Two weeks ago, Mastercard brought out its earnings report, which was very good – and, looked at from a consumer’s standpoint, not so good. The company’s profits were way up, in good part due to card use by travelers and customers overseas. Here in the U.S. card use was up 10 percent for the last quarter of 2007 as compared with a year earlier.

The most interesting part of the report to me was that, while consumers are charging more on their credit cards, Mastercard reports that they are spending less on luxuries and more on necessities, using credit cards to purchase groceries, personal health care items, and gasoline, even medical and dental costs not covered by insurance. Mastercard pointed out that there was less spending on things such as jewelry, restaurants, and furniture. The report went on to say that Americans are paying down their credit card balances at a slower rate.

I must tell you that, as a bankruptcy lawyer in Indianapolis and in three other Indiana cities, I was not surprised by this Mastercard report. Every day I meet with people who are squeezed financially and who have been forced deeper into debt, including credit card debt, just to stay ahead of everyday bills. Then I read another report, this one from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, saying that applications for unemployment benefits soared to the highest they’ve been since 2005.

Two pieces of advice might be useful here: Even if you need to use a credit card to keep the bills paid, make sure to avoid late payments on the credit card . Not only will the credit card company impose high fees, the interest rate on the entire balance could skyrocket immediately, making the situation incomparably worse. Second, if you see your debt situation rapidly deteriorating, get help right away from an attorney specializing in debt help. Waiting can only make things worse.