Ah, the allure of credit cards...
The reason that I am in this debt payoff situation that I am in is due to credit card and loan debts. Think about it... if there is no loan or credit line to payoff, well, there is no debt! My situation just so happens to involve too much of both.
When I was 18, one of the first things I did to prove my independence was open a credit card. And for the most part, it was not that bad. Until I began purchasing items that I did not have the money for. That is, of course, when it always gets out of hand. Sure, people say that a credit card is nice to have around in case of an emergency, but to those people, I say - nay! You should - first and foremost! - have an emergency fund set up. This is the number one priority. When you start earning an income, you want an EF. At least $1,000. Then start saving for whatever else you want, separate from that $1,000 EF.
Credit cards are not as horrible as they sound. In fact, it is like with all things - in moderation.
The best way to use a credit card is to first get a card that you can use anywhere. Then use it to purchase your normal expenses - gasoline, groceries, etc. But, be sure that every time you make a purchase on your credit card, you record it so that you may put that money aside to pay for toward the card. In fact, I would even suggest recording the credit card transaction in whatever you use to record your debit/checking account purchases. This way, you are not tempted to spend what you do not have.
When you get home - that day - payoff what you just spent on your credit card. It's just that easy.
Department store cards are hardly another matter. The only difference is that you cannot use them other places. Only get a department store card (or otherwise limited card) if it offers incentives. And remember - only spend what you would otherwise use cash for already. If it is not a planned purchase, do not go through with it.
Of course, the aforementioned practices are of my own preference. You may want, say, an Amazon.com Credit Card, because you make frequent purchases from them, and you would be less likely to overspend on it than you would a general credit card. It all depends on your weaknesses/strengths and preferences.
I cannot stress this enough! Credit cards are NOT free money! Nor are they a 'payday loan' to put off paying. They are, in fact, a great tool - when used responsibly - to raise your credit score/credit worthiness.
Loans can be great. But most of the time, they are very bad. I can say for certain - I am going to try my hardest to never again open another loan that is not 0%. With that said, it is not to be said that I will not ever again have another loan that is not 0%. There are some exceptions...
Student loans are a little excusable, as you are [hopefully] opening them in order to better yourself and to earn a better income. It can be hard to work enough in order to pay for school at the same time, but it can be done - though not by everyone. If a student loan is the only line you have open that has a balance, I would not harp on you!
However, do not abuse those student loans! I used my first student loan to pull out a $6,500 down payment on a car - bad idea! Use it only for schooling.
Mortgages are one of the exceptions to the no-loan policy. Homes are huge purchases, and can rarely be done without a loan or two. Keep in mind for mortgages - do not allow the monthly payment to exceed 29% of your monthly income. This includes HOA, insurance, closing costs, etc. I will not go any further into mortgages at this time.
Business loans are another excusable type of loan. It is quite impossible to start a business without loans. Unless you have some great investors, or already make caboodles from your current income, chances are you will need some startup loans. I have read that you should not expect to pull out more than what your business could realistically earn in two years. While this is not to say that the loans will be paid off that quickly, it is simply a guide.
Personal loans can be dangerous. When I was 18, another thing I did to prove my independence was pull out a $2,200 loan to purchase a top-of-the-line MacBook Pro. Why? Because I felt that I needed one. I did not.
A loan that I was sort of forced to get was a personal loan to cover the difference on a vehicle's sale price and loan amount. I sold my 2007 Honda Fit last year in order to cut costs. I sold it for $13,000, and owed $15,000. I still feel I got a great deal because I sold the vehicle above KBB value. And, that loan now has under $900 left on the balance, and is my current paydown target. It will be paid off in a couple of months. That loan was only good because it helped to cut my debt considerably.
This entry has not been as thorough as previous entries. That is because of two things: 1) Credit cards and loans are very extensive matters that require a lot of research, 2) but at the same time, I believe credit cards and loans are some of the most simplistic things in finances - try to avoid loans, and do not overspend. Of course, there are special circumstances, percentages and incentives to consider, types of loans and credit cards that could be beneficial, etc.
In the end, as with all things financial, it is in your hands.