NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Once your credit takes a hit, bringing up those three little numbers in your credit score may seem like an impossibility, but with a dedicated plan of action you can get back on the road to 850 in no time. Our experts weigh in on the top five ways to rebuild your credit score, one smart move at a time.
1. Pay your bills on time
A track record of paying your bills on time is the highest-weighted element of your credit score, at 35%, says Gail Cunningham, director of media relations for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. When you pay your bills promptly, it sends a signal to the future lender that you manage your money responsibly, Cunningham says .
"As long as you've got a job and money coming in, paying your bills on time should be one of the easiest things to knock out, and people often forget that," Cunningham reminds.
Unfortunately, a lot of people who have money on hand to pay their bills either procrastinate until they are overdue or are so unorganized that they misplace important statements.
"Going to the mailbox and stuffing your bills above the sun visor in your car or in the bottom of your purse doesn't count as paying your bills," she says. "Too many of us know that horrified feeling of finding an old bill and realizing it's way past the due date."
If you have a long history of being unorganized with your bills, Cunningham suggests fixing the problem with automatic bill pay online.
"Fix it once and for all using technology," she says. "Set up automatic payments each month so that when you do have those 'uh-oh' moments, it's not going to mean a hefty late fee or a negative notation on your credit report."
2. Establish a savings account and/or emergency fund
Establishing a savings account and contributing to it on a regular basis helps to guard against unforeseen setbacks to a more secure financial future, says Michael Cleary, head of distribution for RBS Citizens Financial Group.
"A savings account also provides evidence that you are taking control of your finances," Cleary says.
It's no secret that people living without any rainy-day savings are operating on a very slippery slope, Cunningham says. They're just one unplanned event away from financial distress.
"If you have a plumbing problem, a trip to the emergency room or car trouble, without savings you're left with poor resolution options," she says. "If you don't have any money to pay for the expense you're going to charge it, adding to your debt load, or you're going to take money off another category in your life and spend your rent or grocery money."
In the most serious cases, people without any emergency funds are forced to turn to friends and family or to something more serious such as a payday loan.
"People say they can't afford to save, and I tell them they can't afford not to. If you don't have a rainy-day fund, you're going to be trapped in a cycle of robbing Peter to pay Paul," she says.