To have good credit, you need a good credit history. But for many different reasons (problems with an ex, trouble paying bills, or maxed out credit cards, for example), a lot of single moms have no credit or bad credit. That makes it really hard to score the best credit cards, low interest rates on jobs, even great apartments or jobs.

If your credit score leaves something to be desired, or doesn’t exist, here’s what you need to do and not do to establish good credit.

Step 1. Get a free copy of your credit report from Taking this first step gives you a baseline to work from, and will help you set a reasonable credit-improvement goal.

Step 2. Start getting credit in your own name (if you don’t have it already). Set up all of your regular bills (phone, utilities, etc.) in your name. Get a credit card in your name and use it wisely: don’t charge more than you can afford to pay off right away, and make all of your payments on time.

Don’t go into debt to build your credit.

Step 3. If you’re having trouble getting your own credit card, use one of these “safety net” methods to establish good credit:

  • Secured credit cards require cash deposits up front, but in every other way they work just like regular credit cards…including making on-time monthly payments. Once you’ve established solid credit, you can cancel this card, get your deposit back, and apply for a standard credit card.
  • Credit-builder loans, which are often available from community banks and credit unions, are there to help people establish credit. These loans work sort of like lay-away: You have to “pay back” the loan before you borrow it. To do that, you deposit money in a special savings account. Once you’ve built up a big enough loan deposit, you can borrow the money and pay it back.

Step 4. Commit to maintaining good credit by making sure you never miss a payment. Set up alerts on your calendar, put your bills on auto-pay, set up text reminders – anything you can do to remind yourself to pay on time. And when it comes to credit cards, do your best to pay those bills in full every month (if you can’t do that, always pay more than the minimum payment).