It’s a classic Catch-22: You have to have credit to get credit. The elusive score determines much of your adult life: not just obtaining loans and credit cards, but also getting a decent apartment, car and even insurance rates. And, just as jealous boyfriends often plague new romantic relationships, companies are weary of putting their precious money on the line for someone who hasn’t yet proven herself trustworthy. Sound dire? Don’t start hiding your money under your mattress just yet – now’s the time to start building credit, and building it right. Here’s how:

1. Establish a checking and savings account.
This is the first step to showing those weary banks that you’re worthy of their trust, and the earlier you do so, the better. Not only will this allow you to start building up a tangible history of what you do with your money, it will get you used to being responsible for what you save and what you spend. (Trust us—it’s a little more difficult to spend $10 on lunch everyday when you have to see it staring you in the face on your bank statement.)

2. Get a credit card early.
Today’s savvy college students have been warned to steer clear of those fast-talking, freebie-offering credit companies that pop in your mailbox. Broke and innocent undergrads are an easy target for companies that make their money by sneakily charging killer interest rates. But as long as you’re smart and responsible about it, college is the best time to get your first (and only!) credit card. According to Liz Pulliam Weston, of Money Central at MSNBC.com, “Lenders are willing to take risks with you that they won't once you graduate,” but, she cautions, “look for a card with a low or nonexistent annual fee and low interest rates.”

3. Understand the basics of credit scoring.
“The problem for younger consumers is that without a solid credit history, their score will not be high enough to obtain credit at competitive rates,” says Adam Levin, CEO of Credit.com. According to his site, your credit score is a numerical evaluation of your credit history used by businesses to quickly find out if you pose a risk to the company as a borrower. Is your brain hurting yet? All you need to remember are the factors that will raise and lower your score: