The Debt Panel I want to re­turn to the UAE for work but I left without clear­ing my credit card

For­mer res­i­dent turns to our ex­perts for help in ne­go­ti­at­ing with her bank after Dh12,000 mush­rooms to Dh33,000

The National - News - - BUSINESS | MONEY - 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 [email protected]­ational.ae

In 2012 I moved to the UAE from Scot­land to work as cabin crew. When I first ar­rived, I signed up for a credit card be­cause my UK bank card had been cloned and can­celled, leav­ing me with no source of money un­til my first month’s salary dropped.

For two years I paid the credit card re­pay­ments on time. Then in 2014 I re­signed and there was still an out­stand­ing bal­ance of Dh12,000. My plan was for my fi­nal salary of Dh13,000 to pay this off. How­ever, the fi­nal pay­ment was held by the bank be­cause I hadn’t paid off my credit card. I found this con­fus­ing as it made more sense for the bank to take the fi­nal pay­ment to pay off the card. I emailed the bank but the com­mu­ni­ca­tion was chal­leng­ing, so I left it when I ex­ited the coun­try in April 2014.

In 2016, I tried to re­solve the is­sue again and man­aged to get in touch with some­one. By then the out­stand­ing bal­ance had mush­roomed to Dh33,000, which I agreed to pay. How­ever, I asked for proof that my fi­nal salary had been re­leased to pay the ma­jor­ity of the out­stand­ing bal­ance. I also wanted an in­voice to prove how much I owed along with de­tails on how to pay. For some rea­son the bank re­fused to pass on this in­for­ma­tion. The orig­i­nal lender has now merged with another bank.

To have peace of mind I was pay­ing the cor­rect amount, I think I was within my rights to ask for this. My emails were then ig­nored and I have been un­able to sort this out.

I am now plan­ning to re­turn to the UAE with my fi­ance early next year, as he has se­cured a busi­ness op­por­tu­nity there. I am 29 and work as a chil­dren’s en­ter­tainer in Scot­land and I can af­ford to pay the bank back. How­ever, it has never been made clear to me how I ac­tu­ally re­pay the money.

When I re­turn to the UAE I would love to work there again but I am wor­ried my out­stand­ing debt will pre­vent us from re-en­ter­ing. This is the only thing hold­ing us back from mak­ing the move. How do I re­solve this? AD, Scot­land

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

Un­paid debt is of­ten per­ceived as the big­gest risk by bor­row­ers plan­ning to come back to the UAE. And it’s a le­git­i­mate cause of worry. If the lender files a po­lice case against you, you stand the risk of be­ing ar­rested and de­tained if you travel to the UAE or even pass through the coun­try on a lay­over.

While you tried your best to reach out to the bank to come to a set­tle­ment, leav­ing the on­go­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion mid­way has ob­vi­ously made things worse for you. You can­not leave credit card debt un­paid for such a long pe­riod without rack­ing up a huge amount in in­ter­est dues and late pay­ment penal­ties. Legally, the bank is within its rights to treat you as an ab­scond­ing bor­rower and pur­sue the out­stand­ing debt through le­gal chan­nels.

Be­fore you re­turn to the UAE, try com­mu­ni­cat­ing with your bank once more. Now that the bank has merged with a new en­tity, the debt re­cov­ery poli­cies and com­mu­ni­ca­tion pro­to­col may have also evolved. You can write up a for­mal email ex­plain­ing your debt sit­u­a­tion in­clud­ing the rel­e­vant time­lines and how the pre­vi­ous com­mu­ni­ca­tion panned out.

