Many Americans will be dreading their first look at credit card statements after this year’s holiday season, but credit counselors are offering advice to make the recovery effort less painful.

Here’s the list of the steps they suggest consumers should follow:

  • Stop charging. If you are already in debt, the first step is to stop charging altogether. Only pay with cash, check or debit card.
  • Create a get-out-of-debt plan. Start with a budget, and compare net monthly income with total expenses, including proportionate periodical expenses.
  • Cut back on living costs. Increase your income by taking your lunch to work, eating in and not ordering out, watching grocery spending and using coupons. Use any leftover cash to pay off debt.
  • Tackle the highest interest credit card debt first. Continue to make the minimum payments on all of your cards, but add all additional funds from a budget to pay down the card with the highest interest rate.
  • Find a lower-interest card. Shop around for a better deal on a credit card. Some cards will offer a zero-percent interest rate for up to a year for new balance transfers.
  • Start planning now for next year. Open a holiday account in January for next December. Set aside as little as $20 each paycheck. Or, divide the total amount spent on the holidays in 2005 by 12 and try to save this amount each month in 2006.

U.S. Bank electronic deposits grow

U.S. Bank business customers have processed more than 1 million transactions through the bank’s remote, electronic deposit program.

More than 200 bank locations use the program to deposit customer checks using computers as opposed to making a trip to the bank or sending deposits through the mail.

U.S. Bank launched the program in September 2004 in response to Check 21 legislation that requires banks to use electronic images of checks for deposits.

State on record pace for college savings

Colorado families stashing money away for their children’s college education are likely to invest a record amount in 2005.

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More than $153 million was invested in the state’s three 529 savings plans in November, according to the month’s records.

About $45 million more is expected to be added in December, which is historically the biggest month for 529 plan contributions.

By year’s end, 2005 could outpace 2004’s $157 million 529 investment by almost 25 percent.

Analysts expected the surge in 529 savings because the plan gives families attractive tax advantages.

The 529 plans are named for the federal tax code that established them in the mid-1990s, which allows contributions to grow tax free. Distributions are also free from federal taxes as long as the money is used for qualified education expenses.

Bank of America transaction one of year’s top five

A business acquisition by Bank of America rounds out the top-five business transactions of 2005.

The top-five transactions globally:

1. Procter & Gamble’s $60 billion acquisition of Gillette, announced in late January.

2. Japan’s Mitsubishi Tokyo Financial Group’s $59.1 billion acquisition of UFJ Holdings, announced in February.

3. Gas Natural of Spain’s $51.7 billion buyout of the financial research firm Endesa, announced in September.

4. Conoco Phillips’ $35.6 billion acquisition of Burlington Resources Inc., announced this month.

5. Bank of America Corp.’s $35.1 billion acquisition of MBNA Corp., announced in June.

Bank of America, American Express team up on card

Bank of America has announced that it will begin issuing Bank of America branded American Express cards in the United States.

Under the partnership, Bank of America will issue and market the cards through its online banking service and distribution network, which includes more than 5,800 banking centers.

Bank of America will own the customer loans and receivables. American Express will process transactions through its merchant network.

The cards will be issued next year.

GDP growth down from last year

Third quarter U.S. Gross Domestic Product growth increased by 4.1 percent, a rate slightly lower than the 4.3 percent recorded for the third quarter a year ago, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.

The smaller growth caught Wall Street economists by surprise. Most had forecast the third quarter GDP unrevised at 4.3 percent.

The lower third quarter GDP total was affected by higher inflation and a downward trend in consumer spending.

Rob Larimer covers banking and finance for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.