1. Americans are loaded with credit-card debt.
The average American household with at least one credit card has $8,523 in credit card debt, and the average interest rate is 15 percent, according to CardWeb.com.
2. Some debt is good.
Borrowing for a home or college usually makes good sense. Just make sure you don't borrow more than you can afford to pay back, and shop around for the best rates.
3. Some debt is bad.
Don't use a credit card to pay for things you consume quickly, such as meals and vacations. There's no faster way to fall into debt. Instead, put aside some cash each month for these items so you can pay the bill in full. If there's something you really want but it's expensive, save for it over a period of weeks or months before charging it so that you can pay the balance when it's due and avoid interest charges.
4. Get a handle on your spending.
Most people spend thousands of dollars without much thought to what they're buying. Write down everything you spend for a month, cut back on things you don't need, and start saving the money left over or use it to reduce your debt more quickly.
5. Pay off your highest-rate debts first.
The key to getting out of debt efficiently is to first pay down the balances of loans or credit cards that charge the most interest, while paying at least the minimum due on all your other debt. Once the high-interest debt is paid down, tackle the next highest, and so on.
6. Don't fall into the minimum trap.
If you just pay the minimum due on credit-card bills, you'll barely cover the interest you owe, to say nothing of the principal. It will take you years to pay off your balance and potentially you'll end up spending thousands of dollars more than the original amount you charged.
7. Watch where you borrow.
It may be convenient to borrow against your home or your 401(k) to pay off debt, but it can be dangerous. You could lose your home, or fall short of your investing goals at retirement.
8. Expect the unexpected.
Build a cash cushion worth three months to six months of living expenses in case of an emergency. If you don't have an emergency fund, a broken furnace or damaged car can seriously upset your finances.
9. Don't be so quick to pay down your mortgage.
Don't pour all your cash into paying off a mortgage if you have other debt. Mortgages tend to have lower interest rates than other debt, and the interest you pay is tax deductible. (If your mortgage has a high rate, consider refinancing.)
10. Get help as soon as you need it.
If you have more debt than you can manage, get help before your debt breaks your back. Try the Consumer Credit Counseling Services, MyVesta.org or other reputable debt counseling agencies.
Next: Three cases where debt is good