Nov. 20, 2005 -- For all their convenience, credit cards can cause a lot of damage: Most Americans have credit card debt, and the average American owes more than $9,000 to credit card companies.
Americans often are drawn into such a dilemma by tantalizing solicitations. Promises of low interest rates and low monthly payments will pop on to the computer screen or arrive in the mail.
It can be hard to resist, especially younger consumers like college students.
"There have been desks with credit card vendors," said one college student, Chrisson Jon Taylor. "It happens fairly regularly -- also at the dorm site, moving in. You know, they get you as soon as you get here."
Frequent shopping sprees got college student Rebecca Mahl into a lot of trouble.
"As long as I kept putting a little bit towards it, I thought I'd be OK," she said. "But it just kept building up and it was overwhelming."
Six-Figure Income -- and Credit-Card Debt
It's a habit that begins in college and affects people for the rest of their lives. Experts say that Americans spend more with their credit cards than they do with cash and checks.
Alison and Joe Guage and their four children live in a four-bedroom house in Rochester, N.Y. Joe Guage makes over $100,000 a year with a bonus, and every month, 10 percent of his paycheck goes to paying off credit card debt.
"We figure we'll have the money to pay for it later, so we buy it now," Alison Guage said.
Experts say that people's perceptions of their own financial situations are changing. Home ownership seems to be the benchmark for financial security. Owning a home that is appreciating in value may cause some people to think they can take on other forms of debt.
People seem to be using their credit cards to make everyday purchases like groceries. Although it might seem benign, these items help build debt.
"They're not necessarily buying the newest, smallest iPod; or going on the family trip to the Grand Canyon -- although that certainly happens," said financial counselor Ellen McGirt.
"They're spending it for things like utilities and groceries and medical bills," she added. "And that's what really worries most experts. Because that ultimately becomes the point at which people's debt becomes out of control."