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There are two points in life when people are most likely to fall into debt trouble, financial planner Shannon Lee Simmons says. Guess what, millennials and Gen Z? You’re vulnerable to both.

One point of maximum debt risk comes after graduating from university or college with student debt, Ms. Simmons explains in Episode Two of Stress Test, our new personal finance podcast for millennials and Gen Z. In the gig economy where so many young adults work, there may be periods of joblessness that make it hard to keep those student loan payments going.

The other point where people typically get into trouble with debt is in your 30s. “The second kind of wave, if you will, of debt that I see is house, car, kids, childcare, can't make it all work,” Ms. Simmons tells us.

Stress Test is about how the basic rules of personal finance have been tested in the pandemic. Obviously, carrying debt has made it tougher to weather the job and income losses caused when the economy was locked down. But Stress Test is a judgement-free zone where it’s accepted that debt is hard to avoid sometimes.

Ms. Simmons finds that $4,000 tends to be the debt level where people start to get uncomfortable about debt. She says that whatever amount you owe, pay attention to your stress level about debt and take action if your health or relationships are affected. Another suggestion is to have an emergency fund – money you can use to cover debt payments if you lose your job. One more is to track your spending so you have money to save on a regular basis.

“I owe it to every financial expert out there who's going to listen to this to say all debt should be something to be avoided,” Ms. Simmons tells listeners. “Let's get that out of the way and then talk about real life.”

As always, we’d love to hear from our Stress Test listeners. If you have a question for Rom and I, send it to us. Record your Q in a voice memo and e-mail it to Upcoming topics include bank accounts, investing, affording a downtown life & the high cost of kids.

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Rob’s personal finance reading list…

Is a college or university degree worth the cost?

Yes, says a new website dedicated to help liberal arts and humanities graduates find jobs and build careers. But you have to be realistic about the cost and benefits, especially if student debt is involved.

Five money moves if your finances have been COVID-ized

These, um, non-traditional suggestions are worth considering if your income has been hammered in the pandemic and you’re struggling to pay expense. Example: Sell your investments.

Working from home and your taxes

Hoping for a tax deduction from home office expenses incurred as a result of physical distancing during the pandemic? Here’s your reality check.

Everything you ever wanted to know about rental car insurance

Must reading if you’re renting a car and wondering whether to buy the rental company’s expensive coverage.

Ask Rob

Q: I have been doing limited investing through my online brokerage trading account. When I sold stocks in my TSFA, RIFF and margin accounts I placed all the funds into an interest account. The total invested in the account is in excess of $200,000.00. The interest paid in the account is now much lower than at the time of purchase and I am reluctant to reinvest into volatile stocks. I am retired and in my late 70s and would like to stay in the stock market but invest in something a little safer to preserve my retirement funds. Do you have suggestions for stocks/securities that provide value and safety?

A: I don’t. If stocks plunge again like they did in March, there will be losses across the board. Some stocks – grocery chains, utilities – might lose less than the broader market, but they could still post sharp declines. For safety with a modest inflation-beating return, consider GICs from alternative banks, credit unions and trust companies. All should be part of a deposit insurance plan – Canada Deposit Insurance Corp. or provincial credit union plans.

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

If you’re evaluating offers from mortgage lenders, check out this calculator. It lets you compare the cost different of two different mortgage rates.

In case you missed these Globe and Mail personal finance-related stories

  • A wedding I was supposed to attend has been cancelled because of COVID-19. Do I still buy a gift?
  • How the CRA may try to identify fraudulent CERB claims
  • Six utilities and two telecom companies with dividends and downside protection (for Globe Unlimited subscribers)

More Carrick and money coverage For more money stories, follow me on Instagram and Twitter, and join the discussion on my Facebook page. Millennial readers, join our Gen Y Money Facebook group. Send us an e-mail to let us know what you think of my newsletter. Want to subscribe? Click here to sign up.

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Stress Test

Why you got into debt, and how to get out

This week on Stress Test: Even before the pandemic, debt was a huge problem for Canadians. Rob Carrick and Roma Luciw explore our strange relationship with debt and the factors that contribute to it. We hear from a millennial saddled by her debts, and her journey to find a way out. Plus, Roma speaks to Shannon Lee Simmons, a financial planner about tangible steps to manage debt.

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Read the transcript in English or French.

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