Reminder: Don't take too much credit

Standing knee-deep in credit-card debt? If so, you're hardly alone. The average US household carried a credit-card balance of $7,942 last year, compared with $2,985 in 1990, according to CardWeb.com, a credit-research firm. The typical household uses 10 different pieces of plastic, and half of all households surveyed reported having trouble paying their minimums.

That's a trend consumer groups hope to reverse during January's National Credit Awareness Month. (Go to creditmonth.com for an overview.)

For the next few weeks, organizations are offering a range of free or discounted tools to help families manage money. Iplace.com has free credit reports and debt information. Intuit (Intuit.com) is giving away its Quicken financial software. And QSpace.com will rate your creditworthiness.

With the average card interest rate running at 18.9 percent, consumers could use the help, says Cynthia Becker of the Consumer Credit Counseling Service in Boston. People may not realize how debt can complicate getting a mortgage or loan, she says. Ms. Becker recommends consumers pay at least twice their monthly minimum. She also suggests transferring a high-interest balance to a low-interest card. "Limit discretionary spending. You don't want to end up still paying for Twinkies from 10 years ago," she says. "Credit cards are for safety, convenience, and planned purchases."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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