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If you're among the millions of Americans in debt trouble, you can take some comfort in knowing it's not entirely of your own doing. Increasing job layoffs, rising medical bills coupled with a decline in employer-paid health insurance, reduced funding for unemployment and other benefit programs all have played a part in the typical financial struggle.

Nevertheless, Americans now owe some $800 billion on credit cards and are using the plastic playthings to pay for basic living expenses, medical bills and vacations -- a practice almost certain to lead to still greater credit card debt.

The road to ruin

5 sure-fire ways to ruin your credit -- Don't try these tricks at home, unless you like getting calls from bill collectors.

20 signs of a bad loan -- Even if you're desperate, avoid loans that offer these kinds of deals.

Predatory lending: Who's watching your back? -- There's a turf war waging between federal and state regulators, and the nation's consumers may be the losers.

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Top 10 causes of debt: Which did you use? -- Many Americans wonder how they first got into debt and how to avoid it in the future. The answers lie in these top 10 causes of debt.

Are you credit crazy? -- Suspect you might have a problem handling credit? Find out with this interactive quiz.

Prepayments and balloons can pop your mortgage bubble -- People who refinance their mortgages with loans containing prepayment penalties or balloon payments are more likely to undergo foreclosure, a new study says.

The dangers of home equity lines of credit -- It seems like such a nice and easy path to get some much-needed money, but it can be a shortcut to disaster.

Credit card dangers lie in the fine print -- The big letters on the envelope may say "You've been approved!" but make sure you know what you're agreeing to.

Protecting yourself from identity theft -- Following these steps can minimize the chance you'll be among the 10 million victims each year.

8 steps to take if your identity is stolen -- This step-by-step guide will help you clear your good name.

Borrowing with lousy credit -- If at first you don't succeed, try, try another lender. But expect to pay more.

Credit card debt illegal? Don't you believe it! -- The new bankruptcy law is sending debt-laden Americans scurrying for miracle cures. Claiming the debt is illegal is not one of them.

Readers react: Credit reporting system stinks! -- Credit scores can make you or break you and chances are you either love the way the system works or you hate it. Here's a sampling of reader letters of the latter variety.

'05 Debt Credit Guide
 Credit in our lives
 Road to ruin

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NATIONAL OVERNIGHT AVERAGES
$30K HELOC 4.38%
Personal loan 13.94%
$30K Home equity loan 4.99%
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