How to Avoid Credit Card Debt

One in five Americans say they are comfortable carrying credit card debt, but they shouldn’t be.

Closeup of a credit card scanning machine in use
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If you're looking for alternatives to your mounting pile of credit card bills, here are five ideas:

1. Earn more money.

"There are only three answers to bringing spending in line with income: increase income, decrease expenses or both," Cunningham says. She suggests taking on a part-time job in the retail industry, which hires many temporary workers in preparation for the holiday season. "Do something you like – work at a bookstore if you're interested in books, and dedicate all of that income to paying down debt," she adds.

2. Think more positively.

Nusbaum says many people get trapped in a cycle of debt that's compounded by the fact that they feel awful about it. "Credit card debt is almost like a black mark on someone. … Because you feel so badly about yourself, you feel even more shame. One of the ways to move away from that is to say, 'It's not me that's bad … I have debt, but I can work on this,'" she says. She suggests writing down the negative thoughts in your head and then, next to them, listing more positive alternatives. Instead of, "I'm terrible with money," you can write, "I've fallen down on these bills. I want to get better."

[See: 10 Things to Watch When Interest Rates Go Up.]

3. Become a Zen master of personal finance.

After freeing yourself of the anxiety around money, Nusbaum suggests boosting your financial prowess. "You don't have to be good at all of this … you can either acquire skills through financial planners, books or websites, or you can go to somebody who can supplement what you know," she says. "Have a day of reckoning where you pull out all of your bills and list your outstanding debt," she adds.

4. Celebrate your success.

"It's critical for consumers to understand the progress that they're making and recognize when they achieve something successful," O'Donnell says. If consumers know they are getting closer to paying off their credit card debt, then they feel more motivated to continue, he says. "It turns into a good feeling so they'll do it again," he adds.

5. Save up more cash so you can be your own creditor.

Consumers who have emergency funds stashed away so they can rely on their own money, and not credit cards, when unexpected expenses pop up are better prepared to weather financial storms, Cunningham says. She suggests saving at least 10 percent of your current income in order to provide that cushion.