You can also hire a lo­cal le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tive here who could check if there has been a po­lice case filed against you and whether it is safe for you to en­ter the UAE or not. In case le­gal pro­ceed­ings have been ini­ti­ated, they can get a copy of your credit re­port from Al Eti­had Credit Bureau and chase the lender to ac­cess your credit card records and pay­ment his­tory. Your le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tive can reach out to the card provider to find out how they ar­rived at this out­stand­ing debt fig­ure of Dh33,000. They can also help you ini­ti­ate ne­go­ti­a­tions to fig­ure out if a more rea­son­able set­tle­ment can be reached. It may take time to reach a set­tle­ment even if you en­list the services of a le­gal pro­fes­sional. Re­mem­ber to keep a record of all com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the lender and get any agree­ment you have reached in writ­ing from an au­tho­rised bank rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

Debt pan­el­list 2 Keren Bobker an in­de­pen­dent fi­nan­cial ad­viser with Hol­born As­sets

If a debt is not re­paid, in­ter­est will con­tinue to be charged and added to the ac­count and in some cases, ad­di­tional penal­ties will be ap­plied. I ap­pre­ci­ate it can be dif­fi­cult to get through to the right peo­ple at the bank when not in the coun­try, but this is not a valid ex­cuse from a le­gal per­spec­tive. In hind­sight, I am sure you wish you had been more per­sis­tent in re­quest­ing that the bal­ance in your ac­count be ap­plied to the credit card bal­ance be­fore leav­ing the UAE.

As there is still money ow­ing, you are right in seek­ing clar­i­fi­ca­tion, and the bank should pro­vide you with de­tails of what is owed and how it has ac­crued once it has ver­i­fied your iden­tity. A bank merger may make this more com­pli­cated but all fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions must keep records for a min­i­mum of five years, so there is lit­tle ex­cuse for them not to have your in­for­ma­tion.

You must res­ur­rect com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the bank to ar­range re­pay­ment of monies owed. This is par­tic­u­larly key if the bank has reg­is­tered a po­lice case against you, which is likely as re­pay­ments are out­stand­ing for an ex­tended pe­riod, so you will not be able to re-en­ter the UAE as you would be de­tained at im­mi­gra­tion.

I sug­gest email­ing or call­ing your last points of con­tact, whether this is the bank or a debt col­lec­tion agency, and mak­ing it clear that you are in a po­si­tion to re­pay the debt. Once this is done, get writ­ten con­fir­ma­tion from the bank that the debt has been re­paid in full and that there is no out­stand­ing case against you.

Debt pan­el­list 3 Steve Cronin founder of Dead­Sim­pleSav­ing.com

What a frus­trat­ing sit­u­a­tion. As you have ef­fec­tively cov­ered the orig­i­nal debt right from the start, you can af­ford to be more ag­gres­sive about this. On prin­ci­ple, I see no rea­son why you should pay the ad­di­tional in­ter­est and penal­ties, es­pe­cially if you com­mu­ni­cated to the bank clearly that your fi­nal salary should be used to pay off the card.

I sus­pect this could have been re­solved if you found some­one more se­nior to deal with at the bank, rather than in­ter­act­ing by phone or email. Some­one at branch man­ager level or depart­ment head level would have both the ex­pe­ri­ence and the author­ity to fix the prob­lem. More ju­nior staff are of­ten highly re­stricted in what they can do and may not have the de­sire or ini­tia­tive to push for an ex­cep­tion to pro­to­col.

Once you have spo­ken to the right per­son and re­solved this, you need to build up a cash buf­fer in ad­vance of mov­ing back to the UAE, which will pro­tect you from a lot of cash flow stress.

Mov­ing coun­try is ex­pen­sive and peo­ple don’t of­ten re­alise how costly it is to set up your life here in the first month, all while you don’t even have a bank ac­count. You ex­pe­ri­enced this your­self when you first ar­rived in 2012.

Bud­get for all the likely ex­penses for at least six weeks: tem­po­rary ac­com­mo­da­tion, rent, trans­port, food and so on. This cash buf­fer should ul­ti­mately be three to six months’ of to­tal liv­ing ex­penses. Your buf­fer can then cover you if one of you loses your job.

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