The Debt Panel: 'Can a collection agent report us to Interpol for a Dh10,000 credit card debt?'

The former UAE resident is now in India but will be moving to a new country soon and is worried about being arrested

My husband was living and working in the UAE in 2013, when he couldn’t keep up with the monthly repayments on his credit card.

The debt was Dh10,000 and because he couldn’t repay it, the bank filed a police case and he was arrested. We were able to scrape some money together to make a payment towards the credit card and this enabled him to return to India.

Since then, I had an accident and it has created a huge financial crisis for our family. To make matters worse, a collection agent from the UAE recently called my husband about the amount still owed on the credit card. The agent said he had handed over my husband’s case to Interpol and he would be arrested.

We are moving to a new country soon and plan to repay the money owed on the card as soon as we can. However, will the Interpol issue prevent us from starting our new chapter and paying off my husband's old debt? Can you advise us on what to do? DA, India

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

Your husband has already been arrested once for this situation. Since then, defaulting on debt below Dh200,000 has been decriminalised. So, I highly doubt your husband will be arrested again. Debt collection agents love to scare you because, realistically, they do not have much leverage over you if they are not based in your country or you are not a resident in theirs.

You would have had more difficulties with an unpaid debt if you were moving back to the UAE, but it seems you will be working elsewhere. If you moved to the UAE, you may be fined on arrival and would not be able to get a residence visa via your new company until you had paid the fine. But you will not face this problem.

I recommend contacting the bank with the original card debt and insisting that you want to agree to a plan with them to pay off the original principal as fast as possible. Tell them what your salary will be and how much you can pay.

Also ask them to stop the collection agent from hassling you. Be clear that if the bank wants to get their money back, then this is the best way forward for everybody. Be persistent – try contacting different people within the bank if you don’t make progress initially.

Quote
As part of the revised payment plan, also request the bank to withdraw the legal case that will allow you to travel without any hassles

I would also not inform the bank or the agent which country you are moving to. That way, you can focus on earning money and paying off the debt without being chased constantly. If you can raise any money from friends and family to contribute to this in the short term, that will accelerate your progress to being debt-free.

In your new country, do not load up on more credit card debt unless you can pay off the balance in full. Also, do your best to get health insurance coverage and while you are saving to pay off the debt, build a small cash buffer in case of job loss.

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

It has indeed been stressful times for your family, starting with the repayment-related issues on the credit card followed by financial burdens from the accident.

Given that your husband is very close to moving to a new job, I would suggest that the best approach would be to discuss your situation frankly with your bank.

Since the original outstanding amount was low, and you made a part payment earlier and have no other liabilities, the bank may choose to take a lenient view and support you in settling the issue with minimal charges.

Provide them with details of your husband’s new employment that will help him make regular payments and agree on a settlement plan. Explain that you intend to settle all outstanding dues in full so that you can have a clean slate.

As part of the revised payment plan, also request the bank to withdraw the legal case that will allow you to travel without any hassles. Once all payments have been completed, also make sure to request a clearance letter from the bank to confirm all your debts have been settled and that you have no other obligations.

I wish you the very best in arriving at a speedy resolution to your current financial predicament and with your move so that you can make a fresh start.

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

It is great you are willing to repay the debt. But it is, no doubt, very stressful to receive phone calls from debt collectors and also difficult to avoid.

You must first confirm how much is now owed. Credit card debt is very expensive and the amount will likely have multiplied due to compounding interest, late payment fines and penalties.

Contact the bank that issued the credit card to your husband and ask them to confirm the amount due and negotiate a repayment plan with them. It may be difficult as the debt is old and you are outside the UAE. Try to negotiate repayment of an amount as close as possible to the original debt.

You should also request evidence of the Interpol case from the debt collection agency. It is unlikely this was reported as failing to make repayments on debt under Dh200,000 is no longer a criminal offence. Instead, it is now subject to financial penalties. The bank may have raised another police case against your husband and this would mean he could be fined if he travelled to the UAE.

Is it possible to obtain a loan in India to clear the UAE debt? Or can you borrow from family? It would be less stressful and cheaper to repay a personal loan or family loan compared to an ever-growing credit card debt.

Once you have repaid the debt, request a clearance letter from the bank. This will provide evidence and reassurance that the debt no longer exists and there are no legal cases against you in the UAE. Ensure the credit card account is cancelled as soon as the debt is repaid and also get confirmation of this in writing.

EDITOR'S PICKS
NEWSLETTERS