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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 13 November 2018

The Debt Panel: 'The balance on my credit cards has not reduced in 10 years'

The freelance auditor built up the debts after a business failed

Illustration by The National 
Illustration by The National 

I have been paying off my credit card debts for more than 10 years and still the amount is the same. The reason I have these debts is because my business failed after someone took all the money and ran away. I occasionally secure work as a freelance auditor but sometimes I have work and sometimes I don't. My debts are:

Bank 1:

loan: Dh4,500

credit card: Dh23,000

Bank 2:

car loan: Dh1650 a month

Bank 3:

Credit card: Dh50,000 (minimum payment Dh4,000)

Bank 4:

Credit card: Dh25,000

I visited bank 3 and bank 4 to discuss a settlement but they kept asking me to pay them the outstanding balance in full. One bank manager told me I had paid more than double what I owed on a credit card and suggested I file a court case as I may get Dh48,000 back. My expenses include Dh3,000 for rent, Dh1650 for the car loan, Dh1500 for school fees and Dh2000 for visa and medical expenses. My wife and daughter live with me in Abu Dhabi. I can’t afford to pay off any more debt and want to close my cards. I have paid bank 3 more than three times what I initially borrowed, but I cannot pay anymore as I have no work. DP, Abu Dhabi

Debt panellist 1: Shaker Zainal, head of retail banking at CBI bank

Firstly, your business initiative is under loss, and as you alluded to a potential fraud, you might wish to pursue legal enforcement to claim back your receivables, as it may provide you with some future financial respite.

Secondly, your credit card dues are not reducing, as you are probably paying the minimum 5 per cent each month, which would continuously increase your interests payable. You should approach your banks and ask them to set you up on an easy payment plan/restructuring option for all your credit cards with reduced interest or request they consider a waiver on the excess amount you claim to have paid. Furthermore, if as you state, you have paid three times over the usage of the card, you could request your bank to accept a settlement plan as well. You can also seek one of your banks to help you consolidate all your liabilities into one loan, whereby they provide you with funds to pay off all your credit cards/other loans and your arrangement is with one bank only. This consolidation would likely bring down your monthly cash outflows through reduced interest and possibly an extended tenure.

For all these options, you would need to show the availability of a regular income or funds or assets, based on which, banks could consider your requests. Assuming from your notes that you are on a freelance visa that makes you self-employed; in such cases banks would accept your statements for the past six months to calculate your average income and then discuss a long-term plan with you. You have not mentioned whether or not your spouse is employed. If she is, then her income can also be accepted by banks for debt consolidation, restructuring and payment plans. To help with your cash flows, if you have assets at home or in the UAE, you may also consider selling them, to ease your debt service problem.

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Read more:

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

The majority of your debt is on credit cards, which we're assuming is because you weren't able to qualify for a personal loan in the first place. With an outstanding credit card balance of nearly Dh100,000, making the minimum payments towards your credit cards just won't cut it. The exorbitant interest rates on credit cards in the UAE, averaging close to an annual percentage rate of 40 per cent, are only going to make repayment a long and expensive affair if you stick to making minimum payments.

You must either pay down an amount significantly higher than the minimum payments or find a way to stop the interest drain. To stop accruing this massive interest altogether, approach your credit card providers, explain that you are unable to keep up with your repayments and request them to restructure the outstanding balance into a fixed-tenure loan. You will then be required to make fixed payments towards this debt every month, just as you would pay off a loan.

Freelance work and sporadic income may not be enough to help you stay on track with your debt repayments. You mentioned you work as an auditor, so have you considered taking up a part-time job or maybe tutoring school or university students? A boost in income will go a long way in helping you get rid of your debts. Given your variable income at the moment, you also need to stick to a strict budget and save as much as you can during the months when you're able to secure work.

Moving your wife and daughter back to your home country can also help you cut your outgoings on school fees and other living expenses. You could also move into a cheaper accommodation and save on rent.

At this point, it is also important that you take stock of your existing savings and assets, and consider liquidating these if you want to close the final chapter on your credit cards. If this is not possible, approach close family members to help bail you out with an interest-free loan.

Regarding the issue of excess payment of Dh48,000 made into one of your credit cards, it would be best if you filed an official inquiry with the bank, before you resort to legal recourse.

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Read more:

The Debt Panel: Single mother of four is being hounded by debt collectors over Dh43,000

It is possible to restructure debt directly with UAE banks, a Sharjah resident reveals how

A nine-step guide to help you renegotiate bank debts in the UAE

How an Abu Dhabi resident took three UAE banks to court and cleared Dh700,000 debt

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Debt panellist 2: Steve Cronin, founder of DeadSimpleSaving.com, which helps residents invest their own money

I’m sorry to hear about your predicament - it illustrates the huge problem with credit cards and just paying the minimum balance. There is precedent for people successfully taking the banks to court and have their debt cancelled. One lady hired a court expert for Dh5,000 and the bank lost because it was ruled they were charging interest on interest.

You could go to the banks and say you will take them to court unless they agree to settle, given you have already paid the debt in full two or three times over. Try to talk to the most senior manager possible, even via LinkedIn – be firm but not aggressive. If that fails, you should take legal advice on your prospects for winning a case. Be warned though, it could take some time for your case to wind through the appeal system.

You also must try to get a full-time job as an auditor or similar position. This would help you to get a consolidation loan at a lower interest rate, and remove your need to pay for a visa. While searching, you should also try marketing your services harder, again via LinkedIn, UpWork or other online channels, as well as networking in the UAE.

Is there any way to track down the person who ran off with your money? They at least should not be allowed back in the UAE if you filed a case with the police.

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