According to some estimates, the average American household carries nearly $10,000 in credit card debt alone. If you're only able to make the minimum payments each month, you'll have a hard time keeping up with accumulating interest, and you may never make a real dent in that balance.

One of the easiest things you can do to alleviate your personal credit crisis is to simply call your credit card company and ask for a lower rate.

Sometimes you'll get lucky, spend two minutes on the phone, and the customer service agent will gladly slash your interest rates right then and there. Others play hardball and say that they can't do it. That's when you ask for a supervisor, and explain to the supervisor that if they can't reduce your rates, you'll be forced to transfer your balance to another credit card. If they want to keep your business (and they do), they'll help you out. A US PIRG study found that 56% of consumers who called their credit card company were granted lower rates within five minutes. On average, those rates dropped by 5.5 percentage points.

While you're on the phone, it can't hurt to fish for other bargains as well. True story -- when a friend called his credit card company to activate a new card, he finished the activation process and the customer service agent asked "Is there anything else I can do for you today?" He replied, "I don't know -- is there?" To his surprise and delight, she answered, "Well, I can give you a $25 credit on your account." Hey, you never know unless you ask!

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