Report: Average in-debt household owes nearly $16,000

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PEORIA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

A third of families in the U.S. aren't paying down their credit debt. Instead, they're just carrying it over month to month. Believe it or not, though, that number is actually down slightly from last year.

Among those households who are in debt, they owe about $15,706.

"You need something or you think you need something and I don't have it in my debit account, so you put it on a credit account," said Jeff Howland. 

He said he and his wife racked up $1,600 of credit card debt living outside their means.

"It was eating out, or we ran out of cash while on vacation, so you slide it on the credit card," Howland said. 

They were able to pay it off in just a few months by being disciplined.

"We built budgets and we set aside 'x' amount of dollars every month to pay off our debt," Howland said. "You can go to the grocery store and buy lunch meat and your lunch stuff that you need and it's a fraction of the cost of eating out everyday."

"We have seen anything from $1,500 up to $80,000 in debt," said Wanda Williams, a credit counselor with Take Charge America. "They are out of work, they have another baby, something happens and they're not able to make those monthly payments each month."

She said a lot of the debt they see isn't lavish spending; it's because people are trying to keep up with bills. But she said there are long-term consequences to falling delinquent - not to mention the financial stress.

"Their car insurance premiums are going to go up because they are looking at that credit card and FICO score, so it's really important that you do pay consistently," Williams said.

Their counselors can help people create a plan to get out of debt and into a more financially stable home. Her advice is to start couponing, utilize the food bank if necessary, and switch to cash using the envelope system.

"Once that money is gone, you can't spend anymore. That allows you not receive late fees, not live on credit cards," Williams said.

"The big picture is eventually you can retire and have some money in the bank," Howland said.