The Debt Panel: 'How can I get my travel ban lifted?'

The Abu Dhabi resident is seeking advice after a bank filed a civil case against him for failing to pay his credit card dues

Debt panel. Illustration by Mathew Kurian
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I owe a total of Dh250,000 on four credit cards with four different banks in the UAE, which I have used to pay for medical treatment for my sister, who had cancer before dying, and for my father’s knee surgery.

Every month, I would take money from the cards to pay the instalments I owed on them, but the debt became too much on my small salary.

One of the banks has filed a civil case against me. I spent three days in jail and now have a travel ban against my name.

I owe this bank Dh155,700. I am making monthly payments towards the debt of about Dh2,000, which includes the court and Anjat fees.

So far, I have paid a total of Dh37,000 towards the debt, but the added interest amounts to Dh36,000.

For the past three years, I have been requesting the bank to give me an instalment plan of at least four years.

However, it will only offer a plan of six months after paying Dh70,000. My financial situation is such that it is not possible for me to follow their advice and I cannot afford the lawyer's fees to fight the case.

My monthly salary is Dh6,880, which includes my accommodation and food.

Every month, I send Dh2,000 to my family at home, where I am responsible for 13 people.

Due to my financial situation, I am under a lot of stress. My health is not good and I have high blood pressure, a heart problem and severe pain in both legs.

I am 46 years old and a father of three children. It has been four years since I have been home to see my family.

I will be very grateful if the bank gave me an instalment plan of Dh2,000 and allowed me to travel to my country for a month on the guarantee of a colleague.

Can you advise me on how I can do this, please? AK, Abu Dhabi

Debt panellist 1: Jaya Ratnani, managing partner at Freed Financial Services

When almost every second person is debt-laden, it is hard to avoid falling into a debt trap. The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the situation for many people. The fear is when you resort to further borrowings to pay old debt, which only worsens your condition.

We empathise with your circumstances and, truly, it is one of the most difficult situations. It is not easy when you are facing physical, emotional and financial hardship at the same time.

The actions taken by the banks in your case have been carried out in a routine manner. You will require assistance to escalate this matter to the highest level in the management and explain your situation appropriately.

Firstly, you will need to prepare a cover letter of your personal and financial situation. This will need to be supported by all the relevant documents such as salary certificate, payslips, medical reports and proof of all other liabilities.

The letter should include a request to convert the credit card debt into a loan at the lowest interest rate.

Once the bank agrees to a restructuring plan, it may ask for a guarantor and proof of their income will need to be submitted.

Some banks may cancel the travel ban if an agreement has been approved, or they may wait for three to six months of satisfactory repayments of the reduced instalments.

For cases in which a bank has filed a legal case, you can represent yourself and request the payment plan through the court.

For some credit card cases, the judge may appoint an expert to calculate the total interest payment made by you since inception.

Sometimes, if the interest payments made by you are more than the court's approved interest rate, the excess payment made by you can be considered and adjusted in the amount you owe to the bank.

You may request the court to convert the balance payable in an instalment plan based on your ability to pay.

But doing so, you will once again need to provide the cover letter supported by all the documents as mentioned above.

I wish you all the best and hope you can find your journey to a debt-free life soon.

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

Medical expenses that arise unexpectedly can be a cause of anxiety for everyone.

It is important to consider including provisions such as health and term insurance, as well as emergency funds for such contingencies, to ensure that you are well-prepared for any unforeseen circumstances.

In your current situation, clearing your debt will be challenging. However, it is possible if you take a disciplined and strategic approach.

The first step would be to create a budget, make a list of all your expenses and prioritise them according to importance.

Cut down on any unnecessary expenses and redirect the money towards paying down your debt.

In parallel, explore the option of increasing your income. Consider accepting support from your family or borrowing against collateral to pay off a portion of your debt and get a break on interest payouts.

When incurring unplanned debts that are difficult to service, it is very important to tell your bank and constantly communicate your financial situation, so it may work with you on a long-term solution.

I would recommend that you reach out to a senior official at your bank and share full details of your financial position.

It is important to communicate with your bank if you are struggling to keep up with credit card payments. Reuters

Ask for a revised payment plan over a longer term that will help you to continue paying off the outstanding due with lower monthly instalments.

Also, given the current level of debt you have, you could also ask for a temporary payment holiday, followed by a clear schedule of payments that you would be able to honour.

Regarding travelling to your home country, you need to make a plea based on humanitarian grounds and also check what the bank’s position is on the guarantee that your colleague has offered.

However, if a bank is unable to accommodate your payment request plan, you should consider liquidating some assets to pay off a portion of the outstanding amount and then attempt to restructure the debt.

Remember, paying down debt takes time and effort. It is important to stay committed and make consistent progress towards regaining your financial stability.

Debt panellist 3: Alison Soltani, founder of Leap Savvy Savers

Firstly, I am sorry you are facing this challenging and extremely stressful situation and hope that you will have the chance to go home and visit your family and children in the near future.

The most important issue here is your health.

You must take care of your health to be able to continue supporting yourself and your family.

Ensure you visit a doctor and have all the required medication to improve your physical condition.

Quote
You must take care of your health in order to be able to continue supporting yourself and your family
Alison Soltani, founder of Leap Savvy Savers

You will be entitled to paid sick leave from your job. Check with your HR department, but usually 30 days' paid sick leave a year is provided with a medical certificate. Take the time you need to recuperate.

It is important for you to have the chance to visit with your family to reset and refocus on this issue.

Check the details and conditions of your travel ban on the Dubai Police app. Then, you can apply for your travel ban to be lifted through the Ministry of Justice website.

Simultaneously, approach the bank again and ask to speak to their relationship manager.

Explain your situation, take all documents pertaining to your debts, accounts and court case, and request that they either lower the interest rate, forgive the interest or restructure the loan. Ask them for their response in writing.

If they refuse, you can register a complaint with the UAE Central Bank on its website or by calling 800 22 823.

Provide details of your attempts to settle with the bank and your willingness to pay the debt, but explain your inability to meet the demands of the bank.

A representative from the Central Bank will contact you and carry out an investigation into your case.

Also, there are ways you can apply for financial aid in the UAE. You can apply online for Zakat by filling in a form on its website.

You can also apply for financial assistance to Dar al Ber, Beit Al Khair or Sharjah Charity International.

Finally, there are free legal services available in the UAE, including Shoor and ADJD. It is worth applying, as even one consultation with a lawyer may provide a clear pathway or next steps.

You will have to provide documents and evidence for your situation and, although not ideal, some financial assistance may help you pull through the short-term challenges.

If you haven’t already, talk to your family at home and explain your situation.

They may not be aware of your health issues and someone else may be able to help shoulder the financial burden temporarily while you focus on paying your debt here.

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: March 09, 2023, 5:00 AM
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