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When used appropriately, a credit card can be a very helpful and powerful financial tool to have at your disposal. However, if you are not cautious with your use of credit it can be all too easy for your credit card to create many more problems than it solves by dragging you into debt.

The way to prevent this from happening is to examine the attitude you have towards your card. While it is important to strengthen your credit history and credit score by using your card from time to time and to pay your creditor on time, if you rely heavily on your card to make impulsive purchases that you don’t actually have the money to afford then you need to start thinking about your credit card differently.

Not only can credit card debt cost you a lot of money if you carry a balance that accrues interest at a high rate, but if you are late making just a single payment you may be subjected to penalty fees, an interest rate hike as well as potential longer-term consequences such as having your credit score lowered. A low credit score will make it more difficult for you to get approved for a mortgage, an auto loan or even an additional credit card.

If you are currently in credit card debt and you feel that your bills are piling up around you, the first thing you should do is call your creditors. Be sure to do this before you fall behind on any of your payments, because if you fall behind you will not be in the best position to negotiate a different repayment schedule. Depending on the length and strength of your relationship with the particular company, you may even be able to negotiate a reduction of your interest rate or coax them into eliminating certain fees such as a late fee. It is even possible in some circumstances to close the account, freeze any interest from accumulating further and then you can pay off the remaining balance on the closed account in regular monthly installments. While the downside of that option is it may have a negative impact upon your credit score, it is better in the long run than defaulting on the account.

Another option, if you have good credit, is to apply for a low or no balance transfer credit card and consolidate all the debt from your other cards onto it. This will make it easier to manage what you owe and make sure you are submitting your payments on time by giving you only one monthly payment to keep track of. Also, if the interest rate on the new card is lower than that of your old card or cards, you could save yourself some money on interest in the long run. If the card’s low rate is only for an introductory promotional period of time, make sure that you plot out a repayment plan to eliminate the debt in its entirety before the intro period expires.

If you want to solicit outside help managing your debts, contact a not-for-profit credit counseling service.