Name that company
Based in Dallas and 26 years old, I'm one of the world's top restaurateurs, with more than 1,100 units. My annual revenues approach $3 billion. Under my roofs you'll find Chili's, Romano's Macaroni Grill, On The Border Mexican Cafe, Maggiano's Little Italy, Cozymel's Coastal Mexican Grill and Corner Bakery. My stock has advanced more than 500 percent in the last 12 years. Fortune magazine selected me as one of "America's Most Admired Companies." Who am I? (Answer: Brinker International)
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A different national debt
Americans owe more than half a trillion dollars on their credit cards. The average American household with credit cards, according to CardWeb.com, carries more than $7,000 in credit card debt. Making just minimum payments on that every month, it would take decades to pay off and you'd have paid many thousands of dollars in interest. Ouch.
Once you've fallen prey to the easy-money attraction of credit cards, it's hard to dig yourself out. The high interest rates most cards charge tend to get you entrenched deeper and deeper. (Imagine quicksand.)
Building up credit card debt is a lot like investing but in reverse. Whereas with investing your money grows, mired in plastic it shrinks. With plastic, you're paying out perhaps 15 percent to 20 percent annually on your debt. With investing, the stock market has historically paid you an average of 11 percent per year. (If you find and stick with some top-notch companies, you might even do better than that over the long haul.) Which scenario is more appealing?
Here are some credit card tips: Aim to pay off all your credit card charges in full each month. Charge only what you know you'll be able to pay off. If you're carrying a balance from month to month and are being charged high interest rates, renegotiate. You read that right. You can call up your card company and ask the folks there to drop your rate a few percentage points (perhaps to a more reasonable 9 percent to 12 percent). Tell them truthfully that you'll take your debt elsewhere if they don't cooperate. (They're certainly aware that most of us get credit card offers in the mail on a regular basis.)
If you're in too deep, you might exchange your high-interest credit card debt for lower-interest debt. Perhaps take out a home equity loan to pay off your card debt. Beware, though, of for-profit debt counselors (stick with nonprofits), and avoid credit-repair clinics.
For more information and guidance, check out the Surviving Debt section at www.nclc.org, and visit www.ftc.gov (clicking on Consumer Protection and then Credit). You can also pop into the Fool at www.fool.com /pf.htm to learn more about your options.