Penalty interest charged by a savings bank on current accounts may be permissible: Sparkasse Vogtland may levy a so-called custody fee for new and existing customers who change their account model, as the Leipzig Regional Court ruled on Thursday (5 O 640/20). It thus largely dismissed a lawsuit brought by the Saxony Consumer Center against the Sparkasse. The consumer center announced an appeal at the higher regional court in Dresden.
The consumer advocates were only successful in one point: the court ruled that no custody fee should be charged only for an account model for schoolchildren, trainees and students, which is advertised completely free of charge up to the age of 21.
In principle, according to the judgment, the Sparkasse can demand a fee as a special service for the safekeeping of funds in new contracts – even if account management fees are already being charged for a current account.
It should not be disregarded that the banks incur “considerable financial burdens” by paying deposit interest at the European Central Bank (ECB) for the safekeeping of funds in the current accounts, the court said. “Although the savings banks are oriented towards the common good, on the other hand they have to align themselves to market conditions and act economically.”
The background to the proceedings is the earlier plans of Sparkasse Vogtland to charge a custody fee of 0.7 percent on all new private current accounts with a deposit of EUR 5000 or more from February 1, 2020. From the point of view of consumer advocates, the charging of negative interest violates legal regulations and is therefore inadmissible. In addition, the consumer experts criticize “double pricing” through account management fees and negative interest. The Sparkasse itself had waived custody fees for new accounts in February 2020.
The consumer center Saxony was disappointed with the outcome of the procedure. “Custody fees correspond – especially with existing customers – to inadmissible double pricing,” explained Michael Hummel, legal expert at the consumer center in Saxony. Hope is now focused on the planned appeal procedure at the OLG.
The court referred to other legal rulings, according to which negative interest rates could not simply be included in existing contracts via a price display. In the case negotiated in Leipzig, however, the initial situation was different: The custody fee clause was announced in the price notice. In addition, the Sparkasse had this signed by the customer when the contract was signed. “The custody fee was thus included in an individual agreement, not a clause in general terms and conditions,” the court justified.
More and more banks in Germany are now charging their customers penalty interest. According to an evaluation by the comparison portal Verivox, 367 banks and savings banks are currently charging negative interest rates from their private customers. That is twice as many as six months ago. Others have tightened their regulations, for example by reducing tax exemptions. Banks and savings banks justify custody fees with the low interest rate policy of the ECB.