You probably know that many, many Americans are drowning in credit card debt, but do you have any idea by how much? Here come the folks at to the rescue, bearing info they've mined from government debt data and census data. They've determined that the average American adult is carrying some $3,560 in revolving debt on his or her credit card. And that's just average. This means that while you may be debt-free, some of your neighbors may be in deep trouble.

In an MSN Money article, Liz Pulliam Weston offered some encouraging statistics, drawn from a 2001 Federal Reserve study:

  • "23.8% of American households have no credit cards at all -- no bank cards, no retail cards, nothing." That's nearly a quarter of us.
  • "Another 31.2% of the households. paid off their most recent credit card bills in full."
  • "Paying off balances actually became more common between 1998 and 2001."

These numbers do give me hope, but they also make me realize that the average $3,560 figure is likely to be far from what many debtors owe, since the number is based on all American adults, more than half of whom, we now know, don't seem to be in deep debt. Indeed, noted that, "Fair Issac says that 40% of credit card holders carry a balance below $1,000. That means there are many, many people with debt far above these averages -- people whose credit card debt has gotten out of control." Yikes.

Also scary is the big picture. Data from the Federal Reserve Board suggests that we Americans may be carrying as much as $800 billion in revolving debt (which is, to a great extent, credit card debt). That's moving toward the trillion dollar neighborhood.

Don't let yourself become part of these scary statistics. If you're already there or just want to learn more about how to make the most of your credit, visit our Credit Center, which also features some surprisingly interesting info about the credit card industry.

Your credit habits are a big deal -- being smart about credit can potentially save you tens of thousands of dollars. You can learn more in the following articles:

You can also read about all things credit-related on our Consumer Credit/Credit Cards discussion board.

And finally, consider this silver lining to the credit card-debt cloud: Investors can profit from it all. If the industry doesn't make you uneasy, check it out. Look into card-issuing companies like American Express (NYSE:AXP), Capital One (NYSE:COF), JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM), Citigroup (NYSE:C), Wachovia (NYSE:WB), Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), and Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC). Many are sporting high dividends and are likely to keep making money off credit cards in the years ahead.

Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase are Motley Fool Income Investor picks. Try a free 30-day subscription and gain access to more great dividend-paying stock ideas.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.