CASH-strapped consumers were warned yesterday not to put their home at risk by using their limited funds to pay credit cards and other loans instead of their mortgage.
Irish consumers are the most indebted in Europe with a combined €180bn owed on personal loans and mortgages.
But many people who are short of cash are prioritising the wrong debts, debt advice company Money Village has warned.
Too often under-pressure consumers are paying the creditor who is shouting the loudest while letting arrears build up on their mortgages, Eugene McDarby of Money Village said.
"People have a cloud of debt hanging over them and they are making ill-informed decisions. Consumers need to prioritise keeping a roof over their heads. The next thing is food and paying utility bills like electricity or gas," he said.
"It might seem like a good idea to pay off the credit card, but not if it will lead to arrears on the mortgage. People should not put their home at risk."
Mr McDarby said more pressure is being applied by creditors, which is leading to psychological damage for heavily indebted people.
Many people are keeping their debts secret from family members and friends, a survey conducted by Money Village among its customers found.
Nearly half of those surveyed said they would not borrow from family or friends to get out of their debt trap.
Money Village charges an upfront fee of €495 if it is engaged to deal with a consumer's debt.
State debt advisory service the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) offers its services free of charge.