Here’s the heart-stopping figure of the month: $9,300. That’s how much the average family carries in credit card debts. Ten years ago, the amount of debt Americans carried was less than half.

What’s going on? It’s the “gotta haves” that have taken over this country, as in “I gotta have that new bag,” and “I gotta have that new car.”

You won’t get rich by buying fancy stuff. You’re just going the slow (or perhaps fast) road to bankruptcy court. And, rising gas/oil prices isn’t going to help.

If you’ve got credit card debt that’s swallowing you up whole, consider doing the ThinkGlink credit card crash. Follow these easy steps:

  1. Stop charging today. Freeze your cards, or perform “plastic surgery” and simply cut them up.

  2. Add up what you owe, and to whom. Put down what interest rate you’re paying for each debt. Add up your monthly debt payments. Now, make a big sign with that number. Post it everywhere: in the kitchen by the phone, next to your desk at work, on the nightstand. You want to see that number all the time.

  3. Call your lenders and ask them to nicely lower your interest rate. If they refuse, ask to speak to a supervisor. If they refuse, ask again and mention that you’re considering 0 percent offers.

  4. Once you have your interest rate lowered as low as it will go, evaluate any credit card offers with 0 percent financing. Sign up but be sure to ask to have the balance transfer fee (usually 0.75 percent or up to $300) waived.

  5. Add up how much you’ll be paying and subtract this from the original amount you posted everwhere.

  6. Start paying down the debt with the highest interest rate. Add the amount of “savings” you have to this debt. Continue until this debt is completely paid off. Then, move to the debt with the next-highest interest rate. Add to these payments everything you were throwing at the previous debts. (Of course, you’re still making all of your minimum payments to each card, unless you’ve consolidated your debts.)

  7. If you find you’re not paying down these debts quickly enough, get a second, short-term, part-time job, and apply ALL of the income toward paying off your debts.

You can pay off your debts — it takes will power and ingenuity. But it is possible to pay it all off and give yourself a fresh start.

I’m off tomorrow to the National Association of Real Estate Editors annual conference in Charlotte. I’ll post from there.

April 25, 2006