Credit cards help you buy lots of stuff-and then, even more stuff. Fortunately, there are a few simple ways out of this charge card mania.

Some of us pay the bare minimum on our credit card bills, racking up huge debts over time. As interest and service fees pile up, convenience checks from one card pay the bills on another. At this point, the credit card user has become a credit card abuser.

Do you recognize yourself in that description? If so, it's time to break out of this vicious cycle. But you don't have to go cold turkey-just a few simple changes to your shopping and payment habits may be enough to cure your craving.

Debt discipline

Step one is to simplify your finances. You don't need eleven credit cards, and you'll be far better off canceling most of them. Either transfer your high-interest balances to a less expensive card, or take out a second mortgage for debt consolidation if the load is too large. The repayment terms and interest rates on these loans are sure to beat any credit card on the market.

Step two is to make sure that you don't fall into temptation again by signing up for new pieces of plastic purchasing power. Opt out of credit card solicitations by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT, and the credit bureaus will stop giving your information to prospective card issuers.

And finally, when your financial conditions permit, try to make more than the minimum payments-even on that consolidation loan. A little extra money in your pocket might feel good today, but when you look at the interest charges tomorrow, it will really hurt.

Go shopping, but don't pass 'Go'

Keeping your costs down will be much harder if you frequently hang out at the shopping mall. The same goes for browsing catalogs, scanning the net for deals, or subscribing to countless magazines that you'll never read.

When you need to go shopping, have a definite plan-preferably an actual shopping list. Stick to it at all costs. Don't fall for tasty in-store displays or pushy sales tactics. Remember, you're an addict in recovery who can little afford to fall back into those dangerous old habits.

Say no to seduction

Advertising and high-concept marketing is all around us. Companies spend billions of dollars every year trying to awaken your sleeping shopper, feed your need, or create an addiction. Don't let them. Knowledge is power, and it's easy to resist that urge when you know that buying plays right into some fat-cat corporation's game plan.

For the truly addicted, there's professional help. Credit card debt relief and debt settlement programs can get you back on track and mollify angry debtors. It's a valuable program for credit fiends. But you needn't go that far if you follow the much shorter and simple set of steps above.

Published on April 10, 2007