Does your credit card company want you to stay in debt?

Debt Image Gallery As using a credit card becomes easier, are the credit card companies conning us into digging into deep debt? See more debt pictures.
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If credit card companies want us to stay debt-free, they have a pretty odd way of showing it. With what some people consider suspicious tactics, banks milk cardholders of extra dollars at every turn and often without warning. Annual fees, late fees, over-the-limit fees, international exchange fees and more have been compared to anvils tied to the necks of consumers' finances. Consumer advocates blame these questionable policies for the average American household's credit card debt, which has skyrocketed to $7,430 [source: Consumer Federation of America].

However, other people say it's our own fault. We tie our own nooses by entering contracts that we don't take the time to understand. Of course, a credit card company has a vested interest in making sure customers keep at least some balance. Using a combination of interest rates and minimum monthly payments, a bank can make a large profit.

­But it seems a bit counterintuitive. If you get deep enough in debt, you'll be unable to pay the credit card company at all. At this point, companies are often willing to negotiate. For instance, they may agree to you paying a lump sum in exchange for forgiveness of the remainder of the debt. So the answer is yes and no. Yes -- they want you to keep an outstanding balance and be in debt to them. And no -- they don't want you to be completely without funds to pay them at all.

Credit cards are popular because they play perfectly into the human desire for instant gratification. They're easy and allow us to spend money we don't have, but they can be used responsibly. With a little discipline and by knowing its tactics, you can beat a credit card company at its own game.

Reading the next page could save you from falling into a pit of debt.