Bafin warns of ineffective interest rate clauses

Bafin warns of ineffective interest rate clauses

The financial supervisory authority wants banks to find a solution for the often ineffective conditions of variable interest savings contracts. An important court ruling on the controversial issue between consumers and banks can be expected soon.

The logo of the Sparkassen-Finanzgruppe

BAnken have to act of their own accord if they find ineffective interest rate adjustment clauses in their savings contracts. The Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (Bafin) draws attention to this in its latest “Bafin Journal”. Ineffective interest rate adjustment clauses play a major role in the processes surrounding premium savings contracts.

Banks and savings banks offered their customers these contracts with a variable interest rate from the 1990s to the beginning of this millennium. In the low interest rate environment, banks are trying to get rid of the contracts that still have high interest rates and have already canceled 280,000 savings contracts. Many institutions were able to decide on changes to the interest rate at their own discretion.

Many savings banks affected

However, this has been ineffective since a ruling by the Federal Court of Justice in 2004. The Federal Court of Justice ruling set general requirements for the design of the interest rate adjustment clauses, the Bafin expects a specification from model declaratory actions by the consumer center in Saxony before the Dresden Higher Regional Court (file number: 5 MK 1/19, 5 MK 2/19). In the meantime, three model declaratory actions have been filed: The first, in which 850 customers participated, concerns the Sparkasse Leipzig. The first oral hearing is due on April 22nd. The second lawsuit, behind which there are more than 1000 customers, is directed against the Erzgebirgssparkasse, a third was recently filed against the Sparkasse Zwickau.

However, the supervisory authority warns customers against too high expectations. Ineffective interest clauses did not automatically mean that customers received a higher interest rate. In December, the consumer advice centers pointed out that, after their investigation, 136 credit institutions, particularly savings banks, had applied ineffective interest rate adjustment clauses. On the basis of more than 5000 examined long-term savings contracts, the consumer advocates came to the conclusion that the savers received an average of 4000 euros too little in interest. The highest additional claim was 78,000 euros.

Advice to bank customers

But the Bafin advises customers in such a case to negotiate a replacement clause with the bank. If the interest clause is ineffective, it will be completely omitted. The institute and customer would then have to agree on a new interest rate agreement. At the same time, the Bafin calls on the institutions concerned to approach customers on their own initiative in the event of ineffective clauses. The Bafin sees it as a grievance in which it can intervene should banks ignore the jurisprudence and continue to use ineffective clauses without comment.

According to the Bafin, form-based interest rate clauses are ineffective if the institute has unlimited interest rate changes in the case of long-term savings contracts. Before customers try to sue for lost interest in person, the Bafin advises them to turn to consumer advocates or to get help from a lawyer.