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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 6 March 2021

The Debt Panel: 'I had to accept a new job with a lower salary and now can't afford to pay my credit card'

The UAE resident's old company didn't pay him for five months, giving him no choice but to find another job to continue supporting his family

Getty
Getty

My company did not pay me for five months because of the Covid-19 pandemic, even though I continued to work. I decided to quit my job and move to another company, which I joined in October.

When I left my old company, I didn’t receive a final salary and end-of-service benefits – all I received was half a month’s pay. While my new company is paying me on time, I accepted the position on a lower monthly salary of Dh4,500.

Because my salary is now lower, I am concerned about being able to pay off my credit card, which has an outstanding balance of Dh4,275.

My wife does not work and we don’t have any children to support, however, our living expenses and rent take up nearly all of my salary. We have worked out that we can’t afford to pay more than Dh500 towards the credit card every month. Here is the breakdown of our expenses:

  • Rent: Dh2,600 per month
  • DEWA: Dh300-400 per month
  • Gas: Dh20 per month
  • Internet: Dh300 per month
  • Petrol and Salik: Dh400 per month
  • Remaining: Grocery and other miscellaneous expenses

I have not missed a payment on the credit card, but have only been able to pay the minimum amount each month.

I asked my bank if it is possible to give me an instalment plan of Dh500 per month but I was informed by customer service that they had rejected my request without giving me a reason.

I visited the bank to follow this up, but they also said they can’t help me. Is it possible to come to an arrangement under the Targeted Economic Support Scheme (Tess)? Can you please advise me on how to resolve this issue? MZ, Dubai

Debt panellist 1: R Sivaram, executive vice president and head of retail banking products at Emirates NBD

I am glad that you are being conscientious and responsible in managing your financial obligations. I would urge you to reach out to your bank and discuss the possibility of carrying out a balance conversion or debt restructuring of the card to pay the outstanding amount.

If they are not responding positively, you can pursue what is due to you by raising a complaint with the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation

Carol Glynn, founder of Conscious Finance Coaching

This would enable you to repay your current debt of Dh4,275 in manageable instalments over a longer period of time and with a lower interest rate. To avail this service, the bank may require you to transfer your salary to them and close your credit card.

This is for your benefit and will also help you control your monthly expenditure. Given your employment status and the fact that you have been paying all your dues regularly, I am sure the bank will review this request favourably. You are addressing your situation in a timely manner and you will hopefully be able to soon become financially stable again.

Debt panellist 2: Carol Glynn, founder of Conscious Finance Coaching

It is disappointing that your previous company has not yet paid your dues. I would urge you to continue to follow up on this directly with the company. If they are not responding positively, you can raise a complaint with the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MoHRE). Ensure you gather detailed evidence of all communications and documentation to support your claim.

Congratulations on securing a new role, albeit at a lower salary. I also commend the fact you have kept up with your credit card minimum repayments despite the difficult circumstances you are facing. This will stand to your credit with the bank and also protect your credit score.

It’s unfortunate your bank has not been willing to help you. I would suggest visiting the main branch and raising your request with as senior an individual as possible. Explain your situation and how you have had to accept a lower paying role.

Bring all of your documentation to prove your financial situation. They may not view your situation as falling within the terms of Tess as it is for individuals directly impacted by Covid-19. Banks tend to request letters from employers confirming the reason for your job loss or salary reduction. From your letter, it seems neither of these options are possible in your case as you resigned from your previous employment and your new role has not been impacted by the pandemic.

You could consider a balance transfer to another bank. Banks often offer interest-free transfers. As you are in permanent employment and have not missed any payments, I believe you would be a good candidate for this option.

Alternatively, you could consider a personal loan to cover the credit card debt. This way you can pay the balance off over a longer period of time but incur less interest charges on the outstanding balance as personal loans carry significantly less interest burdens than credit cards.

I urge you to be very careful not to use your credit card going forward. Continuing to use it will only increase your debt burden. Wherever possible, use cash and if you must use your credit card, ensure you pay off the full amount due each month.

I would urge you to reach out to your bank and discuss the possibility of carrying out a balance conversion or debt restructuring of the card outstanding

R Sivaram, executive vice president and head of retail banking products at Emirates NBD

Would your wife consider seeking employment? Any amount she can contribute will ease your financial burden significantly. All amounts, no matter how small, that are paid off on credit card debt will have a positive impact on the interest charges and will speed up the time it takes to clear the debt.

Another option is to ask family members for an interest-free or low-interest loan to clear your debt. Again, it’s very important to be diligent and not raise the debt again while you are still paying off the original amount, in this case to family members. Try to keep your expenses as low as possible.

Debt panellist 3: Steve Cronin, founder of DeadSimpleSaving.com

I’m sorry to hear about your company not paying you. Even though the business owners may be struggling as well, this borders on exploitation and you were right to leave. Under UAE law, you are owed your gratuity and full notice pay, unless you signed away your right to this. Hopefully, you did not.

Keep an eye on the company and keep pushing their HR for proper settlement. Try to find a lawyer and let them know you are doing this. The UAE courts usually rule on the side of the employee in such cases, as the regulations are there to protect your rights.

You come across as a diligent man who doesn’t want to get behind on payments. It is understandable that you may have depleted any cash buffer and run up a credit card balance during your five months of no pay. However, your credit card debt will increase rapidly if you only pay off the minimum.

Having an outstanding balance of less than one month’s salary is not actually too bad and with only a Dh500 payment each month, you will have this hanging over you for less than a year. Anything you can do to increase your savings rate will help. You can find ways to reduce expenses and your wife can try to get a part-time job or occasional work. You will both need to pull together to get over this.

Tess has been extended to the middle of next year, but in practice banks may be reluctant to support you. You can try showing them that you have had to take a pay cut, and thus are eligible. Trying to reach someone more senior, like the branch manager, may help.

There are some alternatives. One is to approach another bank and ask if they can offer you an instalment plan to cover the balance if you transfer your salary to that bank – you do have a regular salary, after all. You can try to borrow the money from friends or family, even offering them some interest until you pay it off – that will be a lot more than they can get from their bank account and a lot less than your card charges.

You can also contact the Consumer Protection Department at the Central Bank of the UAE by phone or in person to see if your bank should be providing you with more support.

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

Published: December 2, 2020 09:30 AM

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