The key is to know exactly when the introductory period ends and transfer the balance before you pay interest.

But none of these tactics are for people without the discipline to pay every month. Rolling over balances and paying interest diminishes your returns.

Keep Your Head Out Of The Clouds

"You can't get a credit card and think, 'How can I one-up the neighbors?'" said Middendorf. "Become the CFO of your family finances, and if you can do that you can use credit cards to your advantage."

In fact, Middendorf said when she uses a credit card to book a flight online, she immediately writes a check to the credit card company so that her check register won't show extra cash. That keeps her from overspending.

Experian, the credit reporting company, has a top 10 list for top-notch credit scores. They include putting credit to work for you by taking advantage of programs, but also having a strict plan to repay the debt.

"Credit is not bad, it's bad if you use it badly," said Maxine Sweet, the vice president of Experian's public education unit. "You use it, don't let it use you."