The Debt Panel: 'I was jailed for bounced cheques after Covid-19 ruined my businesses'

The Dubai resident has cleared most of his legal cases but is still Dh300,000 in debt

I owned profitable textile trading and supply chain companies in Dubai. However, the Covid-19 pandemic and supply chain bottlenecks dealt a big blow to my businesses and many cheques I issued to my vendors bounced.

To compound my problems, my business partner embezzled money from the company account and I was in jail for a few months last year over a bounced cheque case. This resulted in a lot of mental trauma for me and my family. I shut down both companies after I was released from jail.

I cleared most of my legal cases in the UAE by disposing of assets in my home country and using my life savings, but one case is still pending. I also have a lookout notice against my name. I do not intend to leave the UAE without paying my dues of Dh300,000. However, I need some time to raise the money and do not wish to be jailed again. I am 65 years old and cannot undergo this mental trauma any more.

My friends advised me to try trading to raise some quick money. However, I ended up losing about Dh50,000 because I am a novice investor and markets are so hard to predict. I am no longer trading.

I have some more savings to sustain my lifestyle here. We put up a semblance of normality so our relatives and friends are not aware of our financial problems. Can you suggest a way out of this financial mess? KC, Dubai

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

Spending your retirement savings to keep up appearances with friends and family while you have a large debt and lookout notice hanging over you will not help you out of this situation. Your double life would be a huge source of stress as you have to pretend everything is OK when it is not.

You have robbed yourself of your support network by pretending all is well. What are friends and family for, if not for support during difficult times? Being honest with trusted friends could be a source of relief for you and may bring employment opportunities or other financial support. It is not your fault that there was a pandemic or that your partner was crooked.

You must focus your efforts on raising the Dh300,000 as soon as possible, so that you have cleared your debt. This may mean drastically reducing your expenses, dipping into your savings now, obtaining a loan from a friend or family member or selling more assets. This may leave you with little savings and your lifestyle may suffer.

Quote
You should establish a prudent financial management plan to ensure that you save better, spend frugally and invest wisely
Philip King, head of retail banking at Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank

However, after the debt burden and threat of jail is lifted from your shoulders, you may find yourself reinvigorated to replenish your finances and provide for your future. Now that the economy is stronger, you may even venture back into textiles or supply chains.

Are you able to find any kind of formal or informal work now, using your knowledge from your companies to provide consulting services? Shake your network and seek out opportunities as your short- and long-term future really does depend on it.

As you discovered, trading is a terrible idea. It takes up a lot of time, is stressful and almost no traders make money over the long term. A global index fund may make you good money over the years but it is not the solution you need. Investing with a time horizon of a few months is basically gambling and you are risking money you cannot afford to lose.

At 65, you do not deserve this stress. Focus on finding your way out of debt and then replenishing your savings – but hold your head high as someone who has been through a difficult time and is doing their very best to resolve it.

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

This is a difficult situation to find yourself in and I cannot help but empathise with you. Dealing with the pandemic is already difficult but you have had to overcome many obstacles and I commend you for your resilience and strength.

I recommend you first contact your bank to reach a middle ground on your current debt. You can explain your situation and confirm that you are willing to pay off the debt but would require some time to do so.

It is best to come to an agreement in writing for a better payment plan with lower interest and within a reasonable period of time. In the meantime, ensure you continue to make the minimum payments in an attempt to have the bank reconsider your current pending case.

It is also important to note that you have to be careful going forward with the remainder of your savings. You should establish a prudent financial management plan to ensure that you save better, spend frugally and invest wisely.

Consider searching for other sources of income that could be either in the form of a freelance, part-time or full-time job. You should also review your expenses and eliminate any expenditure that is not necessary.

Conducting due diligence is imperative before deciding on potential investments. You might want to explore investment opportunities that provide sustainable growth and have a low-risk level.

Finally, I advise you to reach out to friends and relatives to tell them of your situation. You should not be going through this alone and your loved ones could potentially help you out of your current predicament. It is vital to consult others, especially those who are near and dear, as they could aid you financially or try to come up with other solutions that will alleviate your financial burden.

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

What an extremely stressful few years you have had. Well done for not only pulling through it but also acknowledging the mental trauma it has caused both you and your family.

I am glad to hear you have quit trading. There is a common misconception that it is easy to earn large amounts of money trading online but, in reality, it is extremely difficult and very few people are successful. It was an expensive and probably stressful lesson to learn.

I would suggest focusing on your skills and experience to find employment. You have run successful businesses in the past and have a lot of life experience. Could you run training programmes and workshops for entrepreneurs, teaching them what you have learnt? Use your experience to help others in a way that also allows you to earn an income.

Are there areas where you can reduce your cost of living while you are working on resolving your financial issues? These could include finding cheaper accommodation or cutting back on entertainment and eating out.

Look at your monthly expenditure and try to find ways you can put more money towards your debt. Do this every month as you will also learn more about your money habits and responsibilities.

Do you have family members who can help you financially until you have established an income? It can be quite difficult to speak to family and admit financial issues. We often feel shame, guilt and vulnerability when admitting we need help financially. But I find most people are understanding and happy to help and relieved you asked.

This could be a way to remove the pressure of having a defaulted debt, both financially and emotionally. If you can agree on an interest-free or low-interest loan, it will be much better financially for you and your family.

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: October 20th 2021, 5:00 AM
EDITOR'S PICKS
NEWSLETTERS