NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- We have a personal debt problem.
The Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute reports that 35% of Americans have debts and unpaid bills that have been reported to nationwide collection agencies.
Altogether, U.S. consumers owed an average $5,200 each to creditors as of September, the UI reports, which is worrisome because consumers with too much debt can't spend the kind of money the economy needs to stay on course. Worse, identity theft is on the rise and Americans are even more at risk for losing money and suffering the resulting debt and credit problems.
Avoiding mindless money mistakes, including such things as losing track of credit and falling victim to identity theft, can help Americans keep debt down and income and savings up.
It's all about creating wealth-generating -- and ultra-safe -- money habits, says Patrice C. Washington, chief executive at Seek Wisdom Wealth, a personal finance training and development firm.
"When you're busy and caught up in the stresses of everyday life, it's easy to make mindless mistakes that directly impact your finances," Washington says. "It is essential to thoroughly think through every decision prior to making it so you don't let your finances take the back burner."
Here are some common money mistakes Washington urges you to avoid:
Sharing on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Social media are a natural gathering place for I.D. thieves, so be careful when using it. "Be cautious when posting any information on social networking sites -- just remember that some things are best kept private," Washington says. "The less information you put out there for the world to see, the less likely you are to potentially fall prey to identity theft.
Clicking a link in an email from the IRS. Identity thieves like to use the Internal Revenue Service as an "entry point" to access consumers' financial data. "The IRS is an established governmental organization. It's almost guaranteed that they won't be sending you emails," Washington says. "Don't click on anything from an unauthorized source, and never send any sensitive information through email."
Hold the phone. Scamsters also like to target unwary, and unprepared, consumers (especially elderly ones) over the phone. "Similar to email, never provide any sensitive financial information over the phone to an unverified source," she adds. "To verify that they are who they say they are, hang up and call your bank or credit card agency and ask if there is a problem."
As far as keeping a closer watch on credit, Washington has some advice on that front, too.
Beware financial partnerships. Watch out when you commingle accounts with a romantic partner. "Don't take lightly the commitment of joining accounts with a partner," she says. "Before making the decision, keep in mind the potential consequences your financial status and credit score could suffer if the relationship doesn't go as planned."
Track your credit. "Don't get lazy with credit, keep track of it and make sure to closely monitor it from month to month," Washington says. "Keeping an eye on your statements and accounts will help you quickly catch any unauthorized transactions and identity theft."
Keeping an eye on your finances -- and the key threats to those finances -- is the best way to avoid mindless money mistakes. Keep that in mind and your income and assets will be better protected, and can grow more freely.