Have a discussion about the way the card should be used in advance, with clear parameters.

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If you do have to pay a balance-transfer fee, "you'll usually still come out ahead because you're not paying interest" over the long-term, says Harzog.

Once you've initiated the transfer, Harzog recommends following up on the old card to make sure there's a zero balance, to avoid late fees or other penalties.

All of the airline miles in the world won't bail you out of excessive credit card debt."1. "Your goal should be to never let your spending exceed 30% of your credit limit," she says.

"The lower your utilization rate" — how much of your credit line you use up — "the better your score will be." advantage to only paying the minimum amount due on your card.

But breaking out the Master Card doesn't have to leave you in the red.

Credit—when used strategically, and paid off each month—can be smart.

"It could give a potential lender pause if they see a secured card on your report—they will know that you're in a rebuilding or establishing situation—but they'll respect that you're doing what you need to do," says Harzog. Check out Harzog's review of the best and worst secured credit cards.

The beginning of the year is the ideal time to transfer debt from a high-interest card to a card with a lower annual percentage rate (APR).

It's important to diligently monitor the account and monthly bills to ensure that any debts — even if they aren't incurred by the cosigner — are being paid off."3. An easy way to ensure that both parties can monitor a cosigned account is by making all documents related to the account accessible.