As rising interest rates continue to capture headlines, consumers are rightfully left wondering how they can protect themselves.

Establishing and maintaining good credit can help. After all, a strong credit history typically means a consumer pays less interest to borrow money for purchases large and small, helping to shield them from the effects of rising interest rates.

But many Americans, understandably, are new to the idea of building credit and just beginning to build their understanding of how to do it — a key element of financial literacy. It’s an issue that’s even grabbed bipartisan attention in Congress, with the timely relaunch of the “Financial Literacy and Wealth Creation Caucus.”

We know consumers are paying close attention to the economic environment, especially inflation. TransUnion’s recent Consumer Pulse Survey found that 43 percent of consumers list inflation as their top financial concern. Thankfully, when it comes to building credit, there are some straightforward steps consumers can take to make real progress, even in a challenging economic environment.

These Do’s and Don’ts can help:

—DO: Make timely payments. This one may seem obvious, but it works. Establishing a history of timely payments is key to healthy credit. Not only does it help avoid late fees but it also tells lenders that you can handle future debts.

—DON’T: Hold a high balance on your accounts. “Credit utilization” is a measure of the credit you’re using compared to the total credit limit of all your revolving accounts (like credit cards). One good practice is to keep a credit card balance below 30 percent of the approved overall credit limit whenever possible. In general, the lower the utilization, the better.

—DO: Consider keeping accounts open. Even if a line of credit is no longer in use, consider keeping it active. For one, your credit utilization rate may rise when you close an account since that credit is no longer available to balance existing debts. Likewise, the length of your credit history matters, so keeping older lines of credit, even if not in use, can help build credit. Just watch for any fees attached to an account and take those into consideration as you plan.

—DON’T: Apply for credit you don’t need. Applying for additional, unnecessary credit can hurt your score. Each attempt to open a new line of credit will likely generate what is called a “hard inquiry” on your credit report, which can negatively affect your credit score. Specifically, avoid applying for a new credit card before making a large payment that requires a loan, like a mortgage. Taking on new credit right before a major purchase could affect your credit score and ultimately affect your chances at getting the pending loan.

—DO: Monitor your progress. Regularly reviewing your credit report is a great way to stay on top of your accounts, protect against fraud and ensure your report is an accurate reflection of your financial history. Accessing your credit report will not affect your score, and it’s offered free from the three credit reporting agencies through the end of 2023.

—DO: Build your credit — even if you have none. If you have limited (or no) credit history, consider becoming an authorized user on a credit card that belongs to someone you trust, like a spouse or parent, or likewise ask them to co-sign a credit product for yourself. If you want to go it alone, you might consider a secured credit card. These require a down payment, which then becomes your credit limit. Activity on a secured card is reported to credit reporting agencies, and the down payment is refunded if you cancel the card or upgrade to a regular credit card, assuming you’re up to date on your payments.

Finally, on-time rent payments can improve your credit if your landlord reports them to the credit reporting agencies, so ask your landlord if they do. If they don’t, consider asking them to do so. Rent reporting is a growing practice that’s good for both parties, with the potential to help millions of “credit invisible” consumers build credit.

Your credit is a resource to help access financing when you need it. Credit can be built or rebuilt over time through these steps, but there’s no quick fix. It takes time, patience and good financial discipline.

The good news is anyone can do it, and there’s never been a better time to start.