Don’t give away any money: Current accounts: Which cost nothing and how you can get your fees back | message
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by Simone Gröneweg, Euro am Sonntag
A.There is no getting around a current account. Everyone needs that. All the more annoying that banks and savings banks have been tinkering with their conditions for years and increasingly asking customers to pay for it. Higher fees, more expensive bookings or an extra fee at the machine – there are many examples. Some customers are just resigned to filing their letters from the bank, other consumers are looking for an alternative. After all, there are around 1,700 banks in this country that offer around 3,500 different account models. The problem: The variety in the world of accounts is great, but the customer usually has to pay.
Finanzberatung FMH has selected current accounts for € uro am Sonntag for which no monthly fee is due (see table below). Only banks that are active nationwide were taken into account. “There are only a few unconditionally free accounts,” explains Ania Scholz-Orfanidis from FMH. Most banks have prerequisites for the free account, she says. The monthly minimum incoming payments are particularly popular with the institutes. “That is not surprising, because the financial institutions would prefer to act as the house bank for their customers,” says Scholz-Orfanidis. This gives you the chance to refer additional products to account holders.
In general, the more analog the services at the bank, the more expensive it will be. A look at the table below shows that transfer orders on paper (in banking German: paper-based) usually cost extra. However, if you transfer your money online, you do not pay a fee. Actors like the Berlin digital bank N26 or C24, the direct bank of the comparison portal Check24, no longer offer paper transfers at all.
The girocard is still a standard bank product, but that seems to be changing too. At Consorsbank, this card has been costing one euro a month for almost three months. The Deutsche Kreditbank DKB caused a stir recently. She wants to introduce a Visa debit card. The giro and credit cards were still available, according to the DKB. The exact product details are currently still being checked. “Customers have to deal with this topic,” says Scholz-Orfanidis. If you live in a small village, you have to rely on a Girocard when paying at the bakery or in the newsagents. Other accounting systems are often too expensive for these small shops.
Anyone who has been annoyed by their bank’s fee increases in recent years should take a look at the contract documents. Customers can benefit from a ruling by the Federal Court of Justice (BGH). Up until now, the financial institutions made it easy for themselves to change their terms and conditions and usually informed customers in writing two months in advance. If they did not react, this was taken as tacit approval. This is what the clauses in the General Terms and Conditions (GTC) stipulate.
This practice was a thorn in the side of consumer advocates. The Federation of German Consumer Organizations (vzbv) filed a model lawsuit against Postbank and was right. The BGH declared the Postbank clauses to be ineffective at the end of April (Az .: XI ZR 26/20). The banking industry reacted with unpleasant surprise, and consumer advocates rejoiced. “Bank customers should check their account contracts for the corresponding terms and conditions,” advises David Bode, legal advisor at vzbv. Bank customers whose institute has increased the fees in the past few years without explicitly agreeing to this could claim back any money that was paid too much. It’s not just about the account management fee, but also about fees for credit cards, transfers or bank statements.
However, experts refer to the statutory limitation period of three years (begins at the end of the year in which claims arose). This means that customers could claim back money that they paid too much since January 1, 2018, by the end of 2021. The banks have so far held back publicly, only Deutsche Bank – to which Postbank belongs – announced that it is anticipating charges in the three-digit million range in 2021. Otherwise it is said in the industry that you will check individually.
Ultimately, it depends on how customers react. “The banks will probably not repay the excessive fees to the customers without their intervention,” says David Riechmann, consultant for banking and capital market law at the consumer advice center in North Rhine-Westphalia. “Consumers have to take action,” he emphasizes. The sample letters are ready. Interested parties can download the relevant forms on the website of the consumer centers (www.verbüberszentrale.de).
“Ideally, you know exactly what you paid too much,” says Riechmann. The whole thing is relatively easy to understand if only the monthly fee has been increased. It gets more complicated when it comes to individual bookings. To do this, you have to view change notifications and account statements. Anyone who no longer has the documents or has not looked through them should contact the bank and request a list of the fees. However, there are also sample letters for customers who do not even know how much they have overpayed and still want to claim refunds. Whether the effort is worth it depends on the amount of the overpaid fees and charges. The Stiftung Warentest calculates the example of a Postbank customer who can claim back around 190 euros.
A few law firms want to reclaim money for customers in a highly automated way. The Berlin law firm Gansel Rechtsanwälte cooperates with the service provider Spreefels, who takes on the collection of the claim against the bank. If the customer actually gets their money back in the end, they have to give up 25 percent as a success fee. In any case, the BGH ruling heralds a new era. Changes in fees would be much more complex and therefore more expensive for banks in the future, says Oliver Mihm, head of the Investors Marketing consultancy.
But the industry is already working on solutions. Commerzbank continues to plan to introduce a new account management fee scheduled for July 1st. “The bank is working on a process that meets the requirements of the BGH ruling,” explains a spokesman. So there will also be increases in the future. But also free accounts from individual providers, says consumer advocate Riechmann.
Image sources: Bjoern Wylezich / Shutterstock.com, PhotographyByMK / Shutterstock.com, Finanz Verlag