Yet for many, the reality is very different, and they've become a frightening balancing act for millions, according to Moneysupermarket.com. So, what can you do if you are carrying the burden of an outstanding balance for months or years, and struggling to make more than the minimum repayment?
The price comparison site found 41% of credit card users have had a balance outstanding on their main credit card for a year or more, with a shocking 14% holding debt on their card for over five years.
Monthly minimum repayment
Almost one in ten of credit card holders admit they only pay off the minimum amount each month - this equates to over three million people in the UK. It becomes a dangerous trap for consumers, because what may have started out as a manageable balance can get out of control and more than double due to interest.
For example, it would take someone paying back the monthly minimum repayment on £1,000 borrowed at 18.13% APR, 17 years to repay their debt. More shockingly, the amount of interest they would pay is £1,113 - meaning they end up paying back more than double the original sum borrowed.
Kevin Mountford, head of banking at moneysupermarket.com said: "Our research reveals credit cards are still playing an important role in the nation's finances, but in the current climate, it's more important than ever for consumers to understand the cheapest way to borrow on their cards and avoid getting stung by high interest rates.
"Credit cards are not designed for long term lending and anyone with an outstanding balance on their card should consider switching to a product offering 0% interest on balance transfers, allowing them to pay back the debt without incurring any further interest charges.
"Alternatively, those who need to continue using their card could look for a product that offers promotional deals on balance transfers and purchases, such as the Barclaycard Platinum card.
"However, as with any interest free product, missing a payment or paying late will mean reverting to the card's typical APR, negating any benefit to the consumer."
Promotional period deals
If you do take out a deal with a promotional period, it's important to keep track of when the deal ends so you're not hit with a nasty surprise when the interest rate rockets.
And, if you're not disciplined enough to manage credit cards without incurring interest, clear your debts as fast as possible and cut up your cards. At the risk of sounding old fashioned, if the recession has taught us anything it is to spend within our means and not buy what we can't afford. What happened to saving?
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