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The Debt Panel: UAE expat owing Dh150,000 must reduce money sent home to family

I am have worked for an IT company since 2007 and my current salary is Dh9,000 with company provided accommodation. I have four credit cards with total limits of around Dh150,000 (the four cards are full) and also an auto loan for which I pay Dh1,500 monthly. I am the eldest son of my family, so I have huge responsibility to take care of my mother back in Bangladesh. I lost my father in 1995 and have to send a certain amount of money to my home country every month. My wife lives with me in the UAE and is now in her last trimester of pregnancy. I am paying even more than my salary just to cover the minimum payment on my cards. If I pay these minimum amounts, then I cannot send money to my mother and also cannot cover my wife’s treatment expenses. The reason I have so much card debt is because I have withdrawn cash from the credit card to cover emergency expenses for my family. My mother-in-law’s condition was critical last July. She needed to undergo heart surgery, which cost more than Dh40,000. As a son-in-law, I have to stand by my wife’s family too. I asked for financial help from all my sources at that time, but I did not get any positive replies. I had no other option but to withdraw cash from my card. I always stand by my family members whenever needed. I never think about myself. Now I want to get rid of the cards, which is only possible if I have good amount of money. But when the Credit Bureau launched, whenever I applied for another credit card, I was rejected as the Bureau said this client has already a loan with another bank. I tried to get a personal loan from other banks but as our company is not listed, all banks will refuse me. Can you help me get a loan so that I can close my credit cards and start a peaceful life with my first baby. My current debt situation is not allowing me to be as happy as I should be. I am ready to pay 50 per cent of my salary (Dh4,500) every month to repay the debt. I want to close all my cards and I promise I will never ever take a new card until the end of my life. RI, UAE

Debt panellist 1: Rasheda Khatun Khan, a wealth and wellness planner and founder of Design Your Life

Addressing the current issue here is not only “how do I get a loan to repay back money I have already spent?” It’s also “how do I ensure that I break this cycle of getting into debt so I don’t find myself in this situation again?”

Here there is clearly a cycle of ‘spend first and pay back later’. Taking out a loan to repay your current credit cards will only be a temporary solution to a deeper issue. Breaking the cycle of spending money you don’t have is where the problem will keep reoccurring and debt will continue to increase.

Take some time to break down your expenses so you can really prioritise what you can afford to pay for and what you can’t. Start with your own household expenses. Perhaps previously you were in a position to pay for expenses for your other family members, which today you cannot. You have to prioritise. Of course if we had an abundance of money we would be able to help everyone, but when we don’t have enough to cover the basics in our own household, paying for other expenses will only bring a deeper debt issue home.

The responsibility you hold for the entire family’s financial affairs is causing, and will continue to cause, your financial problems because you simply cannot afford to help them right now. Ask yourself where do you draw the line? Coming from an ethnic background from the subcontinent myself, it’s common for me to see families helping each other financially.

I also see things changing, whereby open conversations of how much family members can support, if they can at all at that time, are being had. The obligatory pressure of ‘paying up regardless of how you can afford it,’ is becoming one of the past. This is an important step as I don’t believe any relative you are trying to help will want to cause you heavy financial suffering that is to the detriment of your own family’s well-being. It’s time to say “no.”

As for finding a loan, you may need to call upon friends and family or even your own employer. Setting up a repayment deal with them might be an option your company would be open too. Also speak directly to your credit card company and explore if you can set up a payment plan with them. However, if you are not able to curb your monthly spending and get your expenses to less than your income, you will again find yourself in unmanageable debt. It really is time to prioritise.

Debt panellist 2: Ambareen Musa, founder and chief executive of Souqalmal.com

I hope your mother-law is in good health and congratulations on becoming a new dad.

The first step to getting rid of debt is acknowledging the problem and then reorganising your finances to find a solution. As your company is paying for your rent, there is no way for you to save on this but one option is to ask them to provide you with a housing allocation and you can find a place which will allow you to save on rent.

While banks may be reluctant, make sure you have explored all your options. There are a handful of banks in the UAE which will offer personal loans to individuals working for non-listed companies such as Dubai Islamic Bank. Get in touch with them and see if they can help you out with a liability settlement loan. It will not be easy considering that you have maxed out all your credit cards and you have an auto loan – but it is still worth trying.

Since you have been working for your current employer for a while, discuss with them the possibility of a salary increase especially if your performance has been good. Another option could be asking your employer for a salary advance, which will allow you to at least pay off one credit card and stop incurring further interest. Also, find other ways to increase your income such as freelancing or finding a new job. Talk to your friends or extended family. Maybe they can help you out for the time being even if it’s just supporting your mother while you pay off your debt. If you have any assets such as a car or property, see if you can sell them to get some cash.

While it might not be an ideal solution, consider sending your wife and child back home for a few months until you are debt free. Is medical care more affordable back home? If so, you can save on medical costs and at the same time ensure your family is getting the required care.

In the future and once you’re debt free, set aside an emergency fund to deal with any unexpected situations since you’re the main source of support for your family. It can safeguard you from incurring more debt in a desperate situation.