A wallet fulls of credit cards (Simon Potter | Getty Images)

Suffering from credit card bill-induced panic attacks? You may be setting yourself up for a lifetime of debt. Younger Americans rack up more credit card debt than their parents and are slower to pay it off, according to a recent study in the journal Economic Inquiry.
Researchers at Ohio State University used monthly surveys to look at the credit card habits of 32,542 Americans between 18-85 years old. They found that Americans born between 1980-1984 will rack up over $5,000 more debt by the time they're 45 than people born between 1950-1954 had at that same age. Plus, they'll pay off 24% less every month, when compared to their parents' generation. "It's a simple calculation to show that they're never going to pay off that debt," says co-author of the study, Lucia Dunn, Ph.D., professor of economics at Ohio State University.

But this younger generation isn't necessarily reckless with their money. "They've racked up enormous amounts of student debt," says Dunn. "There are also many things that people consider necessities today--like a car--that others didn't think of as necessities before."

Need another reason to curb your spending? Women are more likely to stress about debt than men, according to a follow-up study by Dunn and her colleagues. So whether you're deep in debt or working hard to avoid it, use these tips to stay on top of your finances:

Double your minimum payment

Here's some good news: Research showed that when the minimum monthly credit card payment is raised just a little, it causes people to pay back even more, which means you'll get out of debt quicker. "It has a psychological impact on people," says Dunn. "It makes them take repaying more seriously. In the end, everything costs less if you pay off faster." Since you can't control what the bank asks for, make your own rule and stick to it. If your bill
says you owe a minimum of $50, make it $100.

Forget your friends' finances

When it seems like everyone is suffering the same money woes, it can make you less serious about taking control of your spending. "It's still not the norm to carry credit card debt, but many think it is," says Liz Weston, financial expert and author of The 10 Commandments of Money. "Don't take comfort in thinking everyone else is in debt."

Pick the right plastic

Those fancy reward cards are great, but their rates can be higher than normal. If you're paying your bill in full every month, go for it. "But if you're carrying a balance on your card, look for one with a low rate instead," says Weston. And read the fine print--some cards are made for really big spenders.

Check out these tools

Websites like Mint.com let you track your spending so you can figure out where you budget needs some work. You can also set up helpful text alerts from your bank. Need to save for a big purchase? Set up an online account somewhere like Ally or ING Direct, says Weston. They'll let you set up free sub-accounts that will automatically subtract savings each month.

Don't forget the future

It may seem way too far away, but the best time to start saving for retirement is in your twenties and thirties. Even if you're paying down student loans and credit card debt, keep a little money stashed away in savings so that it gains interest. "People think, 'I have my whole life to save,' but that's not how the math works," says Weston.

Know when to wave the white flag

Unfortunately, if your debt becomes unmanageable, it's better to get help sooner rather than later. "If your debt is equal to half or more of your income, it's time to talk to a credit counselor or bankruptcy attorney," says Weston. Check out the National Foundation for Credit Counseling at NFCC.org for help.