By Roman Shteyn of Credit-land.com
NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- There is some good news and some bad news. Let's cover the good news first: Data released late last year by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York showed that Americans are doing a better job of managing their debt. Consumers shed $74 billion in debt in the third quarter, bringing the total down to $11.3 trillion. (Yes, that's trillion.)
The bad news: Credit card debt is on the rise. The report found that credit card balances increased $2 billion in the third quarter. And the worst part of that bad news? The average
amount of debt per borrower
increased nearly 5% from the same quarter the year before. The average is now $4,996. (In Alaska it's a whopping $7,094.) Next year's national debt load could be as high as $5,500 per person.
Taking its toll on your budget
Carrying that debt is taking a bite out of already thin budgets for many. The average interest rate in 2012 was 14.56%. That's $727 per year in interest charges alone if you are carrying a balance in the $5,000 range like the average American. And that doesn't take compounding into effect.
Credit cards are great financial tools when used responsibly. And one can even get cash back or other rewards for making charges. But when you are paying $60 a month in interest, it's time to re-evaluate your spending.
Here are some tips to help you get on track:
1. Charge only what you can afford.
Credit cards are not for spending money you don't have. If you can't pay for it with money you will have in the next couple of weeks, don't charge it.
2. No more cash advances.
Have you seen the interest rate your card company will charge you on a cash advance? Enough said.
3. Avoid those fees.
Do not make your payment late and do not go over your credit limit to avoid late payment and over-the-limit fees. That behavior will also damage your credit score.
4. Have an emergency fund.
Some people use their card for unexpected expenses. That's fine, but an actual emergency fund is better. Start building one today.
5. Transfer that balance.
If you have a credit card with a high rate, you can transfer to one with
for up to 18 months. No interest payments for over a year can help you pay down that debt.
You have debt. You can get rid of it. You may just have to make some tough choices. But most of them won't keep you up at night.
Roman Shteyn is co-founder of Credit-land.com. He writes frequently on personal finance and credit-related topics.