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We often hear about how we shouldn’t rely so much on credit. But rarely do we hear the other side of the story – the fact that many of us could no longer qualify for more credit if we wanted it.

Just a few years ago, lenders were handing credit out like candy – in the mailbox, at stores, on college campuses and through subprime mortgages. Heck, I even know 5-year-olds who were offered credit cards through the mail. But if banks are at fault for giving out credit consumers couldn’t afford, we have to take some blame for spending what we couldn’t afford. Many folks (myself included) once used that credit as an excuse to spend more than we earned. The end result? An economic meltdown that’s caused consumers to default on their debts – and scared banks to get stingy with future credit.

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So if credit is so dangerous, what’s the problem if we have less of it? Because our economy needs some credit to get back on track.

Some lending is necessary for people to buy houses, get car and start businesses – the kind of investments that make the wheels of the economy turn. It’s about balance. We have to rebuild our credit enough to stimulate lending again – but not so much that we end up right back where we started, drowning in debt.

You might not be able to control the economy as a whole, but you can start by fixing your own financial situation. If you want to repair your credit, you need to show you can manage what you already have. Instead of cutting your cards up, start paying them off on time. You don’t need to use credit to show you can handle it – just keeping a zero balance is proof that you can manage an account.

Now, I realize that paying the bills is easier said than done, especially when you’re dealing with the situations that land most folks in debt – i.e. high medical bills, a lost job, car repairs, just to name a few. But by paying down debt, you can free up extra cash to help pay the mortgage, utilities, gas and groceries and all those other necessities. One of the most effective ways to do so is bankruptcy.

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If you’re in debt, you already have a form of consumer protection. It’s called bankruptcy, and it’s your legal right. Filing for Chapter 13 can stop foreclosure, protect you from creditors and re-organize your debt so you can afford the bills.

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