Standing behind a fellow shopper at the supermarket can leave you in a state of shock if the person pulls out a long string of credit cards while finding something to use as identification.

Some people have oil company cars, department store cards and bank credit cards galore, proudly displaying them when paying for items.In the hands of responsible people, credit cards can be a help in conducting business and paying for purchases, but they can be a burden when overused by those who forget the bills come at the end of the month.

To get young people started on the right foot when it comes to using credit cards, the Federal Trade Commission has published the brochure "Using Plastic - A Young Adult's Guide to Credit Cards." To those adults who abuse credit cards, the advice also comes in handy.

"At first glance, a credit card gives you freedom to buy something on the spur of the moment - without worrying if you have cash in your pocket. It makes shopping look incredibly easy: just one payment at the end of the month," FTC officials said.

One of the drawbacks in using plastic is people finding they have used the cards too much and they either can't pay all their credit card bills or can't pay their bills on time. "And, those who have trouble paying back their debts may find they can't borrow money when they want to make a really important purchase like a car or a house," the brochure said.

FTC officials say young adults can get their first credit card through their parents by having them co-sign, using their income and good repayment history to qualify. "You can make purchases with the credit card and you or your parents can pay the bills," the brochure said.

Young adults with jobs can possibly get credit cards on their own, and when credit is used it can work toward establishing a credit history. A credit history is a report on how responsibly (or irresponsibly) you have used credit cards.

To establish a credit history, the brochure suggests these steps:

- Apply for a credit card at a local store or a small loan at a local lending institution. Ask the creditor if the store or lending institution reports credit history to a credit bureau. If they do and you pay back your debts regularly, you will compile a good credit history.

- Ask the creditor for specific reasons if you ever are turned down for credit. For example, your current salary might not be high enough or you may not have worked at your job long enough. Time may resolve these matters. Reapply for credit when your situation changes.

- Ask someone for an established credit history (such as a relative) to act as your co-signer if you cannot get credit on your own. The co-signer must promise to pay your debts if you don't. If you use a co-signer, repay your debts promptly and try again to get credit on your own.

The brochure also gives advice on which credit card to apply for, what to do if there is a mistake on your credit card bill and what to do it your credit card is lost or stolen.



Safeguarding your credit card

1. Never lend your card to anyone.

2. Never leave your card or receipts lying around.

3. Destroy all carbons and incorrect receipts.

4. Never put your card number on a postcard or on the outside of an envelope.

5. Never give your card over the phone, unless your are certain the company or organization is highly ruputable.

6. Sign your credit card in ink as soon as it arrives.

7. Keep a record of your card number, expiration date, and the phone number and address of the card company in a safe place, separate from your wallet. 8. Do not sign a blank receipt, whenever possible.

9. Draw a line through blank spaces on charge slips above the total so the amount cannot be changed.

10. Open billing statements promptly and compare them with receipts you have saved.

11. Write promptly to the credit card issuer if any questionable charges appear on your statement.