Consumer advice centers complain against negative interest rates

D.he consumer advice centers have filed a lawsuit against the negative interest rate regulations of five banks. This was confirmed by David Bode from the “Law Enforcement” team of the Federal Association of Consumer Organizations on Friday. The association has initiated five lawsuits that have so-called custody fees as their subject. It concerns both current and overnight money accounts. The lawsuits were submitted to different courts. In view of the early stage of the proceedings, the association did not yet want to reveal which banks the lawsuits are directed against. In total, more than 400 banks and savings banks are now demanding negative interest rates from private customers as well. The most prominent examples that recently announced a lowering of the exemption limit are Deutsche Bank and Postbank as well as Commerzbank.

In the lawsuits, the consumer advice centers are about a fundamental clarification as to whether the introduction of custody fees is permissible or not, said Bode: “Since we are not concerned with these banks in particular, this impression should not even arise and the proceedings still change are in the very early stages, we currently consider it superfluous to name them. “

Is deposit custody not a payment service?

The core arguments of the consumer advice centers, which speak for an inadmissibility of custody fees, are among others: In the case of current accounts there is the legal possibility to price payment services. The Payment Services Supervision Act defines what payment services are – and that does not include the safekeeping of deposits. In addition, the provision of payment services is not even possible without the safekeeping of money and the bank therefore holds the deposits as a secondary contractual obligation and in its own interest.

“We consider overnight money to be an irregular custody contract that is treated according to loan law,” said Bode. And according to loan law, the bank is the borrower for overnight money, who has to pay interest, but is not allowed to charge a custody fee. “In our opinion, there is no legal provision for the borrower to receive capital for use and to charge a fee for it,” said Bode. The overnight money is also a form of saving: “The purpose of the contract is therefore to increase assets – and not to reduce assets.”

The consumer advice center Baden-Württemberg is also examining other cases. A lawsuit from the consumer center in Saxony is still pending.

Advice from the consumer advice center

Niels Nauhauser, financial expert from the consumer advice center Baden-Württemberg also has some advice on questions from consumers:

As a customer, do I have to accept negative interest rates?

It depends. Negative interest may not be introduced unilaterally into existing contracts by changing the price notice. After our complaint, the Tübingen Regional Court decided that. However, the bank is free to offer custody contracts, i.e. to agree a fee for the safekeeping of money. This is only possible if both parties agree to such a contract. It may also reduce the investment sums on existing contracts unless otherwise contractually agreed or terminate these contracts within the agreed notice period. However, there are still a few more legal proceedings to be carried out in order to bring about legal clarification for all facets of the provider behavior. This includes, for example: Are banks allowed to charge fees for call money accounts or are you also allowed to demand custody for existing chargeable current accounts? What should be made of a “credit fee” that is to be calculated on all deposits?

Are there any free ways to park your money?

Yes, absolutely. There are still a number of banks that pay interest instead of collecting fees. Incidentally, most banks are not making bad earnings with the new custody fees. Your earnings from negative interest are usually much higher than the negative interest actually paid to the ECB. The banks’ narrative that one cannot do anything else because of the interest rate policy is usually not true. It is often pushed forward to create acceptance for price increases.

What do the consumer advice centers advise affected customers?

The independent current account comparison of the Stiftung Warentest is currently available free of charge. After that there are still free current accounts. And many banks also pay interest on fixed-term deposits, albeit not much. We recommend that you only select institutions with German deposit insurance and limit the investment amount to 100,000 euros per institution if you want maximum deposit security. If you want to invest your money more profitably, there are other investment options, but they also mean more risk. Here we advise you to be skeptical about the investment proposals of the banks, because here too the advice is not altruistic, as products with high commissions are often recommended.


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