Around 1.1 million people told the poll that declaring themselves bankrupt or taking out an individual voluntary agreement (IVA) was their only option out of debt.
Yet this is coupled with a rise in the number of people taking out loans or adding to their credit card debt.
“This puts literally millions on the borderline,” said James Falla, director of Thomas Charles, which commissioned the survey.
His warnings come as government figures show a massive rise in bankruptcy cases and large banks report a surge in the cases of bad debt.
“If unemployment goes up, or if individuals suffer an illness or loss of income, their debts can quickly spiral out of control,” he warned.
Only by taking action now to manage or clear debt could this scenario be negated by many.