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Attorney Barney Almazar from Gulf Law with Andrea, who has finally able to settle her Dh 1.7million credit card debt with her bank which ballooned over a decade. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News archives

Dubai: A Dubai-based Filipina settled a Dh1 million credit card debt last week by paying just Dh11,000.

It comes just two months after she paid off a similar Dh1.7 million debt with Dh15,000 on another card.

“Though it has happened to me once, I did not expect that a bank would again waive a huge portion of the outstanding amount, even lower than the credit limit of Dh12,000,” Andrea*, 39, told Gulf News.

She maxed out both credit cards when she lost her job in 2009 and had nothing to live on.

Unable to pay her credit card bills, she hid from banks.

Finance charges, interest for 10 years 

This resulted in her balance on the second card ballooning to Dh1,050,933.57 in 10 years due to finance charges and interest.

With the help of lawyer Barney Almazar of Gulf Law and his team, Andrea spent the last two months negotiating with the banks to settle the amount.

And when both parties agreed, Andrea immediately paid the bank with the help of her mother in the Philippines.

After completing the payment, I felt relieved and overjoyed. It felt as if 70 per cent of the burden I’ve been carrying all these years was removed.

- Andrea*, 39, Filipina

“After completing the payment, I felt relieved and overjoyed. It felt as if 70 per cent of the burden I’ve been carrying all these years was removed,” she said.

Andrea recounted that her massive credit card debt triggered her depression that lasted for three years.

Asked if it was due to luck that her debts had been waived not once but twice, she replied, “No, it’s God’s blessing and favour.

“This was God’s work. He used people to help me in my problems in this Year of Tolerance here in the UAE. I envisioned that this would happen. And it did.

“I thank God for this. I also thank Gulf Law and the bank for hearing my case.”

The turn of events — waiving off a total of Dh2.7 million for one person — also came as a surprise to Almazar. But he also stressed that it wasn’t luck that made it happen.

We are happy that she is now a step closer to closing all her bank cases. The country’s legal framework makes negotiations easier. We can say that our team’s hard work is paying off.

- Advocate Barney Almazar, Gulf Law

“Our client could not believe that after getting Dh1.7 million waived two months ago, we were able to waive off another Dh1 million from her outstanding liabilities. It was like winning the lottery twice,"

"We are happy that she is now a step closer to closing all her bank cases,” Almazar told Gulf News. “The country’s legal framework makes negotiations easier. We can say that our team’s hard work is paying off.”

Almazar said banks used to shun their team, and banned them away from their doorsteps, as they were perceived to be encouraging debtors not to pay their debt.

Building relationships

“But we never give up. We showed collectors we are different, we are sincere. Both parties will lose if the case ends up in court,” Almazar said.

“After years of building relationships with banks in the UAE, they now see us as partners in encouraging borrowers to be responsible. We always encourage amicable settlements that are fair to both the bank and the borrower. It is a win-win situation,” he added.

Almazar advised other expatriates who may be in the same predicament to fight on.

“There is always hope,” he said.

Journey towards debt freedom

“Never feel helpless and don’t burden yourself with unnecessary stress. Complex problems can be solved one step at a time. We have been closing settlements with banks based on mutual trust and respect. Banks maintain their integrity and defaulters need not lose their dignity.”

Andrea’s journey to be debt free isn’t over yet, but she is happy with her progress. A final settlement with a third bank is pending. After this, there are also overstay fines.

“Once everything is cleared, I will finally be able to go home after 10 long years,” she said.

“To those who are faced with financial problems, my advice is for you to just stay focused on your goal to pay it off. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted. If banks know you’re dead serious on paying off your debt, they will honour your intent.”

* Name changed upon request