John C. Ninfo II, a federal bankruptcy judge, has founded the Credit Abuse Resistance Education (CARE) Program, www.careprogram.us, a national initiative to teach high school and college students about using credit properly — which, Ninfo argues, means sparingly to not at all.

He sees it every day: people who have binged on credit cards and lived beyond their paycheck to the point of financial ruin.


But it doesn’t have to be that way.


John C. Ninfo II, a federal bankruptcy judge, has founded the Credit Abuse Resistance Education (CARE) Program, www.careprogram.us, a national initiative to teach high school and college students about using credit properly — which, Ninfo argues, means sparingly to not at all.


His program may be built for students, but it has common-sense applications that, as his full court docket shows, adults in financial straits can make use of, too.


Ninfo views the current economic downturn as a time of opportunity, a time when people in desperate financial straits want to change their habits — in fact, have to. Right now, Americans are looking at some $880 billion in credit card debt.


“It’s clearly the most teachable moment that we will probably ever have,” Ninfo maintains. “People are scared. They’re starting to watch their spending and watch their saving.”


Ninfo’s methodology is not a get-out-of-debt-fast cure-all. What he suggests to get back into the black takes a bitter dose of reality and discipline. His lessons are not just for today’s hard times, but practices to be put into place for a lifetime of financial security.


What Ninfo teaches really boils down to using common sense — creating and living within a budget, saving for emergencies like job loss, paying off debt one credit card at a time (starting with the one with the highest interest rate), understanding credit and credit scores, and, when you’re finally free of debt, avoiding it in the future.


One of the most basic things he advises is to “think before spending. Make a conscious decision about every purchase. Ask if what you are spending is for needs or for wants, wishes, luxuries and conveniences.”


Think before spending. And if you can’t afford it, don’t buy it. If that advice sounds like something of a throwback, well, it is. It is how people largely managed their finances in the days before easy credit became readily available in the 1970s.


Sometimes, we can best move forward by taking a page from history. When it comes to personal credit, that is clearly the case.


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