The stark warning has been made by the Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS) which says that of the 18 and 19-year-olds who contacted the charity last year, an average unsecured debt of £2,254 (not including student debt) was reported.
For those who had overdraft debt, the average amount owed was £671, for those who had a personal loan, the average borrowed was £2,610, and for those who had credit card debt, the average outstanding balance was £898.
There is a real concern that the proportion of 18- and 19-year-olds who blame lack of budgeting for their debt problems is twice that for CCCS clients overall.
In 2010, one in 10 clients in this age group cited a lack of budgeting as the main cause of their debt problem, compared to 5% of clients across all age groups.
The charity says that these worrying figures boost the case for financial education to be added to the school curriculum.
The CCCS has added its support to the e-petition that calls for financial education which has already attracted more than 50,000 signatures.
If a petition reaches more than 100,000 signatures, MPs must have a debate on the topic in the House of Commons.
The petition can be signed at epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/8903.
"These figures show how quickly young people can fall into debt in the first few years of adult life," the charity's director of external affairs Delroy Corinaldi said.
"While financial education is not a silver bullet, it is essential that we give young people the tools to be able to make informed decisions about their finances - both to help them avoid falling into debt, and to help them out of it if they do.
"We also need to get across the message that free, non-judgmental help is available if you fall into financial difficulty - and with several debt charities offering free advice and support, there should never be a reason to pay for it."
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