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Credit Check: Are you using your credit card correctly?

Do you consider yourself smart when it comes to money, more specifically how you use credit cards?

Most likely, you'll answer affirmatively to that question. You can look at your credit card debt and see that you have a decent amount of debt but “nothing you can't handle.”

You pay your monthly minimum payment and while you're not so much getting ahead, you pay on time and the rest you chalk up to blind faith that everyone else has debt, so you do, too.

That passive, hands off approach to credit is the norm relatively speaking. Most accept credit card debt as a part of life, no different than having to pay taxes or get up and go to work every morning. The real issue with credit cards as it relates to debt isn't so much where you are but how you got there.

Do you use a credit card for the right reasons? And, what exactly is deemed “right?”

Let's say for instance you recently landed a new job and you're in dire need of a new wardrobe. That might be grounds for getting out your Visa or MasterCard and hitting the stores, right? Yes and no. To some degree, you need something that doesn't scream “I haven't worked in six months,” so getting a few essentials is paramount. But much like anything else credit related, you have to check the balance on the card and buy with some caution in mind. Moderation makes sense most of the time, and this particular circumstance is no different.

Common sense doesn't hurt, either. Buying a thousand dollars worth of clothing isn't exactly the credit salvation you had in mind as it relates to buying new work clothes.

And what about the real dilemma of paying a credit card bill with another credit card? In this situation, you'd most likely be going the cash advance route, which depending on the issue at hand is credit and debt suicide.

Cash advances typically carry with them a monstrous interest rate to the tune of 20 or 30%, something you'd see out of a traditional department store retail credit card. Cash advances should only be used if there is some money you're expecting to receive (i.e. end of the year bonus, settlement or life insurance policy or something of that ilk). Essentially, you're borrowing money that you'll have within a certain number of days, and you'll pay back the “advance” the moment you receive that income.

Those who use cash advances for things like buying a car or vacationing are the poster children of credit gone awry.

Using a credit card correctly can be the proverbial slippery slope, especially for the people who inherently believe they know what they're doing when in actuality they're a credit disaster the moment the card is swiped.

New Year's Demolition: Bust up your budget and unveil plenty of 'little' expenses you can ditch

Aside from losing weight, saving money tends to be at the top of most New Year's Resolution lists but by the time mid-July rolls around you're 10 pounds heavier and certainly not hundreds of dollars richer.

Why exactly do we always have the best intentions to save money but never quite get from point A to point B effectively?

You can observe your money managing skills from top to bottom and ultimately feel incredibly confident about how you're spending and saving on the items you deem worthwhile: vehicle, house, utility bills, food and gas.

Those staples indeed stand tall as tent poles of any successful budget, but shouldn't be the only parameters you pay attention to as you begin to reform your spending habits for a new year. More often than not, the little things you buy that you don't even think about tend to go unnoticed, and thus your budgeting is busted by the time you bust out your board shorts.

And this isn't to suggest that your holiday budget is the reason you're bursting at the seams as far as not being able to save money. Granted, you should have been mindful of your spending enroute to the holidays, but the reason saving starts with searching beyond the obvious and into the incidental buys you've been enjoying for years, not just recently.

The small spending often adds up quickly and really hampers how you're able to save money.

Take for instance something like your affinity and love for lottery tickets. Getting rich quickly isn't really in your favor from an odds standpoint, so why do you continue to spend $10 a day on daily lotto numbers or scratch off tickets?

At that pace, you'll spend $30,000 over a 10 year period, money you wish you'd have back since you're staring at a decade long drought of not winning any windfall amounts of money.

And as much as the masses can point to cups of coffee, cigarettes and lottery tickets as reasons your budget isn't what you want it to be, you also can't discount technology as a main component of why your budget and spending isn't thriving.

Take a look at the $10 per month you're paying for extra data you're not using on your cell phone plan. How about the laundry list of pay apps you have on your tablet, ones that you don't use (yes, it was a mistake to spend $10 on that “Madden Football” app to play on your phone)?

Even if that equates to a few hundred dollars per year, that might be more than enough to put aside in a savings account or start using your money for home repairs or renovations that build equity.

As it stands now with these purchases, you're just tearing into your financial portfolio with little to show by shreds of silly spending.

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