assistant manager."

You should also be careful filling in the blanks for your address and phone number. If you are in the military or in some other type of work that requires a post office box number instead of an address, put down the address of a relative or friend for mail-forwarding purposes. Post office box numbers get low scores.

So does an empty blank for your home phone number. If you don't have a phone, list your neighbor's phone (with permission, of course).

Having a checking account and a savings account are also essential. These are easy to set up and you should take care of it before you apply for credit.

Be sure to list your bank's and savings institutions names and your account number. When asked if you have banking and savings accounts, don't just answer "yes." Give them the details or they might assume you're lying.

When you're asked to give other credit references, don't put down loans from finance companies. Some creditors feel you might not be financially sound if you have to borrow from finance companies. It's not fair, but that's how some of the creditors look at it.

If, after all this, you find you still can't get Visa and MasterCard accounts, you might want to get in touch with David Meyers, president of Time Saver Inc. His company helps people who are new applicants or are having difficulties getting credit cards. The address: Time Saver, 10400 Connecticut Ave., Kensington, Md. 20795.