How to manage your credit cards and not be managed by them

Credit cards are magical devices that allow us to buy things without having money with us.

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  • Credit cards are magical devices that allow us to buy things without having money with us. Protected in the U.S. with regulations that prevent the user from suffering losses associated with stolen cards—if reported promptly — credit cards make spending money so much easier. That's the problem.

  • Credit cards allow us to buy stuff we can't afford. We think we can afford them if the credit card works, but that's almost as naïve as believing that there is still money in the checking account as long as there are checks in the checkbook. (If you're under 25 you may need to ask your Mom about that.)

  • Credit cards can be powerful tools. Given the regulations that govern them, using credit cards is safer than using debit cards, which lack some of the protections of credit cards. So, how do you manage your credit card spending?

  • First, "know when to say when". This is when the balance on your credit cards exceeds the cash in your checking account. You need to think of your credit cards like debit cards. Once you've spent the cash, you need to stop.

  • This requires that you keep track of both your checking balance and your total credit card balances. If that is a challenge for you, try using Mint.com. Not only can you track your balances in real time, the system will send you emails when you spend too much!

  • If you already carry balances on your credit cards that you can't pay with cash in your checking account, you need to get those balances down. If you can afford to make all of the payments without borrowing money somewhere each month, focus on that and pay a little extra each month on the smallest balance to get rid of it first, freeing up more cash for the next one and so on.

  • Set a limit on spending with your spouse. Both of you should check the statement to be sure that no one cheated (that no one went over the limit without permission).

  • If you can't control your credit card spending, get creative; people use a variety of gimmicks to prevent themselves from abusing the cards. The best advice: Don't carry them with you. You can't use them if you don't have them.

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  • As a last resort, you can call the credit card company and ask them to close the account to new charges while you pay the balance down.

  • If you find yourself borrowing each month to pay off the credit cards, (perhaps using the Visa to pay off the Mastercard), it's time to get serious. In that situation, you should be thinking of things to sell to get your balances under control and your debt to a manageable level.

  • You can do it. You can manage your money. Don't let it control you!

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Devin Thorpe is the author of Your Mark On The World and is a Forbes Contributor.

Website: http://yourmarkontheworld.com

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