Start paying off your credit card debt

Scissors cutting credit card

Remember how we were encouraged to keep spending to save the economy after the terrorist attacks of 9/11?

Well, we kept spending all right -- but with too much borrowed money.

According to the Federal Reserve Board, we now carry 22% more consumer debt -- that's pretty much everything except for mortgages -- than we did in 2000.

The balances on our credit cards are 50% higher than they were in 2000.

Here's how much debt the average household is carrying, according to the nation's central bank:

Mortgage: $84,911.

Auto and student loans: $14,414.

Home equity loans: $10,062.

Credit cards: $8,565.

If your debt has gone up this much and you're looking at bills like this, it's time to turn things around.

Paying off that debt -- starting with high-cost credit card debt -- must become your top financial priority.

Credit cards have been steadily raising their rates over the past year, and even borrowers with good credit are now paying an average of 18% or 19% on their balances.

Anyone with a few dings on their credit report is probably paying 28% to 32% -- and that means interest payments are gobbling up way too much of your hard-earned paycheck.

A few bucks a month is all it takes to start.