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If the federal government can't balance its budget how is the average family supposed to do it?

The national debt stands right about $8 trillion and goes up $1.5 billion a day. The level of consumer debt is out of control and growing rapidly, too. Credit card debt alone now stands around $800 billion or about $8,500 per family.

We actually joke about it. In one popular TV commercial, an upper-middle class guy brags about his membership in a golf club, his expensive car and his big, beautiful home. "How do I do it? He asks. "I'm in debt up to my eyeballs."

But it's really no laughing matter. Because, increasingly, Americans are using credit cards to cover basic living expenses, and that's a dangerous trend.

Credit in our lives

America's road to debt is paved in plastic -- Americans are in "debt denial," claiming they're good at handling money yet concerned about not being able to pay their monthly credit card bills.

Bad credit hurts in many ways -- It's not just your mortgage payment and credit card rate anymore: Shaky credit will cost you when it comes to things like auto, home and renters insurance.

What a difference a score makes -- Haunted by the infamous 619 credit score? See how much better your life would be at 719.

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

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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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The road to recovery

Your rights under the Fair Credit Billing Act -- Problems with your credit card? If it's a billing error, the law is on your side, if you know how to use it.

Debt negotiators can crush your credit -- Some firms will leave you worse off than when you started with them.

Correcting errors on your credit report -- Follow these steps to get errors removed from your credit reports.

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The road to riches

Haunted by 619? Get a subprime loan -- If your credit score falls below 620 you can still borrow money. You'll just have to pay a little more.

Subprime loans pricey but helpful -- People should weigh the pros and cons before getting a subprime mortgage. They carry rates high enough to double total interest costs, though they may help people rebuild troubled credit histories.

It's 'buyer beware' on subprime loans -- Just because they'll lend you money doesn't mean they're not trying to get all you have. What to watch for.

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