Right after Friday's stock market close, Standard & Poor's made public their decision to downgrade our nation’s AAA rating to AA+.  Although we are safe in the sense that the U.S. can make payments on its debt, this downgrade means that there might be an elevated credit risk. Just as with personal credit scores, having an elevated credit risk could mean higher interest rates.

We are in uncharted territory, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare.

First, remember my tips for keeping your personal debt ceiling in check. According to credit reporting agency TransUnion, the average credit card balance across the nation is $4,950.

Although I don't expect interest rates to go up right away, they will go up. Some people think 2009’s Credit Card Reform Act will protect their interest rates—wrong. The Act does not stop credit card companies from making changes to the variable rate on future purchases, and they can do it on a whim.

To reduce the risk of higher interest rates, I recommend calling your credit card company and double-checking which type of rate you have. If your card has a variable rate, stop using it as soon as possible.

Before you charge that next purchase, ask yourself, “Is this a want or a need?”

Last but not least, if you cannot stop using your credit card, keep careful track of your due dates and keep making your payments – even minimum payments – on time. The last thing you want is to have your rate jacked up right now, because of a simple missed date.

Yoly Mason writes about frugality and savings tips and tricks in her popular Spanish-language blog Cuponeando.net.

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