Debt trouble is something that often sneaks up on people, as debt levels grow slowly and methodically.

But there are warning signs that the careful consumer can keep a close eye on to avoid becoming another casualty of rising financial pressure.

“When you start arguing about money in your family, that's a big warning sign. Top reasons why relationships end these days are money problems,” says credit counsellor Heather Cudmore.

Other warning signs include using one credit card to pay off another, making only the minimum payment on credit cards and starting to overdraw checking accounts.

“Overdraft interest at your bank is usually 21, 22 per cent. That's higher than a cash advance on a credit card,” says Cudmore.

The simplest sign of all, though, is recognizing that bills are piling up and it’s difficult to keep track of expenses.

Household debt in Canada is reaching record levels. Statistics Canada says the average Canada now owes $1.64 for every dollar owned. Twenty years ago, that figure stood at 66 cents.

Credit counsellors say January is one of their busiest months, as consumers feel a spending hangover after dishing out over Christmas.

“Business always picks up in January,” says Cudmore.

“We start getting more phone calls, more requests for help.”

And with Canadians’ personal debt rising to record levels, every January seems busier than the last.