BOSTON (CBS) – Many consumers do not know exactly how much debt they actually have. If you are serious about getting out of debt, you need to know how much debt you have.

Make a list of all of your debt. Use Excel and create a spreadsheet; first your loans such as the mortgage, car, and school. List each credit card and in separate columns list the interest rate and how much you owe on each card. Next, get copies of your credit reports and scores. Correct any mistakes and begin the process of improving your credit score.

Contact each of the credit card companies and ask them to lower the interest rate on your credit cards. If you get nowhere with the first person you speak with ask for their supervisor. They have the authority to lower your rate and often will do so if they think they are about to lose you as a customer.

Begin to pay off the credit card with the highest interest rate aggressively. If you have cards with small balances pay those off. If you have a card with a very low interest rate consider transferring your balance from your other cards to that one.

If you get a 0% offer in the mail, consider transferring balances. But beware; at times, all you are doing is postponing paying the interest. It still is accumulating. Continue to pay the minimum on each of your other cards and on time.

Consider getting a debit card for monthly bills. With a debit card, you can only spend what is in your checking account.

When you have paid off a card, consider canceling it. I did say consider for that could affect your credit score. Your score has many facets to the formula and one of the criteria looked at is the amount of debt you are carrying compared to your debt limit. Maxed out credit cards are not good for your credit score.

Always pay your bills on time. Those late fees can be crippling.

If you cannot do it on your own consider using National Foundation for Credit Counseling 800-388-2227 or for more help.

When you go shopping, go with a list. You want to shop to buy. This is not recreation and if it is a way to spend a Saturday afternoon, go shopping naked. Yup! Naked! Go without your credit card and take only a $10 bill and your license.

If you find some wonderful thing you will need to go home to get your cards or more money and with the price of gas it may not be worth returning. And always ask yourself, do I need it or do I want it?

One more thing:  If you have kids, leave them at home if you can. They want stuff and they want to stop to eat as well. Wonderful little creatures those kids, but very expensive! And be honest with them. Tell them things are tight and will get better but for right now, you cannot afford it.