Mortgages should only be given to some first-time buyers "after study and an exam", according to the chairman of a debt charity.
Home loans should be sold with a health warning, not tax breaks, said Malcolm Hurlston of the Consumer Credit Counselling Service.
Those who had bought a home too soon were most likely to get into debt, he added.
Inspiration could come from pre-buying education in the US, he said.
In a speech to members of the credit industry, Mr Hurlston said that the credit crunch had changed the financial system.
But he added that some lessons had not been learned for first-time buyers - many of whom found that home ownership was a "trap".
"The people most likely to get into debt in Britain are those on low incomes who have wrongly or too soon embarked on home ownership," he said.
"Think Northern Rock. Was it not apparent to everybody here that 110/120% mortgages, some partially disguised as unsecured, were dangerous madness?"
He added that some form of tuition should be considered for those on low-incomes getting a mortgage for the first time.
"First time mortgages should be sold not with pretty ribbons and tax breaks but with health warnings," he said.
"They should be sold like driving licences, after study and an exam."
He called for the City watchdog, the Financial Services Authority, to supervise all first mortgages, and for home ownership certificates for anyone buying a first house.
He pointed to a federal mortgage programme in the US for those on low incomes.
Those who apply for the loan can also get free or low-cost advice on buying a home, renting, default, repossession and credit issues.
In 2007, about 1.7 million individuals and families in the US received housing education and counselling, with the numbers growing since the early 1990s, the CCCS said.
Sue Anderson, of the Council of Mortgage Lenders, said that lenders would consider the comments as an interesting perspective.
She said there was a case for strengthening general guidance on credit, so that potential buyers could equip themselves with the appropriate information.
But she said this raised questions on whether this was what consumers wanted, and whether it would make a difference in the numbers getting behind on their mortgage payments.
She added that most people who got into trouble did so because of a change in their circumstances, such as losing their job.
A separate report by the National Landlords Association found that the lack of mortgages for first-time buyers, as well as the demand for higher deposits from lenders, meant that would-be buyers would rent for longer.