x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 23 November 2017

The Debt Panel: Dubai IT professional earning Dh10,600 has built up almost Dh700,000 in debt with 14 financial institutions

Dubai IT professional signed up for multiple loans and credit cards after an emergency back home required funds fast.

Clockwise from top left: Ambareen Musa, founder and chief executive of Souqalmal.com, The National columnist Keren Bobker, Rasheda Khatun from Financial Life Planner, and Jamel Alvi, chief credit officer of Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank, during a round-table panel discussion on why people are getting into excessive debt, how this situation can be resolved and where they can turn for help. Ravindranath K / The National and Marwan Alhammadi / The National
Clockwise from top left: Ambareen Musa, founder and chief executive of Souqalmal.com, The National columnist Keren Bobker, Rasheda Khatun from Financial Life Planner, and Jamel Alvi, chief credit officer of Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank, during a round-table panel discussion on why people are getting into excessive debt, how this situation can be resolved and where they can turn for help. Ravindranath K / The National and Marwan Alhammadi / The National

I work as an IT professional in a UAE-British construction firm in Dubai, earning Dh10,600 a month, However, I had an emergency back home that required immediate attention. I availed multiple cards and three loans and was able to afford the repayments as I had an investment in Dubai that generated around Dh13,000 per month. However, time did not permit my investment to successfully continue due to some issues with the financial payout, which leaves me with the below liabilities. Is there a bank willing to give a debt consolidation loan and extend the tenure to six or seven years just to reduce the monthly repayment of my EMI? My spouse also works in the UAE, earning Dh5,570 plus Dh1,200 incentives per month. These are my outstanding liabilities:

Najm (Majid Al Futtaim Finance): Dh18,523

Citibank: Dh74,074

FGB: Dh69,927

Dunia: 68,463

Rakbank: Dh20,700

ADCB: Dh15,192

NBAD: Dh41,562

HSBC: 20,550

SAMBA: Dh10,828

Emirates Islamic: Dh8,141

ADIB: Dh14,890

UNB: Dh29,114

Dubai Islamic Bank: Dh56,684

CBI: Dh230,130

Total: Dh678,778

I know I have made the biggest mistake in my life. If I could turn back the hands of time then I would have not taken any of those liabilities. They only leave my life miserable and I’m thinking to end my life; everyday I am only waiting to meet a tragic accident to end this. I am really helpless now as I know that anytime soon a worst-case scenario will land me in jail. Could you refer me to a specific bank that could help me negotiate my current financial crisis? AL, Dubai

Debt panellist 1: Ambareen Musa, founder and chief executive of Souqalmal.com

Your financial situation is serious, but you CAN turn it around. People have been in bigger financial mess and have managed to sort it out with the right intention and by taking the right steps. In your case, where you have multiple loans and are struggling to make repayments, a good starting point is to approach banks for debt consolidation. One way to start is by first approaching the bank where your salary gets credited, which will most likely also be the bank that you have a salary-transfer loan from. In case your application for debt consolidation is rejected, try to negotiate with the bank to consolidate just your outstanding credit card debt and the loan with the highest interest rate.

If you have a loan and one or more credit cards with a certain bank, you can approach that bank for consolidating just those liabilities. Also check if the bank can offer you a restructured repayment plan or a penalty-free payment break/holiday to make it easier for you to make repayments on time.

Since you have multiple credit cards, you can also consider transferring the combined or majority of the outstanding balance to the card with the lowest interest rate or one which offers you a zero interest rate for a few months initially. Speak to all the credit card providers to find the best deal.

First and foremost, it is crucial to get out of the cycle of accumulating interest. Explore options like getting a few months’ advance salary from your employer, or getting an interest-free loan from family members who are willing to help. To generate some extra income, could you and your wife look into finding another job – something part-time or freelance – if this doesn’t violate the legal terms of your current employment contract. Your current financial situation also calls for making major cutbacks in your monthly budget. Stick to the bare minimum and use the majority of your income to make repayments. Keep away from taking on any more debt, and focus all your energy and resources on paying off what you already owe. To avoid loan default and legal action owing to that, you must figure out the best way to repay your debts without violating the laws that govern loan default in the UAE. You can also ask for the help of legal assistance to negotiate the terms of repayment with the bank.

Debt panellist 2: Rasheda Khatun Khan, a wealth and wellness planner and founder of Design Your Life

Facing your debt situation and looking at it directly in the eye requires courage. It is the biggest and first step to take to getting you out of your current financial crisis. Knowing exactly what you have outstanding, what the minimum payments are and when each one is due is the next step. You also need to dissect your monthly expenses so you know exactly what you need to survive each month. Often people’s liabilities increases because they are simply trying to maintain their monthly household bills and living expenses. Cut back on all that you can. Downsize your property and/or look at sharing options.

In this situation, unfortunately there is not one bank that will simply take on all of your debt. Your best option is to go to each bank personally and book an appointment with their personal loan or credit card collections department. Explain your situation, go through your monthly expenses and agree with the bank a settlement option with a regular monthly instalment. Ask for the interest to be stopped so the liability cannot increase. Make sure that the amount you agree is something you are able to maintain over the full duration of the repayment period. Be upfront and honest about all of your liabilities.

Next step is to pull on other resources. Do you have family and friends whom you can call upon? What other sources of income can you get?

Find your emotional resources too. Personal financial distress is so incredibly draining. Find a friend that you can talk your frustrations and feelings through with. Though that does not directly help the repayment strategy, it certainly will make the heart feel lighter even if it’s just in those moment. Emotional distress is a silent killer, the likelihood is that it will manifest into a physical illness or disease, perhaps leaving you in a position where you are not even able to earn an income. Do not allow yourself or your family to get to this position. Life changes happen because you decide you want something better and then you decide to take small actions every day. Wanting life to end is not the state that will keep your head strong to get back in control and implement your repayment strategy.

A very important topic you also highlight is the lack of an emergency fund. Building and maintaining an emergency fund is essential to the foundation of any financial planning. Emergency situations will ALWAYS crop up. Such is life. If it’s not the car, or the pets or the house, it’s family. We must all have or be building an emergency fund, this is like breathing in financial planning. You just have to do it.

Whenever you take a financial commitment, ask yourself, how will I continue to pay if I lose my income? Your answer should be, I will use my emergency fund. Yes granted, sometimes the emergency requires much more than the fund itself, but at least the liability will be much less.

The Debt Panel brings together four financial experts: Jamal Alvi, the chief credit officer at Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank (ADIB); Ambareen Musa, the founder and chief executive of the comparison website Souqalmal.com; Rasheda Khatun Khan, a wealth and wellness planner and founder of Design Your Life; and Keren Bobker, The National’s On Your Side columnist and an independent financial adviser with Holborn Assets in Dubai. Together they answer queries in a weekly online column to help readers better tackle their debts. If you have a question for the panel, write to pf@thenational.ae.

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