Dubai: Filipina expatriate Andrea* could hardly imagine what Dh1.7 million looks like, let alone fork out such an amount — or even a tenth of it — to pay that credit card debt she had incurred over the last 10 years.
Her ordeal began in 2009 when she lost her sales executive job in a real estate company during the financial crisis. Confident she would land a new job, she relied on her two credit cards for her day-to-day expenses.
“I had a hard time looking for a job. No company was really hiring at that time,” Andrea, 39, told Gulf News.
Dh1.7m($462,799) in credit card liabilities incurred by Filipina over 10 years
She admits she did splurge on shopping when she still had a job.
But she swears she had only used roughly Dh100,000 on her two credit cards for her personal use and subsistence, on top of her Dh50,000 car loan.
Unable to pay her debt, Andrea went into hiding.
Even her family in the Philippines was not aware of her predicament. She virtually made herself disappear from everyone’s radar — especially bank collectors.
Trapped and depressed
Some friends helped by giving her jobs even without a visa so she could get by for the next 10 years. Authorities, however, caught her one day and she was put in prison.
I was jailed overnight for the car loan. That’s why I had a breakdown. I gave my passport and they released me. I was really afraid.
“I was jailed overnight for the car loan. That’s why I had a breakdown. I gave my passport and they released me. I was really afraid. So I didn’t really go out after that. I just go to and from work and that’s it. Then I got depressed for three years,” she recalled.
“It felt like being trapped in a box and you can’t breathe. You’re suffocating and nobody was there to help.”
Courage to take first step
A phone call from her mum plucked her out of depression. Sustained by prayers, Andrea began researching how to tackle her mountain of debt.
“I started looking for pro bono lawyers online and then I came across Gulf News articles about Attorney Barney Almazar who was able to help a lot of Filipinos who have more complicated problems than I had,” she said, her lips beaming in a smile.
“I read almost all the articles in Gulf News [regarding credit card debt]. They gave me hope and courage to take the first step which is to contact Gulf Law and meet with them.”
Dh856,070amount of total debt on her first credit card
And she is sharing her story now to pay it forward and inspire hope in residents who could be in similar situations.
How the debt was settled with Dh15,100
Almazar and his team stepped in and contacted her bank which told them in writing that her total debt had ballooned to Dh856,070.07 for her first card and Dh852,173.55 for the second due to interest and finances charges, totally a whopping Dh1,708,243.62.
“We really want to settle the case of our client and if that will happen then the bank will also benefit. So we found out that most of this [Dh1.7 million] are interest and finance charges,” Almazar told Gulf News.
Dh852,173amount of liabilities on the second credit card, most of it interest and finance charges
“For a very big amount to be reduced, this would have to go to higher management. The bank was very cooperative,” Almazar said.
Seeing Andrea’s goodwill to settle the debt — but with a reasonable amount — the bank initially demanded a Dh100,000 settlement.
It eventually agreed to settle the two credit card debt for Dh15,100 cash.
“The bank really gave me a good discount. Most probably it has to do with how Gulf Law managed to negotiate because I myself know I won’t be able to negotiate and come up with that amount.
"My two credit cards ballooned to Dh1.7million and then they agreed to a one-shot payment of Dh15,100. Where in the world can you be able to negotiate that?” Andrea said.
My two credit cards ballooned to Dh1.7million and then they agreed to a one-shot payment of Dh15,100. Where in the world can you be able to negotiate that?
“To the bank, I thank them for that. Also, Gulf Law helped me a lot.”
A case to remember
Almazar said even he was pleasantly surprised with how the bank responded.
“The process is simple — but to make the payable even less than one percent of the total amount, definitely this is a case I will always remember,” he said.
Andrea’s mum sent money from the Philippines to add to her money to settle her debt.
“When I was depositing the money to the bank on June 20, I felt so relieved. I was over the moon,” she said.
“The biggest mistake in those 10 years was that during those times that I was having a hard time, I had a lot of discussions with people who also had debt and liabilities even bigger than mine. But they kept telling me banks will not adjust the amount.”
“I was misinformed all those years — that it was hard, it was complicated. People told me you cannot solve it anymore. Imagine I wasted those 10 years.”
Through proper guidance, Andrea has also settled the car loan she had with the Dh33,000 she saved from her salary over the last two years. She automatically saves 40 per cent of her income every month. She has three more credit card debt to settle but she knows she will overcome.
After settling her dues and having her police case removed, the next step would be to deal with her overstay fines of 10 years. Only then will she be able to go home to see her family in the Philippines after a decade.
Now working as a business development manager but still without a visa, Andrea said she has learned a very important lesson in tackling big problems.
“Take baby steps; that will help. Researching what to do was a baby step. But I think the biggest lesson I learned was to be transparent. You have to ask help. If you don’t know anything you really have to ask help from the right people. Asking help from wrong people will lead you nowhere,” she said.
*Name changed upon request
7 Steps on how to settle bank loans in UAE
- Contact the collections department of your bank and advise that you would like to make a settlement.
- If you have defaulted on several loans within the same bank, inform the collections officer that you would like to settle all your loans.
- Important questions to ask your bank: if they have filed a police case (police case number, station and date filed) and what are the available payment options. Ensure you can produce the cash before you agree to settle.
- Once you have agreed on a settlement option, request for the settlement letter. Only pay make the payment as per the settlement letter. Do not give your money to any bank representative.
- Get a Release/Clearance Letter once you have complied with the payment terms.
- If you have a pending case, secure clearance from the bank’s lawyer.
- Present the clearance to the police station so your records can be cleared from the police and immigration systems.
*Almazar said residents do not require a lawyer to do the aforementioned.
*For defaulters who have left the UAE, you may still settle your loans following the same steps from wherever you are but assign a representative to do the legwork.
Source: Essential OFW Guide to UAE by Atty. Barney Almazar