We here at the Fool have gone to great lengths to alert our readers to the dangers of irresponsible credit card use. Resident expert Dayana Yochim in particular keeps us apprised of the changing credit landscape on a seemingly daily basis. We even have an entire Credit Center with a wealth of educational content devoted to the topic. However, we are not crusaders bent on toppling the industry, and we do occasionally call attention to the many benefits of prudent credit card use -- giving credit where credit is due, so to speak. Heck, we're even proud to offer an MBNA (NYSE:KRB) Motley Fool credit card.

Nevertheless, the industry statistics are sobering, if not frightening. The average American has an outstanding balance of more than $8,000, and collectively we paid around $80 billion in interest charges last year. Even worse, card companies also tacked on an additional $24 billion in miscellaneous fees -- such as the punitive late fee. Fortunately, there is a way to possibly recoup some of that money, by investing in the very same companies that we begrudgingly write a check to every month. With that in mind, investors who want to cash in on credit may want to check out Capital One (NYSE:COF).

Yesterday, the nation's fifth-largest card issuer reported first-quarter net income of $506.6 million, or $1.99 per share, a solid 12.4% improvement over the $450.8 million earned a year ago. Revenues climbed 9.3% to $2.4 billion, with interest and non-interest income up 17.6% and 5.1%, respectively. Profits in the credit card segment rose 18.5% to $458.2 million, while auto lending and global financial services posted bottom-line gains of 16% and 38.5%.

Total managed loans on the books rose by $9.8 billion, or 14%, to reach $81.6 billion at the end of the quarter. The auto finance division, where loans swelled by 50%, led the way. The company is expecting its managed loan portfolio to grow at a 12% to 15% clip for the balance of the year. Not only were loans on the rise, but also the company's proprietary IBS (Information Based Strategy) software is helping to keep bad debt to a minimum. Charge-off rates decreased across the board, registering a quarter-point drop from the fourth quarter to 4.13%. Capital One's already successful in-house collection efforts should get even better now that the Senate recently passed bankruptcy legislation making it more difficult for consumers to write off their credit card obligations.

Capital One has grown by leaps and bounds since its birth in the mid-1990s, racking up some 50 million accounts and becoming a top-10 consumer lender. Along the way, it has posted steady gains in both loan growth and earnings every single year. In the past five years, it has doubled its credit card market share, despite stiff competition from larger lenders like MBNA, Citigroup (NYSE:C), JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM), and American Express (NYSE:AXP).

With Capital One's acquisition of regional bank Hibernia (NYSE:HIB) last month, direct marketing efforts will soon be augmented by a network of around 300 retail bank branches. In addition to adding another sales channel, the bank also will provide a cheap source of funds. Hibernia has over $17 billion in low-cost deposits -- $3.3 billion of which are non-interest-bearing -- which Capital One can tap to support its global lending operations.

With this year's earnings forecast to climb to $6.60 to $7.00 per share, the company now trades with a forward price-to-earnings ratio in the single digits. Now that's a credit card perk anyone can appreciate.

Fool contributor Nathan Slaughter owns none of the companies mentioned.