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Seen At 11: Debt Can Do You Serious Damage In All Kinds Of Ways

NEW YORK (CBS 2) -- If you're weighed down by credit cards, all the debt may be hurting more than your wallet. It can also damage your health and your relationships.

However, as CBS 2's Dana Tyler reported Tuesday, there is a way to get out from underneath the stress of debt.

"When my friends say, 'Hey, I'm broke,' well, I go, 'You're better off than I am, I'm in debt,'" Hina Chowdhry said.

It is a place many Americans find themselves today. The average American family carries about $16,000 in credit card debt -- a number that's still on the rise.

"It doesn't seem like we learned very much in the credit crunch," said personal finance expert John Ulzheimer.

Ulzheimer said it is not extravagance that is getting people in financial trouble today. For many, it is just trying to stay afloat.

"They're buying diapers. They're buying groceries. They're buying things they need to survive," Ulzheimer said.

Shannon Altner, 24, said she knows all about that.

"For me, I might need more groceries right now and I don't have the money for it," she said.

So Altner uses her credit card. She is trying to pay it off, but said life keeps getting in the way.

"I think I can pay it down at the end of the month, but it's a no go," she said.

Studies show the stress of carrying this type of debt can impact just about every aspect of your life.

"Debt can be crippling," said attorney Ann Margaret Carrozza. "It's hurting the fabric of the family. It's hurting our society."

According to a recent study by the University of Wisconsin, women in debt are less likely to get married. And research shows the stress of debt is so debilitating it can keep you from getting a job or a promotion.

It can also interfere with relationships, and it even be passed down to children, who may learn that debt is simply a way of life.

"Literally, it's like dragging around an iron ball and chain attached to your ankle," Carrozza said.

Debt is not good for the body either, said Dr. Ellen Gutkin of New York Hospital Queens.

"Debt can certainly affect your health," she said.

Gutkin, an internist, said the stress can hurt our well-being and is directly related to certain diseases -- from headaches to heart disease.

"The first step to fixing that and fixing your health is recognizing that and accepting that," Gutkin said.

And once you're there, there's plenty you can do to fix it. If you have good credit, one option is transferring your balance to a zero-interest card. Another is to take out a personal loan -- as the interest rate is lower than with a credit card -- or if your balance is $10,000 or more, you may simply want to ask your creditors if they'll consider a settlement.

"They may say, 'Look, if you can come up with a lump sum of $4,000, we'll call it even,'" Ulzheimer said.

Another option is to sign up with a debt management program such as the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, which will help you pay off your debts while maintaining a good credit score.

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