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It’s easy to take out your plastic to pay for a meal, especially when you’ve run out to grab a quick bite during the workday. Not only is it convenient, but putting your lunch on credit every day can actually help you improve your credit.

Kind of seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it?

But it’s possible — you just have to do it right. So, here’s how your daily stop at the local deli can help you build your credit score (and ultimately help you qualify for better terms and conditions on future loans or lines of credit).

1. Maintain a Good Payment History

When it comes to your credit scores, lenders want to know how you’ve managed credit in the past to help them predict how you will do so in the future. They don’t know that you’ve responsibly paid off credit card charges of sandwiches and chips instead of a rare collection of Tolstoy tomes — they just want to know that you’ve done it. In other words, it doesn’t matter what you’re charging so long as you’re doing so responsibly.

That means paying off your credit card bill on time — and ideally in full (more on that in a minute) — each month without fail to display a strong payment history. This factor makes up about 35% of your credit scores, making it the biggest influencer.

2. Don’t Overdo Your Debt Usage

How much debt you have in relation to your credit limit (commonly referred to as your “credit utilization”) is the second largest influencer of your credit scores — making up 30%. So, where is the utilization sweet spot? Credit experts say the general rule is to keep the amount of debt you owe on your credit cards below at least 30% and ideally 10% of your overall available credit. This is important to keep in mind as you review your credit card statements and create your spending budget each month.

If you are riddled with credit card debt, you may want to consider using a credit card payoff calculator tool like this one and eliminating those balances before adding to them with lunch charges. This tool can help you figure out how long it could take you to get out of debt, as doing so can help improve your credit utilization (and ultimately your credit scores).

Keep in mind, issuers tend to report balances to the credit bureaus as of your statement’s closing or billing date, not your actual due date. So you may want to consider paying off your lunch charges each week (or even every day) via a linked checking account to preclude them from adding to the balance that shows up on your credit report.

3. Keep an Eye on Your Credit

If you’re using that plastic to buy your mid-day meals, you don’t want it to get out of control. Spending just $10 for lunch each workday can add up to $2,600 annually. (If this is out of your budget, you may want to consider these 11 easy, tasty lunches under $2.) Plus, aside from any credit score ramifications, it’s a good idea to avoid paying interest on sandwiches you’ve charged.

Remember, as repeatedly mentioned, charging lunch can only help your credit if it’s done so responsibly. To find out how your credit card use is affecting your credit, you can see two of your credit scores for free, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com or view your free annual credit reports each year at AnnualCreditReport.com.

More on Credit Reports & Credit Scores:

Image: Steve Debenport

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