Financial Literacy 2007 - Credit cards
A cartoon man in red looking through a kaleidoscope with colorful credit cards floating in the sky
credit cards
Take charge of your cards

The average American carries about $5,000 in credit card debt. Does that sound familiar?

With a typical interest rate of 16 percent, it would take 12 years to pay that off, assuming the cardholder makes only the minimum payment and doesn't charge any new purchases. Worse, that person would pay an extra $2,500 in interest payments for a total bill of $7,500.

Think of what you could do with that much money. A fabulous vacation perhaps? A used car for your son in college? If you socked it away in your retirement account, you'd have an extra $24,000 in 20 years. That's a lot of greens fees.

Simply put, that money that could go toward so many bigger and better things. "You wouldn't set fire to a stack of $100 bills would you?" asks personal finance expert Jane Bryant Quinn. "Paying interest on your credit cards isn't much different."

That credit monkey on your back can affect every aspect of your financial picture from how much money you have in your wallet to whether you get the next job you apply for. That's why taking control of your credit cards -- and keeping debt at bay -- is the No. 1 ingredient for financial success. "Taming credit card debt is the first thing I do with all my clients," says Bill Driscoll, a financial planner in Boston who specializes in debt management. "Virtually everyone can learn to use credit cards better."

With the strategies outlined in the "Take Action" section of this site, you can take control starting today, no matter how deeply in debt you may be. And even if you're the type to pay off your balance every month you'll learn to make your good credit standing work even harder for you.

To make any headway, however, you've got to first understand why using credit cards wisely is so important.

Do you have a secret to success with credit cards? Or, are you struggling? Share your story.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

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