The Debt Panel: 'How many payments can I miss before a police case is filed?'

A Dubai resident has been been financially helping family back home and did not have enough money to pay credit card bills

My family back home has needed extra financial help from me for the past couple of months. This has meant I have missed two monthly credit card payments.

It is the first time I have missed making a payment on the card and I am worried the bank will file a police case against me. However, I don’t know how many payments you have to miss before this happens. So far, I have only received payment reminders.

Currently, I owe Dh10,000 on the card and was paying the minimum monthly amount on it. Already, I am noticing the amount I owe has risen very quickly because of the interest and penalty fees and it is now nearing its limit.

I am hoping to get back on track with my finances very soon but I am also worried about the effect it will have on my credit rating. How can I access my credit rating? If it is affected, how can I fix it?

Should I contact the bank to explain why I’ve missed the past two payments? Is it possible to request a payment holiday under the Targeted Economic Support Scheme, even though I haven’t lost my job? CG, Dubai

Debt panellist 1: Steve Cronin, founder of DeadSimpleSaving.com

While it is important to support your family when they have surprise expenses, you will not be able to support them at all if your card debt gets out of control.

Ideally, you should build up a cash buffer of six months’ total expenses so that when something unexpected happens, you have some available cash to deal with it. That might be losing your job, for example, or your family back home having large medical bills.

Missing payments on a credit card is doubly bad because you get hit with interest on the amount you haven’t paid off and late fees, which can be large. As you have seen, your card debt then starts to spiral upwards rapidly and it’s hard to get on top of it. Your sole focus now must be on paying down your card debt.

Your minimum payment is not usually that large as a percentage of your outstanding card balance and it is all you need to keep the bank happy. Your balance will continue to rise as you are charged interest but you will not get late fees, your bank will not hassle you on the phone and you will not be prosecuted.

Quote
Your current salary, employment status and the fact that you have been paying all your dues regularly until recently will positively impact your application for a debt consolidation
R Sivaram, executive vice president and head of retail banking products at Emirates NBD

If you miss three or more payments, then the situation becomes serious because your first payment is outstanding by more than 90 days. This is a “default”, which is a civil offence. It will be added to your credit score and credit report, and stay there for at least five years.

This will make it less likely that other banks will lend to you at reasonable interest rates in future. Even one missed payment will be noted and affect your score.

You can check your credit report and score on the Al Etihad Credit Bureau app. It costs Dh105. The only way to improve your score is by paying on time consistently from now on and trying not to get too close to your card limit.

You should contact your bank, although don’t expect them to be too sympathetic. I think it is unlikely they will give you a payment holiday under Tess without a pay cut, but you can always try.

Note that you have run into financial problems without even getting a pay cut. Do everything you can to make the next minimum payment, pay off the debt and then build up a cash buffer so that unexpected costs do not derail your entire financial life again.

Debt panellist 2: R Sivaram, executive vice president and head of retail banking products at Emirates NBD

I am glad you are being conscientious of your finances and taking timely action to manage your outstanding debt.

As a first step, I would suggest you contact your bank and get the details of the outstanding amount on your credit card. Explain your current situation and your intention to clear the debt in full. Having a job definitely works in your favour.

You could also explore debt restructuring as an option to reduce your monthly payments. This is a financial solution offered by most UAE banks and would be well-suited to your situation.

To avail this service, the bank may require you to transfer your salary to them and close your existing credit card once you have settled the dues. This is for your benefit and will help you control your monthly expenditure.

Your current salary, employment status and the fact that you have been paying all your dues regularly until recently will positively impact your application for a debt consolidation.

You are addressing your financial situation in a timely manner and will, hopefully, be financially stable again soon.

Debt panellist 3: Carol Glynn, founder of Conscious Finance Coaching

While it is very noble to help your family, it has unfortunately put you in a difficult financial situation in the UAE.

As you have seen, not paying your credit card bill in full each month is an expensive way to manage your finances. This is effectively borrowing money at a very expensive interest rate. The fines and interest charged each month are added to your outstanding balance.

If you do not pay the amount in full, then you pay interest on the interest and penalties. This is why the amount you owe is rising quickly.

The bank will not raise a police case against you for missing just two payments. Also, failing to make repayments on debt under Dh200,000 is no longer a criminal offence. Instead, it is now subject to financial penalties.

If you have stable employment, you could investigate transferring the balance to another credit card provider. Some offer an introductory rate of 0 per cent interest for a period of time.

I would urge you to ensure you clear the debt within the introductory period to fully take advantage of this opportunity to resolve your financial issue. I would also recommend investigating this urgently before your credit score is further negatively affected.

Do you have any assets you can sell to pay your debt? If you have to continue supporting your family, you might consider a personal loan to clear your debt.

This can be advantageous as the interest charged will be much lower compared with what you are currently paying. If you take this route, I would advise you to cancel your credit card to avoid raising this type of debt again.

You are right to think about your credit rating. To rectify this, you need to start paying your debts either on time, early or in full. It also helps to reduce your credit limit or any other debt available to you such as bank overdrafts and other credit cards.

You can obtain your credit report and score from the Al Etihad Credit Bureau. You can buy just your score without the report for Dh31.50. The process is quick and easy.

Unfortunately, you don't qualify for Tess, which was introduced by the Central Bank of the UAE to help people whose employment and/or salaries have been affected by Covid-19.

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: September 8th 2021, 5:00 AM
EDITOR'S PICKS
NEWSLETTERS