Make sure you aren't paying more than you should—and that you're getting all the benefits you deserve—with these 11 tips:
1. Unload your burden
Carrying a $1,000 balance at 18 percent blows $180 every year on interest. That's money you could put to better use elsewhere. Get in the habit of paying off your balance in full each month.
If you've already racked up a large balance, do what you can to pay it off. This may sound obvious, but it is the best way to save money on those hefty interest charges.
2. Negotiate your rate
Instead of paying an APR of 18 percent on your credit card, call your issuer and ask for a lower rate. If you have good credit, your lender might consider it.
You'll strengthen your case if you can provide examples of offers you've gotten from other companies trying to lure you away.
3. Consider a balance transfer
Shop for a new card with a lower interest rate. Watch out for introductory offers, though. You don't want to get reeled in with the promise of a 5 percent rate only to find that it'll shoot up to 18 percent after three or six months—unless you're confident you can pay off your entire balance within the introductory time frame.
4. Say goodbye to your annual fee
Your low-rate card may not be the deal you think it is if you're paying an annual fee.
For example, if you pay $40 each month toward a $1,000 balance on a card with a 12 percent interest rate and a $50 annual fee, that's equivalent to a no-fee card with an 18.4 percent interest rate.
5. Reap some rewards
You have to buy groceries and gas anyway, so why not use those purchases to get a little more green in your wallet? Sign up for a rewards credit card and get free money, gift certificates, airline miles or other perks.
If you spend $600 a month on groceries and gas, for example, on a card paying 2 percent cash back, you'd save almost $150 per year.
(Of course, it's only free if you pay the balance in full each month without incurring interest charges.)
6. Lower your student loan rate
If you haven't yet consolidated your student loans, you can shave between one and three percentage points off your interest rate—saving hundreds of dollars—by going with a lender that offers a discount when you make on-time payments, or automatic payments from your bank account.
7. Cut a deal on student debt
If you're in over your head, ask your lender if you qualify for a graduated payment schedule (your payments start out small and increase as, presumably, your income increases). Or ask for an extended payment period, such as 15 or 20 years.
8. Use free ATMs
A buck or two here and there may not seem like a big deal. But if you're frequenting ATMs outside your bank's network, the surcharges can add up quickly. Get money from an ATM that belongs to a surcharge-free network.
Allpoint has about 200 participating institutions and 32,000 ATMs. Money Pass has 600 members and 8,000 ATMs.
9. Give your credit a checkup
Making sure your credit is in tip-top shape can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars in the long run. You're entitled by law to one free credit report once a year from each of the three main credit bureaus.
10. Get checking with bling
No-interest checking is so old fashioned. Instead, give your money more opportunity to shine with an interest-bearing online checking account.
11. Keep tabs on your balance
At $20 to $30 a pop, overdraft fees and bounced checks can put a damper on your savings efforts. So it literally pays to keep tabs on your spending.
If you use a debit card for convenience over your checkbook, jot down all your debit transactions on your checkbook register to make sure you know how much money is in your bank account at all times.