Borrowers have been urged to keep an eye on the date their debt repayments are due, after it was revealed missed payments typically rise by 9% in January.
According to ClearScore, defaults increase by 5% in the first month of the year as well, as the festive spending spree takes its toll.
The warning comes after new analysis showed debt levels in the UK are higher than before the financial crash.
The TUC has warned that families are being pushed ever further into the red after household debt rose sharply over 2018.
Indeed, unsecured debt – which includes credit card borrowing and loans – rose to £15,385 per household in the third quarter of 2018, up £886 on a year earlier. In total, the debt mountain increased to a record high of £428bn in the quarter, well above the £286bn peak seen in 2008 ahead of the financial crisis.
A payment missed on a debt will be marked on a borrower's credit report, likely having a negative impact on their credit score. Even worse, missing multiple payments could be declared as a 'default', which will stay on a credit report for six years, even once the debt is paid off.
With lenders viewing such borrowers as a greater risk, they may then struggle to get accepted when applying for credit cards, mortgages and loans.
"Any of us may miss payments from time to time, but this can have a huge impact on your credit score," said Justin Basini, CEO and co-founder of ClearScore. "Think about setting up direct debits so that you can always automatically pay on time, and don't incur late payment fees. If you miss several payments and have defaulted, you should avoid borrowing further until your debt is more manageable.
"If you find yourself unable to afford payments, you can get free advice from charities like StepChange, Debt Advice Foundation or National Debtline, who can put together a personalised repayment plan for you."
Check your credit score