UAE credit card interest rates are too high

Building a healthy credit climate is everyone’s responsibility. Individuals, banks, educators and the authorities are all responsible for helping to make this happen.

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For many people, a credit card is a basic tool of modern life. But like most tools, it can harm anyone who uses it carelessly.

That seems to be especially true in the UAE: as The National reported yesterday, the average annual percentage interest charged on credit cards issued in this country is 37.75 per cent. Compare that to an average rate of 17.5 in the UK; rates elsewhere in Europe are also around that level.

The Federal National Council has for many years called on authorities to regulate bank loans to protect consumers. Easy loans, high interest rates and over-lending are some of the issues that have been highlighted. And yet the trend persists.

As yesterday's report noted, UAE banks focus their lending on branding with fast cars and football clubs, among other marketing approaches aimed at young men, in particular.

Of course, consumers are responsible for getting themselves too deeply into debt. But banks also have responsibility. And the authorities have a big role to play, in regulating predatory practices and in better consumer education.

In June last year, Sultan Al Suwaidi, governor of the Central Bank, told the FNC that banks would soon be punished for encouraging reckless borrowing. This law will be welcome but so far is not on the books.

FNC members have for years been calling for more responsible lending, amid reports of people having to pay a crippling percentage of their salaries to cover debts - despite existing laws that cap debt payments at a third of salary. Debts are often cited as a reasons for marriage break-ups.

There have been campaigns to raise public awareness of the consequences of reckless borrowing. More and better such campaigns, aimed at teenagers and preteens, are needed. Few understand that at 42.5 per cent - the top rate on one UAE credit card - the cost of a purchase can double in just two years.

It would also help if the banks had access to a UAE-wide credit bureau: In other countries, efficient credit checks let a bank make sure a borrower will be in a position to repay a loan.

Building a healthy credit climate is everyone's responsibility. Individuals, banks, educators and the authorities are all responsible for helping to make this happen.