The Debt Panel: 'Should I ask my wife to pay off my credit card?'

The Dubai resident is dealing with collection agents after keeping his spending problem and debt a secret from his spouse

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I earn less money than my wife — she earns Dh15,000 ($4,084) a month while my salary is Dh11,000.

We are also at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to finances. I believe in living life for the day and not saving for tomorrow, while my wife is a disciplined saver who rarely spends her money.

We do not have a joint bank account, even to pay bills, because I am afraid I will be held accountable for my expenditure.

However, I am responsible for paying 40 per cent of the expenses incurred by our family every month.

I have racked up credit card debt worth Dh55,000 because of my spending habits. My wife is unaware of this but has plenty of savings in her emergency fund and stocks.

At the end of each month, I am left with nothing in my account and live from one salary to the next. Now, debt collection agents are hounding me and I am afraid I will be forced to share the truth about my debt with my wife.

We already fight over my spending habits and I do not want money to spoil our relationship further.

At this time, I feel I am left with no choice but to ask her for financial help because I have no savings or assets that can be liquidated to pay off my debts. How can I tackle this situation? RS, Dubai

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

It usually takes some kind of disaster to realise that you have to change your ways. You have been disrespecting your wife, cheating on her financially and ignoring her distress at your spending habits.

Now, you have been cornered by debt and have a chance to change. This could be a turning point in your life and a blessing in disguise. It is time to start taking responsibility for your actions.

Your wife may bail you out this time but if she imagines her hard-earned life savings are being wasted as she pays off your debts every year, it could cause serious issues in your marriage.

You are right to be worried. Marriage should be about sharing the truth, no matter how painful, being transparent and working things out together. Unfortunately, money is one of the main causes of marital arguments.

Too many spouses manage their finances separately with no idea how the other is saving and investing. There are two people on your finance committee and you both need to see the numbers, plan ahead and make decisions — together.

You cannot resolve your situation by yourself, so you need to talk to your wife. But you must go to her with a proposed solution, not only the problem.

She will be upset but she will also see that you are determined to change and that you have a plan. There is no point in pretending that you will change as she will detect this very quickly.

Here is an outline of a plan:

Step 1: look deep within yourself. What is driving your spending? Are you unhappy? Were you spoilt as a child or deprived? What were your parents' attitudes towards money? What triggers you to spend money? Write it all down on paper, everything that is most painful and honest. You don’t have to show it to anyone — this is for you. Open up to a friend or, if you can afford it, a counsellor, as it can help you to process your behaviour and what is driving it.

Step 2: map out your current finances — assets, liabilities, income, expenses and cash flow. What have you been buying? Go through six months of card statements and categorise everything. On what dates are your outgoings versus your incomings?

Step 3: talk to your bank. With a salary of Dh11,000, you should qualify for a consolidation loan from your bank or another. Call them or visit the branch and bring all your numbers. The loan should reduce the interest rate on your debt and keep the agents from your door — avoid the offer to borrow extra money on top.

Step 4: create a financial plan. Do you have any personal assets that you can sell? Can you borrow money from a friend or relative? Do you have any cash at all to pay off any debt or help with family expenses? Can you find another job, work overtime or explore some side hustles? If you did borrow money from your wife, exactly how much would you need, what would you put it towards and how would you repay her?

Step 5: create a personal plan. How are you going to control your spending? What steps will you take to change, grow and take more responsibility? Where will you learn about managing addiction, communication in marriage and being a financially responsible person? How should you and your wife manage your finances?

Step 6: present your plan to your wife. You need to do steps one to five within a week as you don’t have much time. You will you need to tell her what the problem is and hear her opinion on your solution. Don’t expect the first part of the conversation to be easy, but a detailed plan will go a long way to showing her how much you have already changed for the better.

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

It is very important for you to take stock not only of your current financial situation, but also the kind of choices you are making regarding your lifestyle.

You should also seek to understand how to use a financial product responsibly as it can lead to unwanted repercussions.

A credit card is a financial tool that can help you to manage your daily payments and transactions conveniently, have access to short-term credit, avail attractive shopping deals and discount programmes, as well as earn rewards based on your spending.

However, if your credit card spending is excessive, monthly payments and accumulated interest can also increase and lead to potential financial problems.

While paying only the minimum amount required every month is a common and incorrect habit adopted by many cardholders, bear in mind that this can also result in the debt continuing to grow due to compounding interest charges, leading to larger regular payments needed and the threat of falling into a debt spiral.

Hiding your spending habits and financials from your spouse is not a good idea. It is only a matter of time before you will find yourself in deep trouble and unable to hide this from your wife.

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It is important to work on a budgeting plan and set aside a monthly limit on your discretionary spending outside of basic essentials
R Sivaram, executive vice president and head of retail banking products at Emirates NBD

I suggest you stop the high-interest credit card debt immediately and discuss your spending habits with your wife. Given what you have said, it seems your spouse may be better equipped to manage your joint savings and finances and could help.

The other immediate action you can take is to speak to your bank and share full details of your financial position.

Based on your proactive approach, your bank will probably be open to reviewing the situation and possibly consolidate your outstanding debt into a personal loan with a lower interest rate and a longer payment term.

The bank may also want you to surrender your credit cards to prevent you from incurring further debt while you pay off the loan. If you have credit cards with another bank, then you should also stop using these during this time.

It is important to work on a budgeting plan and set aside a monthly limit on your discretionary spending outside of basic essentials such as groceries, utilities, school fees and others, especially given you are responsible for a portion of your household expenses.

Try to foster a habit of putting a percentage of your earnings aside as savings to help you on a “rainy day”.

As the saying goes, pay yourself first before taking care of your monthly expenses. It may not be easy to change your financial habits overnight and it may be helpful to have your spouse or a friend who can help you work through this situation in the coming months.

It is commendable that you are reaching out for assistance with your situation to put in place changes before it is too late. I wish you all the best in arriving at a positive solution with your bank, as well as making the required changes with your budgeting and spending.

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

Complete honesty is always the best way forward to maintain trust. Speak to your wife about your situation. Be truthful and give her the full facts.

Also be prepared to have a solution to the problem as this will most likely reduce your wife's stress about what to do and how it will affect her financial situation.

I would recommend applying for a personal loan from your bank. Use the money from the loan to pay off your credit card. Then immediately cancel the card so you do not risk raising debt again.

This is a more favourable solution than asking your wife to pay your debts. It shows you are taking responsibility for your behaviour and will reduce the risk of resentment she may feel towards the financial situation your behaviour has caused for your family.

It is crucial for you to reassess your view of money and improve your spending habits. It is possible to live for now while also saving for your future or emergencies.

Cut back on unnecessary spending and start saving. Focus your energy on reducing your debt so you can feel the financial freedom you enjoy as soon as possible.

Start saving towards an emergency fund to protect you from any financial emergencies in the future. Is it possible to find employment with a higher salary? This would help you pay your debt off faster.

Let this be a lesson and an opportunity to take a relook at your approach to money.

Are your current actions really living for the moment? It seems to be negatively affecting you, your stress levels and, no doubt, your ability to enjoy life.

It is also negatively affecting your wife and your relationship. It is a great opportunity to make some positive changes. Speak to your wife about how she manages her money — maybe you can learn from her.

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: June 29, 2022, 5:00 AM
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