Do you pay off your credit card bill every month? If the answer is no, then you may be among the 15 percent of the population that only pay the minimum. This is according to our latest survey, which analyzed credit card habits in the UAE.

A healthy attitude towards credit cards is something the nation’s financial community has been trying to promote since the dark days of the financial crisis.

Back in 2008, credit cards were handed out more freely with fewer checks on who could afford to pay them off. The credit crunch saw a high number of expatriates unable to repay their debts – credit cards included – and, as a result, the number of cards in circulation post-crisis dropped.

However, as the economy rebounds, so the use of credit cards has increased, with almost four million in use last year – almost the same number as in 2008.

What the survey showed

  • Two-thirds of the population has at least one credit card, a figure that rises to 85 percent for expat Westerners.
  • A third of respondents hold two or more cards.
  • Five percent have more than FIVE cards.
  • Some 65 percent of the population adopts healthy financial practices, paying off their entire balance at end of the month.
  • But 15 percent only make the minimum payment –  a figure that rises to 20 percent for UAE nationals.
  • Almost one in five pay off only what they can afford.

On the bright side, it appears the population has learnt some lessons from the past. According to the survey, cost is the no.1 consideration when it comes to picking a new credit card, with 40 percent placing the most importance on fees and one in three on the interest rate.

Ambareen Musa, CEO and founder of, said: “People are still paying attention to the basics: ‘How much is this card going to cost me?’ That’s a positive thing to see. It means they are thinking about the financial implications of getting into debt rather than simply focusing on the benefits they can get from a card.”

However, that’s not to say benefits don’t factor highly with the modern consumer, with cashback and discounts an attraction for almost a third of respondents, while air miles figured highly for a third of Western expats and UAE nationals.

The survey of 1,200 people also highlighted a preference for credit cards from local UAE banks, with only expat Westerners preferring international banks in UAE.

Musa said: “Generally people stick with their primary banking relationship – in other words, whoever holds theirs current account, which is why UAE nationals and expat Arabs prefer local banks while Western expats, who were brought up elsewhere, prefer international banks.”