The better your credit score, the more credit you can get. The more of your credit you use, the lower your credit score. Perplexing, right? It seems almost illogical.

The mechanics of credit scores can be confusing. What isn’t confusing is the fact that a higher score means greater financial advantages.

Credit scores affect your ability to buy a car or house, or even rent an apartment. So if yours is on life support, you’ll need to resuscitate it. Here are four ways you can revive a bad credit score.

1. Use Credit to Fight Bad Credit

Credit scores are calculated using five measurements. Payment history comprises 35% of your score, and the amount of said credit you use is 30%. The other 35% is divided between length of credit history (15%), credit mix (10%), and new credit (10%).

Merely avoiding the use of credit doesn’t help, because using credit is how you build a credit score. You need to demonstrate that you make payments in a timely manner. And you need to demonstrate that you know how to handle debt generally. For example, you should keep the amount of your credit that you use, your debt-to-credit ratio, under 30%.

Even if you have no credit score, or you’re emerging from bankruptcy, you’ll need credit. A secured credit card is a great tool for digging your way out of a credit score hole. It’s easier to get one than a regular credit card because the bank doesn’t assume as much risk. You’ll be handing in a cash deposit that serves as the limit amount on your credit card. If you miss payments, the bank can use your deposit to pay off your card.

Use the secured card, make on-time payments, and sustain a low debt-to-credit ratio. The card provider will then report that information to credit bureaus. Use the card responsibly, and watch your credit score rise from the ashes.

2. Stop Maxing Out Your Credit Cards

It may be tempting to max out your credit card each month, but that wreaks havoc on your credit score. You should stop using those maxed out credit cards, and begin paying more than the monthly minimum. Paying down unsecured credit card debt is your path to a better credit score.

If you want to see how long it will take to pay off a card, use a credit card payoff calculator. These online tools provide a reality check about the necessary monthly payments to bring that balance down to zero. If you’re paying the monthly minimum, it will take a long time to bring that balance down. Especially if you keep using your card.

Some credit card statements tell you how many years it will take to pay off the current balance. They’ll show the length of time and cost of interest if you make only minimum monthly payments.

The difference in cost between that and making higher payments is shocking. Plus, those numbers reflect time and interest only if you stop using the card at that moment. Every time you increase the balance, you decrease progress toward a better credit score.

Although you may want to close a credit card account to avoid the temptation of using it, don’t. Remember that the percentage of your credit that you use is a big component of your credit score. If you close an account with a $10,000 credit limit, your debt-to-credit ratio will only go up.

It may help to create your own visual. Consider tracking your progress on a spreadsheet. Enter the card limit and balance every month. Watch your debt fall and your debt-to-credit ratio improve.

3. Take Out a Credit-Builder Loan at a Credit Union

Lending money is about risk and reward. A lender takes a chance on you and is rewarded with interest on the loan sum. The higher the risk, such as lending money to someone with a bad credit score, the higher the interest.

Lower interest rates on loans, lines of credit, mortgages, and credit cards all come with good scores. Your credit score may not prohibit you from getting a loan, but you may pay a premium for the privilege.

Many credit unions offer small loans designed to rebuild credit scores. Like a secured credit card, they provide credit you can use after you have paid for it in full. It starts with the lender placing a small loan, $1,000, for example, into a special savings account.

You can’t access the loan until you’ve made the required number of scheduled payments, equal to the borrowed amount. Once it’s repaid in full, you can use the loan funds.

Meanwhile, the loan principal earns interest while it’s in the savings account. More importantly, the lender is reporting timely payments on the loan to the major credit bureaus. Gradually, your credit score will begin to rise.

These credit-builder loans put the lender at zero risk because they control your access to the money. Nonetheless, the lender has the same credit-reporting ability as any other creditor. It’s a mutually beneficial partnership that will keep your credit score moving in the right direction.

4. Monitor Your Credit Report

Monitoring your credit report regularly in and of itself doesn’t improve your credit score. It can, however, save you from some unpleasant surprises as well as bolster your credit building confidence.

If you had all your debt discharged through chapter 7 bankruptcy, you definitely need to monitor your credit reports. Request a copy from all three national credit bureaus 90 to 120 days after the court has discharged your debt. Verify that all debt shows a zero balance.

Request copies 90 to 120 days after you file for chapter 13 bankruptcy. Make sure any debt not included in the bankruptcy still shows your payment progress. Once you’ve completed the debt repayment plan, wait another 90 to 120 days to request reports again. Make sure all debt you paid off under the plan shows zero balances.

If you haven’t filed for bankruptcy, you should still monitor your credit reports. For one, they can tip you off to any fraudulent use of your credit cards. Such use will tank your credit score again.

If you left open maxed out credit card accounts but aren’t using them, you need to remain vigilant. Once you have your credit reports, you should also check for any mistakes.

You may have heard that credit checks lower your credit score. However, not all requests ding your credit. Credit checks from lenders and creditors will lower your score. Routinely requesting your own credit reports will not. Your requests are considered soft inquiries, and they will help you stay in the know about your credit.

Dealing with a credit score that’s in free fall can be incredibly disheartening. But the number isn’t permanent. Even if you’re dealing with credit card debt or bankruptcy, there are things you can do to improve your score. Take the time to do these four things to revive your credit score, and you’ll soon see results.