I am a nurse working in Abu Dhabi. I have a credit card with an outstanding balance of Dh12,000 and am having trouble paying it off because of an unforeseen reduction in my salary after my employer was affected by the recent changes to health insurance coverage for home care services. Now I am only earning Dh5,000 per month and I have my four-year-old daughter and my unemployed husband with me. Our room rent is Dh3,000 and the Dh2,000 left over is for our everyday expenses. My contract will end in February next year and we have decided to go home to the Philippines for a while and come back after a year if the crisis has ended. My question is: will I be stopped from leaving at the airport because of the outstanding balance? I am still paying the minimum amount that I should be every month and I try to overpay when I can, but I am not sure if I can pay the whole amount before February. I am afraid I will still have Dh6,000 to Dh8,000 debt when I want to leave. What should I do? KC, Abu Dhabi
Debt panellist 1: Keren Bobker, The National's On Your Side columnist and an independent financial adviser
There are a few issues here. I presume KC agreed to the reduction in salary, as employers are not permitted to just reduce a salary, or change any contract terms, without the employee’s agreement. If she did not agree then the employee is in breach of the law and she can register a case against them with the Ministry of Labour. As that is a significant reduction in income I am not surprised there is now an issue.
Provided the minimum payments are maintained, the bank will not have an issue. But the potential problem is when KC leaves her job. Employers are supposed to notify the bank when a salary payment is the final payment. Then the bank will freeze the account and she will not have further access to her money. It will not be unfrozen until the outstanding debt is repaid and any monies in the account, including the final salary payment plus any end of service gratuity that is due, will be used to offset the debt. The amount that will be left outstanding will be relatively low and I would be very surprised if the bank took further action straight away or tried to stop her from leaving the country.
Once out of the country it is important that KC keeps making payments so as to avoid a police case being registered against her for debt which could prevent her from returning to the UAE, or worse, being arrested on entry.
Also, bear in mind that any bank accounts that are not closed on leaving the country – and it would be difficult to close an account linked to the credit card without alerting the bank of the intention to leave – can attract monthly fees and they will continue even if the account falls dormant through lack of use for six months.
Once the debt is repaid in full, it is important to get confirmation of this in writing so that there is no confusion at a later date. There is often a charge for this, as per Central Bank rules, but I do think it is worth paying.
KC should be aware that following the launch of Al Etihad Credit Bureau, if anyone defaults on a loan or credit card payment, there will now be records kept that can cause issues when looking to take out any future loans or credit cards. This is relevant to KC if she wishes to return to the UAE at a later date.
Debt panellist 2: Jamal Alvi, chief credit officer at Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank
Usually, the banks file a criminal case of default on customers who have not paid their three monthly contractual payments. In your case, that will be three consecutive months of the credit card bill. Once the criminal case is filed at the police station, immigration is notified by the police and anyone trying to leave and enter the country is arrested. This may not happen if you continue to pay your monthly bill.
The Debt Panel brings together four financial experts: Jamal Alvi, the chief credit officer at Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank; Ambareen Musa, the founder and chief executive of the comparison website Souqalmal.com; Rasheda Khatun Khan, a wealth and wellness planner and founder of Design Your Life; and Keren Bobker, The National's On Your Side columnist and an independent financial adviser with Holborn Assets in Dubai. Together they answer queries in a weekly online column to help readers better tackle their debts. If you have a question for the panel, write to email@example.com.
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