The Credit Counselling Society of B.C. has seen a 40 per cent increase in calls from consumers. Many callers are homeowners who have been overspending and borrowing against the rising value of their home. They're now trapped with more debt than they can handle.

"Now that their house values are dropping in value it's coming back to haunt them. The fact that they can't go back to their financial institution again and say 'refinance me one more time,'" says the Society's Scott Hannah.

The banks are saying no because of the falling real estate market. So now, more than ever, you need to put the brakes on credit card spending.

"The best way to protect yourself in tough economic times is to bulk up your savings and pay off your debts," says Consumer Reports money adviser Amanda Walker.

Your first move is to pull together all your credit card statements and get out the bills for other non-tax-deductible debts, like your car loan. Make a list of what you're being charged every month in interest and other fees from the highest to the lowest.

"It can be confusing if you've got balance transfer fees, cash advance fees on your credit card as well as your regular charges. You want to check the finance charges box to get the total," says Walker.

Once you've prioritized your debt, make the bulk of your payments to the one that's costing you the most. Don't rush to pay off mortgages or a home equity line of credit because these are usually lower interest.

And the one move that can help you save money: call and ask your credit card company to lower your interest rate.

"In a survey, we found that more than 50 per cent of people that called their credit card company to get their interest rate lowered were successful. It can help if you let them know you're thinking of transferring your card balance to another company," says Walker.

Eliminating your most-expensive debt first can add up to money saved.

But don't expect immediate results.

"It typically takes a person six months to learn how to handle their money," says Hannah.

And if the debt seems overwhelming there are options from consolidating debt, negotiating with lenders for reduced interest rates or forgiving a portion of what you owe, or bankruptcy.

For more information, visit the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada or the Credit Counselling Society.

With a report from CTV British Columbia's Chris Olsen