£15,000: That's what a quarter of us owe. Do we care? No

Instead, these twentysomethings are shrugging their shoulders and going to court to declare themselves bankrupt. A new generation of bankrupts has been born - and they just don't care.

Young people are embracing credit from the age of 18 "as a way of life", said the Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS), Britain's leading debt charity. In 2000, the charity's counsellors were advising one in 16 of their clients to go bankrupt. Now that figure is one in four, the vast majority of whom are under 25.

"The stigma of bankruptcy is less with young people," said Pat Boyden, a personal insolvency partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The average debt of an 18- to 24-year-old coming to the CCCS for advice has nearly doubled from £7,667 in 1999 to £14,984 today. While just 6 per cent of its clients were under 25 two years ago, it has now doubled to 12 per cent.

The culture of debt has become "massive" for twentysomethings, said Louise Brittain, a personal insolvency expert at the chartered accountants firm of Baker Tilly. "People expect to be able to go out for dinner and go binge drinking all the time. Your twenties is now just about having a good time - paying it all back is a bugger though."

It is now easy for under-25s to get access to credit cards and loans. But while under-25s have lower debts than those in older age groups, they do not have the assets, such as houses or cars, to back up their debts. Perversely it becomes far easier to declare yourself bankrupt because you have far less to lose.

Mr Boyden, 52, said: "We would have tried to pay it off to avoid going bankrupt. The younger generation are more likely to try and write it off."

Declaring yourself bankrupt has become a relatively straightforward procedure. The law changed in 2004 to make it simpler for companies, but it is individual bankruptcies that have seen the largest rise.

A day spent form-filling at the local insolvency service office and a fee of £450 is all it takes. Bankruptcy can last a maximum of 12 months while the case is fully investigated, but most are completed within six. The credit reference agency will keep a record of the bankruptcy for six years.

But for many young people, six years with no credit rating may not harm their long-term prospects. Nearly a third of under-30s now rely on a gift or family loan in order to put down a deposit on a house or flat.

LIFE AFTER DEBT

'I thought bankruptcy was a big deal. It's not'

Robert Power lived the high life until he got into debt. Then out went the plush London Docklands flat and the fortnightly visits to the Savoy for 'high tea'

Robert Power was living the high life. The London recruitment consultant hired limousines to take his mates to lap-dancing clubs, got his hair cut at Harrods, and thought nothing of spending £650 on a date.

But it was all on credit. Having racked up a debt of more than £40,000 on eight different credit cards, Mr Power declared himself bankrupt at the age of 24.

Out went the plush Docklands flat, out went the fortnightly visits to the Savoy for "high tea" and the trips to Spearmint Rhino. He moved into a small flat in Holloway, north London, with three friends and has a pay-as-you-go mobile phone.

All he has to show for two years of living it up are two Armani suits and a laptop - but he is happy. "I thought bankruptcy was a big deal. It's not. The only downside is that 18 months afterwards I can't get a current account."

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