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How to stay out of credit card debt

Several months ago I wrote about how much I hate credit cards and will never use one. OK, so I’m human; but I have learned to pay more attention to two phrases pertaining to the subject of credit cards—“Never say never” and to “Practice what I preach.”

According to a segment called “Your Money, Your Debt,” on Good Morning America on Sunday, statistics show that the average American household owes nearly one quarter of its paycheck to credit cards and the upcoming Christmas season poses many temptations.

The show emphasized that the reason is that Americans use these cards to pay for everything from vacations to groceries. One card never seems to be enough. Credit card companies promise low interest rates and low monthly payments. Americans spend more on their credit cards than they do with cash or personal checks and the middle class household owes an average of nearly $9,000 on their cards.

Financial counselors warn that one of the biggest problems is people using their credit cards for every day uses such as utilities, medical bills, groceries, and at the gas station, and that can dig them deeper and deeper into debt. Financial counselors emphasize that these are expenses and points where people can get completely out of control.

Mellody Hobson, the president of Area Capital Management, an investment firm in Chicago and a regular financial contributor on GMA made an appearance on the program and gave excellent suggestions on how to get out of credit card debt.

Hobson said that if you have a lot of credit card debt the first step to take is the three C’s—call, cancel and cut. The first thing you want to do is to (call) the credit card company and get them to lower your rate. If you push hard enough they will respond to your request.

The next thing you must do is (cancel) the card and tell the company that you no longer want it.

The next thing you must do is seriously (cut) up the card. This is the way to get debt out of your life and make a commitment to start using a debit card instead so that you will buy what you can actually afford.

Hobson said that it is OK to own one card and to use it for emergency purposes only and stick to that purpose. To help you to do this she said to post a note on it stating that fact so that you won’t fall back into day to day purchases.

She stated that she is not a big fan of balance transfers even though it can save more money in interest. Why? Because she said what she has found is that most people transfer their balances to a new card, run up the old card again, and then they are left with double the credit card debt. She then suggested three popular cards low in interest rates that she would use if she had to. However, I won’t mention them as to not tempt anyone as I was a couple of months ago.

One of those cards mentioned has been in my possession for a long time. I also had an emergency financial situation that needed my immediate attention. Striving hard to keep my few investments in their right places for future survival that is going to be twice as hard as it is now, I used the card and vowed to pay the entire debt on time and in time before interest payments set in.

I did just that last week and put the card in a safe place with the word emergency written on it as Hobson suggested.

For now the card is out of sight it is out of mind, at least until my next emergency arises.

However, in the meantime, I will strive not to ever regret not cutting that darn card up.

Happy Thanksgiving and remember to use your one card wisely on the biggest shopping day of the year.

Evelyn Wall is a retired News-Herald reporter and regular columnist.