The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned today that global debt has hit a record $152 trillion (£119.2 trillion).
The figure, more than twice the size of the global economy, was released in the Washington-based organisation's latest Fiscal Monitor.
The IMF added about $100 trillion, or two thirds of global debt, belongs to companies or households which "can carry great risks when they reach excessive levels".
The IMF acknowledged that there is considerable variation in terms of indebtedness between countries, but said the huge debt pile still poses a risk to the economic recovery.
"There are concerns that the sheer size of debt could set the stage for an unprecedented private deleveraging process that could thwart the fragile economic recovery," the report said.
"Resolving this 'private debt overhang' problem is, however, not easy in the current global environment of low nominal output growth."
The fund added that high public sector debt can inhibit a country's ability to respond to a financial crisis.
"Financial crises tend to be associated with excessive private debt levels in both advanced and emerging market economies, but high public debt is not without its risks."
"In particular, entering a financial crisis with weak fiscal position exacerbates the depth and duration of the ensuing recession."