Credit card debts run up by professionals in their 50s have outstripped those of younger generations, with debtors in Birmingham among the worst offenders.
The stark findings came from the Consumer Credit Counselling Service yesterday which said one debtor, an unnamed 56-year-old, among its cases owed a total of #412,000 on 57 credit cards.
According to the charity, the 53 to 59 age group has the highest outstanding credit card balances.
Even in retirement, one in ten people admitted they owed money, with about 70,000 having debts of between #50,000 and #75,000.
But in Birmingham, the figure rises to #75,754.56, run up mainly by professionals who have been hit by business or personal problems or are helping finance their children's education or property aspirations.
The research coincided with an inquest on a Birmingham man, Anthony Cross, whose family claimed had killed himself because he was being "hounded" by debt collectors. Mr Cross, aged 52, owed about #35,000.
The average outstanding debt reported to CCCS is #12,422 spread over three cards, up 50 per cent since 2003. It said people - across all age brackets - earning #30,000-plus a year amass more than #75,000 on credit before asking it for help.
Although credit card spending has slowed since 2005, those over 53 are increasing their spending, according to the CCCS, which has 155,000 clients.
Those in their 60s drove up their balances by one third between 2004 and 2005 - the largest yearly increase of any group.
"This is a generation that's grown up with credit, many of which may be finding themselves squashed under added financial pressures of financing their children's education, helping them get on the property ladder, or having to deal with divorce or separation issues," said CCCS spokes-woman Frances Walker.
"Previously the majority of people who come to CCCS for help were in their 20s or 30s, who have yet to reach their earnings peak, but now our biggest client group in the Birmingham area are people aged between 40 and 59."
Other factors compounding the nation's debt time bomb include the Bank of England increasing the cost of borrowing and soaring household bills.
Declaring bankruptcy is now being seen by many as a tempting alternative to paying back debts.
Government figures published last week showed personal bankruptcy had risen year-on-year as households struggle to manage their finances.
The number of individual bankruptcy petitions filed in the High Court and county courts in England and Wales between April and June rose ten per cent to 15,796 compared with the same quarter last year.
Meanwhile, the Government's Insolvency Service said a record number of people - 26,021 - in England and Wales became insolvent between April and June, compared with 15,645 in the same period last year.
After yesterday's inquest on Anthony Cross, his brothers said his death was an example of what could go wrong when someone found themselves in the credit trap.
"This should be a warning to anyone tempted to turn to credit cards when they're struggling for cash, this is not an easy way out and is certainly not a way to manage your debts," said Alan Cross.
"The interest rates alone are ridiculous, that is what cripples people, often the interest can outweigh the amounts actually spent on plastic.
"I have no doubt these credit card firms and their debt collectors are ultimately responsible for my brother's death."