Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 14 July 2020

The Debt Panel: 'I lost my job as a pilot, so can I repay my Dh666,000 debt from the US?'

The single mother left the UAE 10 months ago and is struggling to negotiate a settlement remotely

Illustration by Mathew Kurian 
Illustration by Mathew Kurian 

I am 42, a single mother to a teenage son and a US citizen, who now lives back in the States after losing my job in the UAE as a pilot 10 months ago.

When I was laid off in March last year, I approached my bank to secure a settlement on a loan and credit card. According to the branch manager at the time, they would call me once my end-of-service benefit was paid out by my employer, but they never got in contact. My employer released the Dh165,000 gratuity amount on March 25, but despite sending over 15 emails, no one at the bank has clarified where the money went.

I have been trying to find a pilot's job in the UAE again but in the meantime I am working in the US as a safety officer earning $8,200 (Dh30,120) after taxes. This is 50 per cent less than I was making in the UAE due to high taxes in my country. I want to start making payments that reflect my new financial circumstances.

My debts in the UAE are:

Bank 1:

Credit Card: Dh66,000 (Dh350 monthly repayment)

Bank 2:

Loan: Dh500,000

Credit card: Dh100,000

Total: Dh666,000

The Dh350 monthly payments with bank 1 are from an agreement with the bank’s collection department, however the balance has not been frozen but keeps on increasing. Also, I had insurance on the credit card in case of unemployment, but the collection department says it is no longer valid because I left the UAE.

My gratuity has been paid to bank 2, but I do not know how it has been applied and no one responds to my calls. Instead the bank writes to threaten me about civil action and blacklisting to Interpol.

My current job will end in March as I have been given notice. I was offered another job in the UAE, but the paperwork never came through. I have also tried applying to US carriers but have had no luck so far. My expenses in the US, where I also support my mother, are:

Mortgage in the US: $3,500

Utilities and home bills: $1,350

Food: $1,300

Car loan: $620

Car and medical insurance: $690

House cleaning: $800

Education expenses: up to $1,000

Credit card: $800

Medicines for my mother: $500

Pet care: $100

Total: $10,660

When I lived in the UAE I was making payments on time with my Dh42,000 salary. I want to settle my debts but am struggling to do so without information from the banks. How do I check if I have a travel ban and how do I negotiate with the banks over resolving my debts and the missing gratuity? Also, should I apply for insolvency in the UAE? AA, US

Debt panellist 1: R Sivaram, executive vice president, head of retail banking products, Emirates NBD

It is important for you to review all your current financial obligations and expenditures and plan a way forward. You need to consider rationalising some personal expenses to increase your level of disposable income. After reviewing all your existing debts, reducing some of the debt accrued in the UAE is key. You should also consider selling some assets wherever possible.

Banks will usually accept a reasonable tenor extension that will reduce the monthly instalment, provided there is willingness and co-operation from your side.

R Sivaram, Emirates NBD

I recommend you continue reaching out to bank 2, which received your end-of-service benefits and request them to give you a clear and accurate picture of your outstanding liabilities. If you are unable to get an adequate solution via email, try their call centre and ask a senior manager to contact you. In addition, download your credit report from the Al Etihad Credit Bureau to check the status of your loan repayments and adjustment of your end-of-service benefits.

Also, contact bank 1 and express your intentions to settle the outstanding credit card balance and arrive at a suitable amortisation payment plan. As this is higher interest debt, it is best to retire it as quickly as possible. With regards to the personal loan with bank 2, you need the bank to restructure this debt, allowing you adequate debt servicing ability. Banks will usually accept a reasonable tenor extension that will reduce the monthly instalment, provided there is willingness and co-operation from your side. Given that you are consciously working to settle your debts, the bank would be favourably inclined to work out a suitable repayment plan.

Debt panellist 2: Ambareen Musa, founder and chief executive of Souqalmal.com

You have reached a dead end in terms of getting any useful information out of your lenders or reaching any sort of mutually acceptable repayment solution with either of the two. At this point, hiring a legal representative in the UAE is your best bet.

There are several ways a legal expert can help you sort out your debt situation. First, they can access your credit report from AECB. A thorough review of your credit report will reveal your exact outstanding debt commitment. Additionally, it will also demystify whether your restructured credit card debt is still accumulating interest and fees, and also help you check how your gratuity was adjusted towards your loan.

Second, the legal representative can check if your lenders have filed a police case or travel ban against you. A police case could be a possible cause of concern if you issued a security cheque at the time of applying for your loan or credit cards. The bank is within its rights to file a criminal case against you if this cheque bounces due to lack of sufficient funds. This is especially important to be aware of, if you are planning to come back to the UAE to pursue a job opportunity here. A police case may result in a swift arrest and detention if you land in the UAE or even transit through it.

Third, lawyers specialising in debt-related cases can advise you on how to handle your obligations towards the banks. They can negotiate with the lenders on your behalf and arrive at a settlement plan with lower penalties for you.

They can also check if insolvency proceedings are a suitable option. The new insolvency law introduced in the UAE can help you clear your debts through two ways: first, by negotiating a settlement plan with your lenders under the supervision of a court-appointed mediator. If that isn't feasible, the second option is to have the civil court initiate formal bankruptcy proceedings, wherein your assets will have to be liquidated to repay the banks.

Debt panellist 3: Keren Bobker, an independent financial adviser with Holborn Assets

On your former salary of Dh42,000 you built up debts of Dh666,000, a substantial amount for unsecured personal debt. I assume this money was used to fund a lifestyle as you make no mention of a vehicle being sold to repay any debt. In such cases, it is sadly all too common for individuals to have problems if they lose a job.

A bank "losing" a final salary payment is unusual and the employer will have a record of this being paid to the bank. Banks will rarely call someone to tell them a final salary payment has been received so it is up to a customer to be proactive. If no response is forthcoming by email, telephone them and point out that unless the funds are found, you will make a complaint to the Central Bank of the UAE. I expect the money was applied against the large personal loan to reduce the capital outstanding but you are entitled to confirmation of this.

You don’t appear to be making repayments on the loan or credit card so interest will still be accruing, increasing the total. Plus, as you have missed more than three months’ payments, the banks can register a police case against you. This will prevent you re-entering the UAE. You can contact the Department of Immigration to find out if you have a travel ban. Banks cannot "blacklist" you with Interpol so that is purely a threat.

You say you had insurance on the loan, so check the full terms of this to see exactly what you were insured for. Too often these plans are extremely poor and they rarely pay out as the conditions are so strict. Borrowers must ensure they fully understand what they are signing up for by reading the small print.

You may be a candidate for the UAE Insolvency Law but it has not yet fully come into effect. In the meantime, redouble efforts to correspond with the bank and if that fails, engage a lawyer to contact them on your behalf.

The Debt Panel is a weekly column to help readers tackle their debts more effectively. If you have a question for the panel, write to pf@thenational.ae

Updated: January 21, 2020 04:54 PM

SHARE

SHARE

Editor's Picks
THE DAILY NEWSLETTER
Sign up to our daily email
Most Popular