Credit cards are wonderful -- they offer convenience and permit you to not carry too much cash around. They can also help you keep track of your spending via their monthly statements. What's not to like? Well, for many people, there is a major downside to plastic: debt.

Cards are terrific only if you have the discipline to pay off your debt each month. Only if you regularly charge amounts you know you can afford. If you're the type to buy that large-screen TV on credit just because you can, you may find yourself in trouble, facing tens of thousands of dollars in debt and steep interest rates. This is not just a problem for Americans, either.

A recent report from the U.K. noted two people who hanged themselves because of massive debts from which they apparently couldn't see digging themselves out. One response from card-issuing banks in the U.K. is to add a warning to card bills -- proposed text reads: "If you make only the minimum payment each month, it will take you longer and cost you more to clear your balance." It would be great if card issuers in America, such as MBNA (NYSE:KRB), American Express (NYSE:AXP), Capital One Financial (NYSE:COF), and Citigroup (NYSE:C), also pushed guidance on how to stay out of financial quicksand.

The proposed U.K. warning is an important point for all of us card users to understand. If you're only paying the minimum due on your debt, it's going to take you a long time (think decades, possibly) to pay off your debt. You may even end up paying much more in interest than you charged in the first place!

If you've ever thought of checking out of humanity because of debt, don't. The situation may seem bleak, but it's a fixable problem. We offer many tips on how to dig yourself out of debt in our Credit Center.

You'll also find inspiration on our Consumer Credit/ Credit Cards discussion board, where Fools regularly report on how they're paying off big debt loads. If these folks are doing it, so can you -- and they'll tell you how they did it.

Find out how the world of credit works in our Credit Center. And in these articles:

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