Now is a good time to start reading your bank statements and the fine print on loan contracts very carefully. With the large loan portfolios of toxic assets still on the books, banks are taking advantage of the intentionally open-ended loan or credit terms given to lenders. By hiking the interest rates on loans and credit cards and upping fees across the board, many financial institutions are hoping to shore up capital and return to profitability.

This may be good news for you if you're holding financial stocks, but as consumers it's a reminder to be more vigilant when checking the mail. Changes to lines of credit, mortgages, credit card rates and other debt instruments should all be preceded by a notice, but these and other notices about fees can be lost in the influx of mail. Although it's tempting to take the ostrich approach and avoid opening any more bills until the recession ends, you can head off sneaky increases if you watch for them.

Banks are in a weak moral position right now, taking money and guarantees from the taxpayers while also mugging those selfsame taxpayers when they turn their back. If you receive a notice about changes to your debts, take it straight to your bank and talk to someone. Most banks are hoping consumers won't notice a half a percent here or few percentage points there. By facing them down, many bankers will roll back the change just to keep your accounts on the books.

If your bank won't budge, now's as good a time as any to look for a consolidation loan and a fresh start at a bank that is more considerate of its customers – maybe even a credit union or internet bank. Part of returning to profitability for banks is competing for customers, and many are desperate to add new accounts. This is no excuse for neglecting or fleecing established accounts but the push for new accounts will give you some weight in negotiating if your current bank steps over the line. If you feel hesitant to take the hard line with your lender, just remember that they currently owe money to you and every other taxpayer in the country.

To learn five steps that can help get you out of debt faster and easier than you ever imagined check out Debt Consolidation Made Easy.

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