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Get a life, get a cheaper credit card

I HATE this cold turkey time between Christmas and New Year. Its only redeeming feature is the start of the sales. After all, what's the point of enduring Christmas unless you can go out afterwards and buy what you really want?

I should now solemnly repeat the personal finance editor's mantra: "Do not run up a credit card bill you can't pay off at the end of the month."

Call me reckless, but I think that's joyless crap. Obviously it's better to pay off the whole bill every month, but only half of us ever do that. Credit cards are extremely useful for short-term loans, especially at this cash-strapped time of year.

You can even justify the extravagance because using a credit card sensibly looks good on your credit record. It proves you can manage debt (mortgage lenders love to see this). As long as you are making payments on time, and paying off a significant chunk of debt each month, then you are OK.

The big caveat is that you must borrow on a cheap card. If you are one of the sad majority still carrying plastic from a traditional high street bank then you are throwing your cash away on ludicrously high interest payments, not to mention a pounds 10 or pounds 12 annual fee.

So what's keeping you from making a New Year's Resolution to swap to a cheaper credit card? Choose from this bumper selection box of excuses:

"I can't be bothered." No answer to this; you and your bank probably deserve each other.

"My bank will be angry if I swap to another card." Hello, this is the 1990s calling ... The credit card operation is run as a separate business. (And anyway, what could the bank possibly do to you?)

"I am saving up my Barclaycard Profile points." Fine. If you want to pay pounds 12,250 for a Sony Walkman. Otherwise, get a card with a decent perks scheme. Alliance & Leicester is about to launch a Gold MoneyBack card which pays you up to pounds 4 back for every pounds 100 you spend. (Minimum income pounds 20,000, call 0500 838383 for details).

"I don't want a card from a bank I have never heard of before." Why? The credit card people are lending you money rather than the other way round. If the bank goes bust, you will lose nothing. And all credit cards (except American Express credit cards) are branded as Visa or Mastercard. That's all that matters. It means you can use the card anywhere displaying the Visa/Mastercard logo.

Most of the unfamiliar names offering credit cards are American banks. Two of them are offering an APR of 6.9 per cent until next July. So if you have a large balance hanging around on your credit card account, stop being picky and move it to Capital One (0800 952 5252) or RBS Advanta (0800 077770).

Incidentally, Capital One is an enormous American firm; and RBS Advanta is now owned by the good old Royal Bank of Scotland. Is that familiar enough for you ?