But if you spot a trend, beware.
For example, don't panic if you occasionally shop surreptitiously, not letting the spouse in on your splurge. "Anybody might do this once or twice," says Debby Vinyard, co-owner of Vinyard Financial Planning and Associates, in Marion, Ill. "But if it's becoming routine, you probably have a problem."
Similarly, paying the minimum balances once in a while could be acceptable. But if it's more than an isolated money management misstep, you could be headed for trouble.
"If you see some of these warning signs, you need to take a serious look and find out why," Vinyard says. "Maybe it's something temporary. You're between jobs.
"But if it's becoming a bad pattern, you need to be honest. Admitting you have a problem will go at least halfway toward solving it."
Don't wait too long
Alan Olinger, vice president of sales and marketing for Money Management International in Houston, says it's far easier on families to seek help sooner rather than later.
"The best time to seek credit counseling is before all the extreme warning signs crop up," Olinger says. "Generally, it's easier to work with someone heading down the path toward financial difficulties rather than someone that's already reached that destination."
Any trip to a credit counselor should be preceded by a thorough analysis of your family's personal finances: how much money you have saved, how much you owe, how much you have coming in each month, and so on. Such an analysis will help you assess how much trouble you're in and how much help you need.
"For many of our clients, we mainly help them get organized," Olinger says. "This is something they can do for themselves if they don't need our support."