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"Before the recession, consumers were encouraged to carry debt, and spending was seen almost as a patriotic thing to do to stimulate the economy," said Michael Solomon, professor of marketing and director of the Center for Consumer Research at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia. Credit card debt isn't as accepted now; it carries more of a stigma." The recession, which began at the end of 2008, saw consumers sharply curtail credit card spending.

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The only other topic that makes people hold their tongues that much? Americans are more comfortable talking about politics, their religious views and their ages than they are talking about how much debt they carry on their credit cards, according to a new poll conducted for Credit "One person I interviewed was deeply religious and said he talked to his pastor about everything, including his wife's infidelity," Compeau said."But when he ran into financial problems, he wasn't comfortable sharing that with his pastor." Part of the problem, Compeau said, is that even though there are legitimate reasons people go into debt (medical bills, job loss), the American culture tends to assume that if you're having financial trouble, it's your own fault and you have some kind of character flaw.According to the old saying, you shouldn't talk about religion or politics in polite company.Add one more to the list of conversational taboos: Credit card debt.'" A tough divorce that drained her savings persuaded her to get serious about tackling her debt, but it wasn't until she started sharing her efforts publicly in her blog, carefulcents.com, that she began to have success. "I got really positive comments and feedback from readers who gave me the kick I needed." Smith got a second job at H&R Block and gave up cable TV, movies, her gym membership and other luxuries to cut her living expenses down to two-thirds of her income.

A year later, she had paid back every penny of debt.

"On the other hand, I've seen relationships damaged because clients don't want to say anything to their friends, so they just keep turning down invitations and avoiding them." Credit counselors say they're not surprised that credit card debt is more taboo than it was five years ago, when more people carried a balance.

"It's easier to open up when you know that everybody else is in the same boat," says Bruce Mc Clary, spokesman for Clear Point Credit Counseling Solutions, a nonprofit consumer credit counseling service.

"The hardest thing is to try to tackle it without telling anyone, without any support." Carrie Smith, a small-business accountant in Dallas, said initially she was embarrassed to tell others about the $14,000 in debt she carried.

"I would think, 'What kind of accountant am I that my finances are so messed up?

"Even if you don't start a blog, I think it's really important to find a group of people who relate to you financially and share with them," Smith said.