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Some simple reminders can help people reduce credit card debt

The average American family has at least $15,000 in credit card debt. While that may sound like a shocking number to some people, it's all too easy to get to that point if you rely on your credit cards to pay for the majority of your purchases and don't pay the full balance at the end of each month. According to the public policy research group the Urban Institute, the actual cost of an item paid for with a credit card increases by about 20 percent if an unpaid balance is left on the card, accruing interest.

The Urban Institute discovered that reminding credit card holders of that 20 percent number indeed produced a reduction in credit card debt for those participants. A second reminder received by those participating in the study was to use cash for any purchase under $20.

The largest drop in debt among those who received these "nudges" was seen among people under 40 years old. Their revolving debt dropped by as much as $160.

Credit cards make it easy to spend money without feeling the impact, at least until the bill comes due. Then, the option to pay the minimum amount (which is often easier to find and in a much larger font size than the full balance) further postpones the pain of paying for your purchases.

Fortunately, for those who aren't ready to lock up their plastic in their safety deposit boxes, there are a number of online budgeting apps and programs like Mint that can help track income and expenses.

Some consumers may think that credit card companies would prefer that their customers rack up thousands of dollars in interest and late fees on their credit cards. However, the Urban Institute study's lead author says that companies are increasingly using online reminders and other forms of messaging to remind people of upcoming payments.

Ultimately, each person has to take responsibility for his or her spending habits. However, if your credit card debt has reached the point where you feel like you're drowning, it may be wise to seek legal and/or financial advice on how to get out from under it.

Source: CBS News, "Count 'em: 2 simple rules for reducing credit card debt," Aimee Picchi, Sep. 08, 2016

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