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Pay Down Your Debt Challenge Icon

We'd all like to think that we'll ease into and through retirement free of debt. Unfortunately, that's hardly the case. Americans 65 and older who carry a balance on their credit cards owe $10,235, on average, according to the public policy group Demos. That's up 26 percent from 2005 levels.

See also: Use cash to spend less.

It's not hard to see why older folks are racking up more and more debt. Health care and energy costs are on the rise, and homes and investments have lost significant value. Family members in need of financial help have added to the burden.

For better or (mostly) worse, credit cards have become a way to make ends meet each month. If you're struggling with credit card debt, try these three strategies for getting back on your feet financially:

1. Write everything down

It can be tough to finally admit exactly how much debt you're carrying. I know. I once found myself $100,000 in debt. But if you're going to dig yourself out of debt like I did, you have to know precisely how much damage has been done.

The fastest way to get a snapshot of all of your credit card bills is to pull your credit reports. Visit to get free copies from the three main credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Avoid other credit report websites — they often charge hidden fees.

Next: Get real with your budget. >>

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