Straight Talk

Drowning in credit card debt? Here's how to survive

Controlling credit card debt

What's the best way to manage credit card debt? First-time cardholders should think of their new card as a vehicle for building a positive credit history, said Diahann Lassus, president and CIO of Lassus Wherley. Make short-term purchases, and pay those charges off over several months.

"Over time, that helps build your credibility so that people are willing to lend to you," she said.

It's easy for credit card debt to pile up quickly.

"It's really fun to charge things, because you're not thinking about the fact that that's real money," said Lassus, but "you need to pay that [balance] off when the bill comes in." Otherwise, you're not only spending today's dollars but tomorrow's as well.

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The real "ugly" of credit cards? High interest rates, often starting at 18 percent and up.

"If you build up high debt and make minimum payments, it can take forever to pay it off," Lassus said.

If you do find yourself drowning in credit card debt, sit down and make a plan. Ask yourself, for example, whether your prefer to pay off a card with the lowest balance first or the one with the highest interest charges.

The other choice is "to stop using the credit cards" altogether, said Lassus. "You can't use a credit card to pay off another credit card."

Do you know your credit score?

It's a good idea to check your credit report to monitor the impact — good or bad — that your credit card usage is having on your credit rating. This "affects everything in your life," said Lassus, from getting a job to buying a car.

The takeaway? "Misusing credit card debt to bring enjoyment and pleasure to today is a short-term focus that will lead to long-term pain."