Many people take out new loans to pay off their existing debt
Levels of personal debt among people seeking help from Citizens' Advice Bureaux (CAB) have doubled in the past five years, a new report has suggested.
The Drowning in Debt report analysed cases brought to CAB staff across Scotland.
It revealed a picture of rapidly mounting debt against a background of increasingly aggressive recovery tactics from some lenders.
Motions are to be tabled at Holyrood and Westminster calling for action.
The report said mounting debt was causing "desperation" among its clients, many of whom were going without food or heating in order to pay off their debts.
It found that one in in 10 of CAB's debt clients owed more than £50,000, with the biggest an astonishing £239,346 - excluding mortgage debts.
Brian Ritchie owes about £45,000 on credit cards, overdrafts and a loan
For every £1 of monthly income, these clients owed on average around £28 of debt, the report said, with the ratio of debt to monthly income rising by a quarter since 2003.
The report also accused creditors of pursuing debts more vigorously than in 2003 - with two fifths of clients reporting instances of aggressive harassment.
The report found that almost twice as many debt clients in 2008 had been threatened with unlawful debt recovery methods, with the vast majority having charges and fees added to their debts due to their failure to pay on time.
Two in five clients - including half of all women - were going without essentials as a way of managing their debts, compared with one third five years ago.
And nine in every 10 clients said debt had a negative impact on their mental or physical health.
Brian Ritchie, a book keeper from Paisley, is about £45,000 in debt. His finances spiralled out of control when his wife's disability payments were delayed because of an administrative mix-up and he racked up huge credit card bills.
He said: "Everything is maxed up to the hilt. I am up to my neck in debt.
"Each month when I get my wages I go on the internet and work out how much I need to pay on each card I have.
Debt has become a sad reality for too many Scots
Kaliani Lyle Citizens Advice Scotland
"I have found that if you try to run away from your debts they will catch up with you."
He added: "It is very easy to get credit cards. As far as I could see there were no checks done on me. I just phoned up and asked for one.
"I feel companies should really be doing more to check what other debts you have before giving you more."
Kaliani Lyle, chief executive of Citizens Advice Scotland, said the recession was making things even worse for people on low incomes, and plunging many others into financial hardship for the first time.
"The result is that debt has become a sad reality for too many Scots," she said.
"But this report shows that the levels of that debt are getting out of control. Debt breeds debt. People take out a loan or new credit card because they can't make ends meet.
"Then they fall behind with their repayments, so they take out another loan to pay the first one off.
"Then they find they have to take another loan again, and before long they are spiralling into massive debts that they just can't control."
She warned that taking out further loans was rarely the answer, and urged anyone concerned about their finances to seek advice immediately.
Parliamentary motions backing the findings of the report were due to be lodged on Wednesday morning by John Wilson MSP at Holyrood and Mark Lazarowicz MP at Westminster.
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