This can be the year that you start building for a secure financial future. Savings are the foundation, of course, but a close second is building and protecting credit.

Just as the TV ad says: Do you want to live with your parents for the rest of your life? Or do you want to rent an apartment or buy a home? Do you have enough money in the bank to buy a new car? Most of us need good credit, but keep in mind that credit can be a double-edged blade.

If you don’t do your homework before seeking credit or if you are careless when you get it, you can inflict some real pain on your pocketbook for a long time to come. Low credit scores will cost you money in higher interest rates when you go to finance a large, important purchase such as a house. A sufficiently low credit score can prevent you from getting financing period.

If you have credit now, keep an eye on your credit reports and work toward building a higher credit score. Your credit score is calculated from a formula based on information in your credit report. You have three different credit scores, one for each of your credit reports. Reports from each of these agencies go into figuring your total score.

The three major credit agencies, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, have an eye on you. Their reports keep a running tab of your payment history and whether you habitually make late payments.

You want to check at regular intervals because creditors make mistakes, and their mistakes can hurt your credit. You can protect yourself from identity theft as well by reviewing your credit reports. If you see an error, don’t waste any time in contacting the credit agency for a correction.

Each of the three agencies are required by law to provide you with a free copy of your report once a year. Credit Karma also will provide a free report at any time once you register with this online service.

If you are getting your first credit card, put in significant research to find the one that is the best for you. Credit card fees and interest rates are not created equally, and you could wind up paying a lot unnecessarily if you fail to find the card that will give you the best rate and lowest fees.

Before you swipe that brand new credit card for the first time, make sure you know how using it can affect your credit score. Credit agencies like to see you use only about one-third of the credit available to you. Max out that card fast, and you’ll be giving yourself trouble.

It’s a good idea to avoid carrying a balance on your new credit card. Try to charge no more than you can pay off totally each month. You’ll save on paying interest charges, and you’ll avoid the pitfall of worrying about how to make huge monthly payments if you lose a job unexpectedly.