What You Need to Know About Pay-As-You-Go Plastic

Slam on the brakes with a card that won't let you run up a balance.

1. Switch from a credit card to a charge card. Charge cards, such as an American Express card, don't let you carry a balance; you must pay what you owe each month. The AmEx Green card costs $95 annually (the fee is waived the first year) and offers a generous travel-rewards program.

2. Use your bank debit card. Maybe you want to impose the discipline of spending only what's in your checking account. Debit cards are free -- with no interest charges and no monthly fees -- and those that bear either the MasterCard or Visa logo may be used at millions of retailers. If you sign for your purchases, you get the same protections as with a credit card, and you may qualify for rewards programs. Plus, you can take out cash at an ATM or punch in your PIN to get cash at many retailers.

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Senior Reporter, Kiplinger's Personal Finance