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This country had a household debt problem before the pandemic, but it was livable because of low unemployment and rising incomes.

The pandemic has changed that. Jobs are disappearing because of the need to maintain physical distancing and the economy is headed for a recession. Already, a lot of households are flat-out not able to pay what they owe.

One small positive in the pandemic is that debt has lost a lot of its stigma. Through no fault of their own, people in lots of different jobs have been laid off and have only government support money coming in. And so, they’re actively seeking help to deal with their debts. This is exactly the right thing to do because creditors are more willing to come to an arrangement with people before they’re late with payments, rather than after.

In a new video, I offer a few suggestions on what to do if you can’t pay your bills. Now, I’d like to hear from you. I’m working with Globe and Mail personal finance editor Roma Luciw on a new podcast for millennials called Stress Test. We’d like to talk to you if your life and your finances been turned upside down by coronavirus, if you’re struggling to pay your bills, if you’re taking on debt or if you’re not sure how to deal with your bank or your debts. We’d also like to hear your thoughts on whether social media and the fear of missing out have contributed to your debts. Please e-mail

For months to come, we’ll be tallying up the damage done to country’s personal finances through insolvency numbers and rising defaults on mortgages, credit cards and more. There is still time to get some help to avoid these outcomes.

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Rob’s personal finance reading list…

Trouble ahead for housing

An independent investment analysis firm runs through its expectations for the stock market, the Canadian dollar, banks, energy and the housing market. Housing has so far held up well during the pandemic, but can this last? I can’t see how. Now for some thoughts on how lenders are already getting tougher about mortgage lending.

Dividend investing takes a hit

Investors are taking a one-two punch in the pandemic – stocks have fallen hard, and dividends are getting cut by companies trying to survive the economic slowdown. Here’s a U.S. perspective on dividend investing that tells investors to stay patient, but expect some pain.

Goodbye, paper towels

Paper towels are pricey, and they can be hard to find in a picked over grocery store these days. Solution: Buy a bunch of cheap washcloths and use them instead.

Retirees and the new RRIF rules for 2020

To help seniors whose investment portfolios were hit hard in the pandemic-driven stock market decline, the federal government has reduced the minimum withdrawal from registered retirement income funds for this year by 25 per cent. Full details here.

Ask Rob

Q: Are there books on estate planning in Canada that you would recommend?

A: Check out Sandra Foster’s You Can’t Take It With You: Common-Sense Estate Planning For Canadians.

Do you have a question for me? Send it my way. Sorry I can’t answer every one personally. Questions and answers are edited for length and clarity.

Today’s financial tool

Fraudsters are out in force during the pandemic, preying on fears about both health and money. Here’s a list of specific scams to watch out for.

Video of the week

Personal finance writer Kelley Keehn on avoiding the many financial scams proliferating in the pandemic.

What I’ve been writing about

  • Pandemic personal finance update No. 3: Why you should clean out your big-bank savings account
  • The Globe and Mail ETF Buyer’s Guide 2020: The complete series
  • History says it’s time to get more patient. Here’s what one firm thinks investors should do (for Globe Unlimited subscribers)

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