Credit card debt soars

NATIONAL (WBTV) - The average American now owes more than $1,700 to credit card lenders.

Late payments are up 14 percent nationwide and credit card companies are raising rates.

There are things you can do to avoid becoming part of the growing group of people who just can't make their payments.

Talk with your creditor and work out a payment plan. Don't ignore their calls. Instead, make an effort to start paying down your debt.

Charlottean Goldie Garret knows what it's like to live on credit, and it got her in trouble. She filed for bankruptcy five years ago.

"When you dibble and dabble and have four or five cards, you tend to use them. So I just try to stay within my budget," said Garrett.

She says she's much more careful now, "As we mature, we find past knowledge in our past mistakes."

It's a tough lesson credit card issuers are learning now. More and more Americans cannot make their payments.

Research firm, Innovest, expects credit card issuers to have record charge-offs, or bad debt, to peak next quarter.

Innovest also says in the wake of this new economy, credit card companies are less likely to open new accounts, as they get their own balance sheets in order.

Credit card researcher, Consumer Action, says 77 percent of companies say they have the right to raise your interest rate "any time, for any reason." They're also reducing credit limits and throwing consumers in a never-ending purgatory. The issuers charge higher interest rates long-term, even after a consumer gets back on track from defaulting.