"The credit people are fighting for our credit card dollars out there, and it's open season," declares consumer credit expert Mary Quinn. "Our advice is to shop around for credit cards and to ask yourself, 'Do you really need five VISA cards?' Isn't one sufficient?"

*One man, who stopped in at a credit counseling office in Florida, had 14 VISA cards, and was at the credit limit on each. When a counselor asked if he was current on all his cards, he said yes. What he meant was that he was up to date on the minimum monthly payments. He actually owed $28,000.

Consumer-credit experts emphasize that all VISA and MasterCards are not the same. Each issuing bank has its own interest rate, and they can differ widely. The average interest rate on credit cards runs about 19 percent, with bank card highs about 21 percent and up. Interest rates on unsecured, signature-only loans run 18 to 24 percent and up.

Banks apparently are prepared to take the risk of issuing credit cards with little or no knowledge of how many credit cards a consumer already has. "If you get up to the credit limit of, say, $1,500," notes Quinn, "the banks give you a nice letter saying 'You're such a good customer, so we're increasing your limit to $2,000.' "

The sensible thing, of course, is to pay the outstanding balance on a credit card each month. But as Quinn says, "The banks don't make any money that way."