Getting Rid of Debt
If your credit-card balance has crept up to uncomfortable levels, you're not alone. Millions of Americans have learned -- the hard way -- how easy it is to use and abuse their credit cards and how difficult it can be to pay them off.

Myvesta (formerly Debt Counselors of America) and the National Consumer Law Center offer these credit-card debt elimination tips:

  • Always be aware of all of the fees that may be associated with your credit card. (That means not tossing out the fine-print leaflets that come in your bill periodically!) Know the annual fees, current interest rates, finance charges, cash-advance fees and any other fees tied in with your card. This knowledge can help you make better decisions on how to manage your card.

  • Cash advances can be trouble! You should only get cash advances when it is absolutely necessary. Higher interest rates (than you're paying for card purchases) are usually charged, and most banks also charge a service fee related to how much cash you're withdrawing. (The same applies to those handy, personalized "checks" the credit-card company sends you!)

  • Always be on the look-out for cards that offer lower interest rates. Transferring balances from one card to another to take advantage of low introductory rates is a common practice among U.S. cardholders. Low introductory rates can be very helpful in your quest to become free of credit-card debt. You should look for credit cards that offer a low intro rate (usually for six months), and transfer the balance from your previous credit card to that credit card. Before you take this step, however, make sure that, after the intro rate has expired, the new card offers the same (or lower) interest rate as your current card.

  • Experts say that making minimum payments is one of the most common mistakes consumers make. You will save lots of money on interest and get to debt-free goals sooner if you pay more than what is required each month.

It's true that it's really easy to fall into the credit-card trap, and not so easy to get out. But don't give up -- there are non-profit centers across the country that will provide counseling to you and will even (at no or low charge) contact your credit-card company and try to get your rate lowered or a different payment plan worked out. Check out this brief book list:

  • The Credit Repair Kit, by John Ventura
  • All About Credit: Questions (And Answers) About the Most Common Credit Problems, by Deborah McNaughton
  • What Every Credit Card User Needs to Know, by Howard Strong
  • The Insider's Guide to Credit Cards, by Barry Klein
  • Credit Card and Debt Management: A Step-by-Step How-to Guide for Organizing Debt and Saving Money on Interest Payments, by Scott Bilker

In the next section, you'll find out about using your credit card internationally.