You must tend to the SAT-like number that has come to define your overall financial identity — your credit score. (istock)

So much of our financial lives comes down to certain numbers.

There’s the retirement figure you hope to get to so you can avoid eating potted meat and rice.

And your Social Security number — although, based on the frequency of major data breaches, it may already be compromised.

And of course there’s the SAT-like number that has come to define your overall financial identity — your credit score.

Pumping up your credit “number” should be a priority. The higher your score, the more likely you’ll get favorable lending terms because the algorithms say you’re more likely to pay your debt.

A landlord will probably ask for a credit number. A potential employer will want you to disclose it. Even a date, hoping to become serious, might judge you by it. A Federal Reserve study found a link between a lasting relationship and good credit scores; couples with similarly high credit scores tend to stay together.

So do you know your number? And more importantly, do you know enough about how the credit-scoring system works to boost your rating if it’s not measuring up?

If you’re not sure, pick up this month’s Color of Money Book Club selection, “Your Credit Score: How to Improve the 3-Digit Number That Shapes Your Financial Future,” by personal-finance author Liz Weston, who writes the syndicated column “Money Talk.”

Be sure to get the fifth edition. Why so many versions?

The credit-scoring world is complicated and ever-changing.

“Twenty years ago, you didn’t even have the right to know the numbers that lenders used to judge you,” Weston writes. “Today, you can get dozens of your scores online within seconds, along with detailed information about what goes into creating each one. Instead of having too little information, sometimes it can feel like you have too much.”

Weston, who also writes for, has put together an informative guide to the underbelly of credit scores. Trust me, there is some stuff under the hood of this system that you need help understanding. In fact, she devotes a whole chapter: “Credit-Scoring Myths.” Here are some of the top myths she dispels:

● Checking your credit report too often will bring down your score.

● You need to pay interest to get a good score.

● Credit counseling is worse for your score than declaring bankruptcy.

● Your score will automatically drop if you comparison-shop for rates before buying a car or applying for a home loan. (You have a window in which multiple inquiries won’t hurt your score.)

Last month, Chase Slate released the results of a study that found that 40 percent of Americans don’t know their number. Of those who do, 32 percent aren’t happy with their scores. Of those who are dissatisfied with their score, 82 percent would like to spend the year improving their rating.

Credit Karma found that more than two-thirds of people surveyed said they had made a major credit mistake before turning 30. They either overspent using credit, paid bills late or defaulted on a loan. Those actions can drag down your score.

“How you handle your credit problems will have a huge effect not only on your credit worthiness but also on your financial future,” Weston writes in the book. “The wrong move can sink you further into debt, devastate what’s left of your scores and put your financial life at risk. The right moves can help you climb out of the hole stronger, wealthier and more creditworthy than ever before.”

You’ve probably heard the radio ads from companies promising to “fix” your credit. Often that repair comes with a high price, from several hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. Save yourself some money and frustration by studying Weston’s book. Fixing your credit is a doable DIY endeavor as long as you have the right information. And “Your Credit Score” gives you just that.

If you’re new to the book club, we don’t meet in person. Just get the book and join me for the live online discussion. I’ll be hosting a chat about this month’s selection at noon Eastern on March 24 at Weston will join me to take your credit-score questions.

Write Singletary at The Washington Post, 1301 K St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or To read more: