In this article, using Ireland where debt issues are of particular salience, as a test case, we seek to locate over-indebtedness and the severity of debt problems in the context of the broader economic circumstances of households. In doing so, we first identify an economically vulnerable segment of households and then explore the debt experience of vulnerable and non-vulnerable households. Our analysis reveals a striking contrast between the debt experiences of less than one in five households defined as economically vulnerable and all others. Financial exclusion, relating to access to a bank account and a credit card, was found to increase debt levels. However, such effects were modest. The impact of economic vulnerability seems to be largely a consequence of its relationship to a wide range of socio-economic attributes and circumstances. The manner in which a potential debt crisis unfolds will be shaped by the broader socio-economic structuring of life-chances. Any attempt to respond to such problems by concentrating on financial exclusion or household behaviour or, indeed, triggering factors without taking the wider social structuring of economic vulnerability is likely to be both seriously misguided and largely ineffective.