The Debt Panel: ‘I am Dh100,000 in debt and the bank has filed a case against me’

The Sharjah resident hoped his wife could help with daily expenses but she has also lost her job

I work as a personal trainer in a hotel and took out loans worth Dh100,000 from two banks in 2019 to pay off financial obligations I have had since 2009 and to pay rent for an apartment. I also used it to pay for a visit visa and flight ticket for my wife to come to the UAE from the Philippines.

I wanted her to find a job to supplement my income and help me repay the loan. Unfortunately, she was employed for only two months and was then laid off from her role as a receptionist.

The banks continue to deduct loan payments every month but I will soon run out of funds because my monthly salary of Dh8,000 is not enough to repay our debts.

I also need to pay for utility, telephone and hospital bills after my wife gave birth to a baby girl this month.

I have exhausted my finances. Our apartment lease is also up for renewal next month and the hospital bill remains unpaid. I have stopped paying back the loans and one bank has already filed a case against me.

Please help me find a solution to my situation. My concern is about my wife and baby girl as I want to give them a beautiful life. GP, Sharjah

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

There are many personal trainers who live a twilight life of working early mornings and late nights, earning hardly anything and struggling to survive. It’s natural for you to want the best for your wife and child – for this, you need to think both short term and long term.

In the short term, you need to plan your cash flow carefully for the next few months. It seems that you don’t have enough money for the rent, let alone to pay your loans back. Track the dates of your expected major inflows and outflows, then estimate what your bank balance will be on each day.

If it turns negative, then at least you have some time in advance to plan how to get some money or prioritise payments.

A bank case is serious, even if it is a civil offence. You must talk to your banks and see if you can come up with a plan for payment. You may be able to get a consolidation loan and possibly add the hospital bill to it as well. This would run over a longer time frame, but your monthly payments will be lower and more manageable.

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With the right plan and course of action, you should be able to improve your financial circumstances by managing your debt, limiting your expenditure and increasing your income
Philip King, head of retail banking at Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank

Don’t expect the banks to be particularly helpful or sympathetic as they are dealing with thousands of people like you. The good news is that you have a regular salary, so push them to come to an agreement or talk to another bank willing to consolidate your debts.

You need to rapidly boost your income and reduce your expenses. Keep an eye out for other personal trainer jobs that pay more, especially if you have a specific skill. Take on clients on your days off, even if it is friends and members of your community. Your sole focus is to get out of debt now.

You may need to send your wife and child back home temporarily, even if this is painful. If they can live with family, that should reduce expenses and then you can greatly reduce your rent and living costs in the UAE.

This is where you have to think long term. You need to be able to earn more money, even if that means taking courses to improve your skills, building a portfolio of clients, changing your employer or even country, or starting a new career.

Your mission is to get out of debt and you must be focused, creative and disciplined.

Debt panellist 2: Philip King, head of retail banking at Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank

This is an unfortunately stressful situation to find yourself in and I empathise with you deeply. When family is involved, being in such a position must be disheartening. However, it is important not to get discouraged by your predicament and to focus on the steps you can take to turn your situation around.

There are several factors that can be taken into consideration and with the right plan and course of action, you should be able to improve your financial circumstances by managing your debt, limiting your expenditure and increasing your income.

As a first step, I highly recommend that you communicate your situation to your bank as it is vital that they know of your willingness and commitment to pay off your debt.

This could start a negotiation with the bank to put on hold the legal case that has been raised by them. In addition to that, depending on your debt burden ratio, which should ideally be less than 50 per cent of your salary, you could request for the consolidation or restructuring of your debts into a single loan. With preferably lower rates and a longer tenure, you would be able to reduce your monthly payments.

The second step should be to monitor and review your current spending patterns to pinpoint any unnecessary expenditure. By doing so, you could start mapping out a comprehensive budgeting plan to limit and cut back on any unnecessary daily expenses. This should help you to maximise your savings and reduce your costs.

Finally, it is vital that you look for ways to improve your situation by boosting your financial resources. This involves looking for new job opportunities to secure a better income, which would help you address your current debt obligations.

If you are not entirely successful in your search for a lucrative, full-time job, it would be wise to consider freelance work on the side to help you further manage your situation or liquidate your assets to cover your debts.

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

Congratulations on the birth of your baby girl. I’m sorry to hear you are under such financial stress, especially during what should be a joyous and special time for your family.

As you have seen, your debt-to-income ratio is very difficult to manage. The best way forward would be to find ways to increase your income.

Can you earn additional income outside of your main employment? If your contract allows, it may be possible to freelance by offering personal training to subsidise your income. Do you have any other skills that you can use to generate income? There are a number of in-demand freelance skills that employers look for, including website design, graphic design and copywriting.

You should also look at reducing your costs. Apartment rental rates have decreased in recent years and you could look for cheaper accommodation elsewhere. Alternatively, if you have a spare room in your apartment, you could consider renting it out and using the income towards your debt.

Have you spoken to the hospital’s management team about assistance or payment plans? There are also charitable organisations that help individuals who find themselves unable to pay hospital bills in the UAE. It would be worth reaching out to them to discuss any options they may have.

It is also worth discussing your financial situation with your bank. It may be possible to restructure your loans, enabling you to reduce your monthly payments to a more manageable amount.

It may cost more in the long run, but as you are unable to meet your payments now, the interest and penalties will already be adding to your debt burden.

While I always wish for families to stay together, it would be worth considering your family returning to the Philippines until you have resolved your debt problem. The cost of living will be lower for them and they will, hopefully, have family around to support them.

You could then plan for their return when you have your debts under control. This is likely to help you to reduce your living costs, providing more income to pay off your debts quicker.

Updated: October 6th 2021, 5:00 AM
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