A friend of mine, knowing that I'm a hotshot financial writer (if not a financial genius), asked me the other day about an item she'd read indicating that credit cards were going to charge twice as much. I explained that things weren't as bad as they sounded -- at least in this case.

The minimum payment that credit card issuers require you to pay on your balance will be doubling, not the overall charges. Instead of having to pay at least 2% of your debt with each bill, you'll have to pay 4%.

This may indeed seem awful. If you owe $20,000, as some people tragically do, your minimum payment will go from $400 to $800 -- a big difference to many people. But if your total debt is a more reasonable $2,000, the jump will go merely from $40 to $80.

To me, as I've written before, this is a good development. Sure, a $400 increase may be severe, but so is carrying a debt load of $20,000 when your interest rate may also be 20% or higher (translating to $4,000 or more in annual interest payments). This increase may help many people pay off their debt more quickly, and that's something to be celebrated. As a recent article at ABC7chicago.com noted: "It would take more than 26 years and over $10,000 in interest charges to pay off today's average credit card holder's debt by paying only the minimum. If the minimum payment is doubled ... it would reduce the time it takes to pay down the debt to a little over two years and cost less than $1,900 in interest -- saving 24 years and over $8,100."

Did you catch that? Saving 24 years and $8,100!

If you carry significant credit card debt, don't despair. You're not alone, and you don't have to deal with it alone. Let us help. There's a good chance that this increase won't even affect you, though. 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," she wrote. "Another 31.2% of the households ... paid off their most recent credit card bills in full."

While this development seems like a good thing, most developments I hear about the credit card industry aren't nearly so heartening. Card-issuing companies such as JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM), Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), American Express (NYSE:AXP), Capital One Financial (NYSE:COF), Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS), Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC), and Citigroup (NYSE:C) are often making life harder for borrowers. For example, credit cards' interest rates sometimes skyrocket when you're late paying a bill not even related to your credit card -- such as a utility bill.

Learn more in our Credit Center, which features some surprisingly interesting info about the credit card industry. (We now offer spiffy Motley Fool credit cards that are also worth looking into.) Being smart about credit can potentially save you tens of thousands of dollars. Check out the following articles:

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

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