The less money you have, the more you need to know about how money—and the lack of it—work.

The less you have, the more expensive ignorance, financial mistakes, and poor choices become. Higher fees, higher interest rates, overlooked discounts, and missed supportive measures reduce what you get for your money and the amount of your income that you keep.

Your bank balance and credit card debt may be what’s on your mind, but the financial world wants the convenience of one number that tells them a lot more than that about you. Lenders, financial organizations, and retailers want to know about your financial behavior which they apply as a predictor of your future actions.

Their chief concern? How likely are you to repay debt? That is, make them hassle-free profit.

The financial world uses a three-digit credit score which encapsulates a borrower’s potential credit risk to the lender, based on past financial behavior, and indicates the borrower’s ability to repay debt. Credit scores range from 300 to +800; higher is better. Each consumer has more than one score.

Credit scores were not created for you, just about you and your financial behavior, so they are not meant to be simple to understand or manipulate. However, to attract good interest rates and terms, credit scores can and should be raised by managing your financial behavior according to lender criteria.

“At least one-quarter of low-income consumers lack the knowledge to help them raise low credit scores,” said the Consumer Federation of America’s (CFA) Stephen Brobeck, a CFA Senior Fellow. “This lack of awareness could limit their access to credit or subject them to higher costs. Low income households can least afford to pay higher interest rates and fees associated with low credit scores.”

The good news is you don’t have to tackle this “credit quicksand” alone. In fact, don’t waste time figuring this out alone when smart people like those at CFA and its grassroots network want to help you get free of financial disadvantages.

As you dig in, you’ll learn about the two credit scoring systems—FICO and VantageScore—and which of your financial patterns cause problems and which could help you raise your score. Each system calculates credit scores differently, even though they use similar data like repayment and debt history. The three credit reporting companies (CRCs)—Experian, Equifax and Transunion—collect financial data, including your spending data, and release the score.

VantageScore, a “predictive generic credit scoring model” created by the three CRCs, now allows lenders to score 40 million more Americans, including many African- and Hispanic-Americans and credit-invisible Millennials and GenZers, who were previously considered unscorable. This has enabled millions to join the ranks of creditworthy borrowers. VantageScore and other credit score model developers may now have an opportunity to bring more predictive and inclusive credit scores to the mortgage marketplace.

The financial services, retail, and service industries drive consumers using relentless buy-buy-buy marketing to produce profit for retailers and financial corporations. If you don’t take time to untangle the marketing hype and spend wisely on everything from food to real estate, you make the rich richer. Is that your prime objective when you spend online or as you accumulate credit card debt?

A low credit score identifies you as a target to be taken advantage of because of your lack of financial knowledge. Learn more and you’ll save more.

The Consumer Federation of America (CFA; consumerfed.org) concentrates on sharing behind-the-scenes insight on how money works so that consumers, especially low-income individuals and families, will not be taken advantage of. CFA is “an association of more than 250 non-profit consumer groups that, since 1968, has sought to advance the consumer interest through research, education, and advocacy.”

For example, CFA reports that only 22 percent of low income participants in their recent credit survey knew that on a $20,000, 60-month auto loan, a borrower with a low credit score would likely pay more than $5,000 extra in interest than a high-credit-score borrower. Low scores may only qualify borrowers for subprime auto loans with annual interest rates frequently exceeding 20 percent!

These observations involve many complexities beyond the scope of this article, but they do demonstrate that spending patterns require attention when income is the issue.

To launch yourself onto solid financial footing, follow these

Four Actionable Steps to Recover Your Financial Future:

Step # 1. Take a few minutes and complete the Credit Score Quiz

What you don’t know you don’t know could cost you a lot—perhaps everything. CFA and VantageScore Solutions developed and co-sponsor the interactive website, CreditScoreQuiz.org, that consumers can use to test their knowledge of credit scores using a 12-question quiz, available in English and Spanish.

Step #2. Pace yourself and become relentless

Do you think that instant gratification takes too long? If you want to make dramatic or lasting transformational change in your life, be prepared for an evolving lifestyle shift, not a quick fix.

1. Here’s a credit-score overview for those who want to see how all the parts are in play before they dig into details: (VantageScore & CNBC) What is a good credit score and how to get one
2. Then, unravel the credit details at Your.VantageScore.com for clarity:

• Explore credit scoring
• Understand your score
• Learn tips about credit
• Free score providers
• About VantageScore

Relentlessly nurture the good habit of asking questions to fully understand before you sign anything—especially if it sounds too good to be true.

Step #3. Reliable advice and connections get great results

The grassroots network of Consumer Action [ https://www.consumer-action.org/ ] (CA), another CFA partner, is a good starting point to learn how you can find help with your learning adventure. CA concentrates on consumer credit, and the related areas of credit cards, banking and finance, money management, and pricing, but CA also provides connections relating to health, housing, scams, fraud, privacy, and much more.

• The Consumer Services Guide is a searchable directory of resources which can help you with consumer problems and questions. The multiple Guide editions deal with specific issues such as housing or credit. The full directory, the Consumer Service Guide Edition, provides access to all the resources collected by Consumer Action.
• The Take Action Center provides advocacy tools that make it easier for you to reach out about issues that matter.

Step #4. Replace FOMO with POMO

Don’t let Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) and “keeping up with the Jones”-style thinking drive your spending and credit card debt. Shift to Pleasure Of Managing Outcomes (POMO) or your own self-discipline version to keep more of what you earn, earn more, and make your dollars work for your future not someone else’s.

Redefine your wealth and status in non-monetary terms like experiences, family, friendships, pursuit of passions, contributing to community etc. Emphasize “must-haves” that are free or nearly so to create a rich life full of variety and adventure. This will leave your income and spending free to concentrate on housing, feeding, and keeping you secure now and into the years ahead.