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American consumer debt -- not counting mortgage debt -- now equals a record $1.98 trillion.

A trillion is a hard concept to grasp. It's a million million. A thousand billion. Or 1,000,000,000,000.

A billion is hard enough to understand. A billion is a thousand million. Or 1,000,000,000.

A billion seconds ago, in 1972, President Richard Nixon visited Mainland China. Later in the year five "burglars" broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Hotel.

A billion minutes ago it was the year 103 A.D. A billion hours ago our ancestors were living in the Stone Age.

But a billion dollars ago for consumer debt was just about two weeks ago!

You can be part of the solution instead of the problem. Learn to recognize and deal with your debt -- with the help of Bankrate's 2004 Guide to Managing Debt.

Managing your debt

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How bad is it?

Debt-o-meter -- Do you suspect you have a problem handling credit? Take this quiz to find out.

Top 10 causes of consumer debt -- You know you're in debt, but may be uncertain exactly how you got there. Bankrate's Debt Adviser Steve Bucci lists the top 10 causes.

Quiz: Are you financially self-destructive? -- These questions will help you find out whether your habits are sabotaging your finances.

More How bad is it? stories

Help yourself

Written budget separates savvy from clueless -- If you want to be a money-management master instead of a debt-defying dawdler, you need a written budget or spending plan. Here's how to create it.

25 ways to start saving now! -- Cheapskates are chic! Here's how to cut the fat off your lifestyle.

More Help yourself stories

Getting help

15 signs you need debt-reduction help -- These signals let you know it's time to call in a financial fitness expert.

How to pick a credit counseling firm -- You're going to be letting them handle your money. Choose wisely.

More Getting help stories

Starting over

Declaring bankruptcy vs. gutting it out -- Bankruptcy is like nuclear weapons, says the Debt Adviser: It gets the job done, but expect fallout.

Common misconceptions about bankruptcy -- Consumer bankruptcies is more popular than ever and could set a new record for 2003. Yet misconceptions about the last- ditch way to get out of debt abound.

More Starting over stories

Calculators

Debt pay-down calculator -- What's the fastest and cheapest way to pay down your debts?

What will it take to pay off your credit card? -- Compute your best strategy for dumping credit card debt.

More Calculator stories

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