Quick: Ford (NYSE:F) or Chevy? Coke (NYSE:KO) or Pepsi (NYSE:PEP)? McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) or Burger King? Visa or MasterCard?

Chances are, you're using most of these brands, especially the last two. A recent report from the Federal Reserve shows that Americans are now more than $2.1 trillion in debt. And the number just keeps rising. For example, Visa and MasterCard both this week announced double-digit increases in spending on their branded cards during 2004. Visa's numbers are the most troubling -- unless, of course, you work for Visa. Consumers resorted to its brand of plastic 19% more last year than the year prior, for a total of $1.045 trillion in purchases. MasterCard was a distant second at $526 billion.

Ponder those numbers for a moment. I mean, really, just how much is $2.1 trillion? I'll tell you how much: It's at least $7,000 worth of debt for every man, woman, and child in the United States. But that alone doesn't tell the whole story. More than one-quarter of the population has more debt than the national average of close to $11,000 each. That means some of you out there may be amortizing the cost of a Snickers bar over a month or more. Think about that the next time you're in the lunch line.

It doesn't have to be this way, of course. Here are four fast tips to help free you of debt:

  1. Renegotiate with creditors. This is the first thing we did when we were $45,000 in debt, and it worked well. For example, MBNA (NYSE:KRB), issuer of the Motley Fool Visa, gave us low fixed rates to help.

  2. Start with one thing, and only one thing. Focusing on high-interest-rate obligations first will help you compound your savings and dramatically improve monthly cash flow.

  3. Spend every extra dime on debt reduction. Ignore raises. Treat them like found money for destroying debt. You'll thank yourself later.

  4. Live below your means. There's no substitute for spending less than you make. There are thousands of tips for doing so that you can find right here.

For related Foolishness:

The Motley Fool and TrueCredit are searching for the next American Credit Idol. Well, sort of. If you think you've got a perfect credit score, click here. You could win $1,000 in cold, hard moolah and free credit alerts for life.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers knows a little too much about credit card debt. If you find yourself in hock, get help. There are hundreds of others like you fighting the good fight at the credit cards discussion board. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. You can find out what's in his portfolio by checking Tim's Fool profile. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.