The Debt Panel: 'My brother is stuck in India and can't pay his credit card debt'

The Dubai resident's sibling is trying to look for a new job in the UAE and has no money to pay instalments

My brother has been in India since November and does not have a job. He is hoping to return to the UAE and is actively looking for employment here, but without any luck at the moment.

He is facing an issue with his UAE credit card. He owed Dh15,000 on it but this has now grown to Dh22,000 because of interest and late fee charges.

The bank’s collection department has been calling him continuously and asking for him to settle it through a lump sum of Dh15,000 or monthly instalments of Dh2,000.

Before the collection department started calling my brother, he also received an email from the bank that offered to convert the overdue amount into a 48-month loan. He replied to that email and I have also tried to contact the bank on his behalf to accept the offer. However, we have been unable to reach anybody.

Is there any option to convert the amount into equal monthly instalments so I can at least help him settle the debt? Or would it be better to request a payment holiday under the Targeted Economic Support Scheme to give us some breathing space and more time to sort out this issue? RR, Dubai

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

Your brother’s situation shows how credit card debt can grow rapidly if payments are not made. He is lucky you are in Dubai to help him.

First, you and your brother should keep a record of all the information, emails and calls you have both had with the bank, including the date of each one. Banks tend to be more responsive by phone than via email, so try to call them using the numbers on their website.

Try to speak to the collection or loan departments. If this does not work, visit a branch or the bank’s headquarters and insist on speaking to someone who can point you in the right direction.

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It is a very kind action, but it can lead to long-term relationship issues if he is unable or unwilling to repay you

If the bank has previously offered to convert the amount into a loan, you should push them to honour this. It will take the pressure off your finances until you both have more money because the interest rate should be a lot lower. However, if you can pay the loan off sooner, it might be worth doing this to reduce total interest payments.

Banks have different policies on when they will allow the outstanding amount on a credit card to be converted into a loan, especially if debtors have defaulted after 90 days. In theory, you should still be able to receive a payment holiday of three months if you can demonstrate that your brother has lost his job. It might help to have power-of-attorney status, so you can manage the paperwork directly.

You could also try to apply for a personal loan of Dh15,000 and use it to pay off your brother’s card debt.

If anyone else in your family is able to contribute, then the loan may not even have to be that big.

If you cannot obtain a loan yourself and the bank is still not co-operating after 30 days, then you can contact the Consumer Protection Department of the UAE Central Bank with all your paperwork and log of all the dates you messaged the bank without response.

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

I am glad your brother is being conscientious and intends to clear his debt. As a first step, I would suggest you continue to try to contact the concerned department in the bank through email and phone and provide them with a copy of your brother’s agreement to the loan restructure.

Explain his current employment situation and try to mutually agree on a monthly instalment plan that is cheaper and can be serviced by your brother to clear the outstanding amount.

Given that the loan amount is relatively small, the bank may take a more lenient view and agree on a revised payment plan that would fit your brother’s budget.

Alternatively, assuming you are in the country and employed, you could also explore either becoming a guarantor or to take over the restructured loan. This would further strengthen your request and possibly allow for a longer 48-month repayment tenor, reducing the monthly instalment considerably.

I wish your brother luck with finding suitable employment and achieving financial stability soon.

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

It is very kind of you to want to help your brother and I hope he finds employment soon. Has he also looked for employment in India? Any income he can earn would help his situation, no matter how small. Showing a willingness to repay by making instalments will help his case with the bank.

Usually, a bank requires a customer to be employed, preferably in the UAE, before they approve a consolidation loan. This could explain why the bank is no longer offering this option to him.

Options under the Tess initiative may also be limited. It is unclear if he lost his job specifically due to Covid-19. Even under Tess, banks tend to be more willing to provide options if the customer is employed.

Your brother should continue to communicate and negotiate with the bank collection team and keep detailed records of all communications, including times, dates, names and agreements made. This is so he can demonstrate a willingness to find a solution if the matter escalates.

His best options are to either pay Dh2,000 a month or find a way to pay the lump sum of Dh15,000 as this is his cheapest option, which means he only pays what he originally owed, without the fines and interest.

Do you have stable employment? If you trust your brother will honour the debt, you can take out a loan to pay it on his behalf. He can then repay the loan amount to you.

However, I would caution against taking out a loan for another person. It is important that you are very careful and have clear communication with your brother to document the repayment terms, amount he will pay each month and total due before agreeing to take out the loan.

It is a very kind action but it can lead to long-term relationship issues if he is unable or unwilling to repay you. How will you feel if he does not repay you? How would that affect your own financial situation and your relationship – not only with your brother but also your wider family? Money, especially debt, is always a difficult and emotive topic in any relationship.

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

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