Credit card debt is a major problem in the United States.
The average household with at least one credit card carries an average of $9,498, nearly twice the level of a decade ago.
There are warning signs that you may be getting into trouble, said Ellen McGirth, editor at large of Money magazine, as well as simple steps you can start taking right now to get out of it.
Read McGirth's advice below.
Signs You're in Trouble
You routinely need to pay for your basic expenses -- food, utilities and transportation -- on plastic or use a cash advance because you don't have enough cash at the end of the month.
You are only able to pay the minimum balance on your cards.
You are paying a higher-than-average interest rate on your cards -- about 14 percent -- and are unable to find a lower rate card because of your credit score.
You've been caught in a universal default situation and you are now unable to handle your credit card balances because of rate increases across the board.
You are unable to contribute to a savings program, like a savings account or IRA.
Perhaps most importantly, you are lying to someone you love about how much you charge or how much you owe.
Getting Out of Debt
Cut the Cards
If you are in a hole, you have to stop digging. Don't take out another credit card to pay off the ones you have. This can be tempting because 5.3 billion credit card solicitations are sent out every year. You may need to make some lifestyle changes, whether this means not eating out or realizing you can't afford the car you drive or the house you live in. In extreme cases you may need to change both.
Pay off High Interest Cards First
Pay off the cards with the highest interest rates first. Don't close out the cards, pay them off. It's the fastest thing you can do to improve your credit rating. As soon as you start lowering the debt figure, your rating goes up. It happens as quickly as 60 days to 90 days. Then you can call credit card companies to ask for a lower rate.
Ask for Help
Your friends and family need to know that you are paying off this debt so that they can be supportive and understand that you are cutting back on expenses. Also, some people may need to get professional help by going to a credit counselor who can help work with credit card companies to make a payment plan. You can check with your state attorney general's office to find a credit counselor.