The Debt Panel: ‘My Dh17 credit card balance has spiralled out of control. What do I do?

The Debt Panel: 'My Dh17 credit card balance has spiralled out of control. What do I do?

I signed up for a credit card in May 2017, which I barely used. Then my company closed, so I lost my job as a sales and marketing executive and returned home to India in August that year. During the sales process for the card, the agent told me there were no hidden charges and that the interest is only 3 per cent on outstanding balances.

When I left, I owed about Dh17 to Dh20 on the card for a music purchase and I was pretty relaxed because I thought the interest on that amount would not be much — maybe about Dh1 per month — which I could pay back when I returned to the UAE.

Then Dh100 started getting added as a monthly fine, which I assume is still continuing today. I asked the lender to let me settle the Dh17 amount but that was not an option. So now I’m in trouble and I fear I won’t be able to return to the Emirates to get a job.

I don’t know how much I now owe on the card because I am too scared to find out. I assume it is a big amount, though I cannot check because I forgot my online password and the card no longer works.

I have received multiple emails from the lender saying they might open a criminal case against me. Also, as part of the sign-up procedure, I submitted a blank cheque, which would bounce if the lender used it to clear the balance. I assume this would lead to another police case and more trouble.

I am 29 and have a job in India in the commercial and packing printing industry earning 23,000 rupees, which is about Dh1,178 a month. I don’t have any other debts but this one will have multiplied because of the Dh100 monthly charge for not paying the outstanding balance. Will there be criminal cases against me and how do I get out of this trouble? AA, India

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

I am glad that you are taking steps to manage the situation and clear your debt even though you are no longer based in the UAE. As a good practice, one should always settle all bank debts, however small, and close all lines of credit before relocating from the country to avoid any untoward fees and charges that can add up over the years. I advise getting in touch with your bank at the earliest to explain your position and request details of the original principal outstanding and the subsequent interest and fees charged.

Given that the original outstanding amount was low and that you have no other liabilities, the bank may choose to take a lenient view.

R Sivaram, Emirates NBD

Once you have that information, discuss the matter with the bank’s team responsible for your case. Given that the original outstanding amount was low and that you have no other liabilities, the bank may choose to take a lenient view and support you in settling the issue with minimal charges and without the need for any legal recourse. Once the matter has been settled, ask for a clearance letter from the bank to confirm all your debts are settled and that you have no other obligations.

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

You are partially correct in assuming the bank would charge Dh1 in interest every month. But that’s only at the beginning of your debt default. This interest would slowly creep up because of the compounding effect of monthly interest charges.

On top of that, you may be charged a penalty interest on the overdue amount, which may be higher than the 3 per cent monthly interest rate you were promised. The bank may only reinstate your original finance charges once the overdue sum is settled.

There’s also another charge that not many UAE cardholders are aware of — the bank may levy a “collection fee” to recover the amount it has spent to appoint a debt collection agency to follow up on your payments. Add to that the late payment charges being levied every month, you’re looking at overdue debt that’s now much higher than your original outstanding balance.

Now that you’ve unsuccessfully tried to negotiate with the lender yourself, it may be time to get some hands-on external help in the UAE. Appointing a legal representative here may be the logical option. This legal expert can get access to your credit report from the Al Etihad Credit Bureau (AECB) and find out exactly how much you owe on your credit card. Further, they can negotiate with the lender on your behalf and arrive at a settlement with lower penalties for you. They can also check if a police case or travel ban has been filed against you.

However, if you’re worried about paying the expensive legal fees, there may be another option too. You could consider signing over a Power of Attorney to a trusted relative or friend who is willing to follow up with the lender and AECB on your behalf. If they’re not able to help on their own, they can approach a certified debt counselling agency in the UAE to handle your outstanding debt.

Lastly, it is important to…

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