How to stay out of credit-card debt

The credit-card law President Obama recently signed will help many people by stopping companies from arbitrarily raising interest rates on existing balances and charging certain fees.

But the law, which goes into effect in nine months, won't eliminate all of our problems. So here are tips for getting out of credit-card debt from Curtis Arnold, co-founder of CardRatings.com, which tracks the industry:

  • Set aside your card immediately after the first month you don't pay your entire balance in full. Switch to a debit card. "Card debt can start very small, but can quickly snowball," Arnold said.
  • Admit there's a problem and seek help. Come up with a plan for paying off debt. Always pay more than the minimum. Even if it's $5 more a month.
  • If you're carrying a balance on more than one card, you'll save the most if you focus on paying off the card with the highest interest rate first, then go to the card with the next highest interest rate. Also, consider biweekly payments.
  • Live within your means.
  • Sell things you don't need to pay down debt.
  • Shop for low-rate offers. If your credit score is good (in the 720 range), you should qualify for a rate of about 8 percent in today's market. Also, consider teaser or promotional rates.

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