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Many consumers pulled out their credit cards to pay for holiday purchases this year.

They may also have a student loan, car note and mortgage to pay.

I hope they're not among the 18 percent of Americans who feel they'll never dig out of the debt hole. That staggering number, from a new survey by CreditCards.com, is double the result from last year.

It's a scary finding. Almost 20 percent of people have lost hope of ever achieving financial freedom.

What I don't want to see is these people giving up.

"If there's no hope of ever becoming debt-free, is there sense in trying?" said Todd Mark, vice president of education at Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Dallas. "Or will they just say, 'It is what it is, I'm always going to be in arrears, I'm always going to have debt, so I don't need to focus on other good habits, and let the pieces fall where they may.' "

The survey asked about debt broadly, which means it covered not only credit cards but also car loans, student loans and mortgages.

"It's a combination of things that have been written about a lot," said Matt Schulz, senior analyst at CreditCards .com.

"Everything from student debt loans to a slowly improving economy, to fairly stagnant wages — it all adds up to people being a little bit concerned about their ability to get out of the debt that they have."

The survey results weren't all bad.

Although more than a third of Americans have incurred debt this holiday season, 55 percent say they will eliminate it within one month.

"That's actually a sign that people, even though they might feel a little nervous and a little scared in the long term, this holiday debt question is an indicator that at least they're trying to watch for what they're doing and to be smart in the short term," Schulz said.

But the more important group I want to address includes those who have given up.

"It's easy to feel paralyzed when you're overloaded with debt and feel like you'll never get out. But the worst thing you can do is nothing," Schulz said.

"It's incredibly important to make moves to begin knocking down those debts before they truly do grow out of control."

Mark offered some tips.

"Are you liquidating things on a monthly or yearly basis that makes you feel like you're getting closer?" he said.

"Anything you can do to reduce your costs will be helpful, but in the end, it's still up to you to pay money down on the principal."

The telephone survey was conducted from Dec. 4-7 among a nationally representative sample of 1,001 U.S. adults.

The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 3.6 percentage points, and 4.3 percentage points for those with debt.

pyip@dallasnews.com

Pamela Yip is a personal finance columnist for the Dallas Morning News.

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