Sparkasse customers typically have to pay a monthly account management fee. Fees for transfers or account statements also occasionally apply. In the past, savings banks have increased individual fees without fully informing customers or obtaining their consent. In 2021, the Federal Court of Justice declared this measure illegal. In a new ruling, the Berlin Court of Appeal has confirmed this ruling, with far-reaching consequences.

The court ruling may affect other banks and savings banks

The Federal Association of Consumer Organizations had sued Sparkasse Berlin. The financial institution had introduced or increased certain rates several times since 2016. At the end of 2016 it changed the “Confort Current Account” to “Flat Rate Giro” and unilaterally increased the monthly fee by three euros. The savings bank did not obtain the consent of the clients for this. Rather, the increase or introduction occurred tacitly.

To this day, the Savings Bank refuses to refund these additional amounts. The Federal Association of Consumer Organizations has filed a lawsuit against this. Now the judges have ruled that this is illegal. Affected customers are entitled to refunds. Because price increases are ineffective. The ruling could have far-reaching consequences for all savings banks and their customers.

According to consumer advocates, claims prior to 2018 will also have to be refunded. The court did not follow this. A revision is currently being considered. As soon as the ruling is final, clients will be able to demand their money back. The Federal Court of Justice also considered that the limitation period applies to tariff increases before January 1, 2018.

Not only Sparkasse customers would be affected.

Here some examples:

  • On October 1, 2020, Postbank increased the popular Giro Plus account from €3.90 per month to €4.90.
  • For its part, Deutsche Bank increased the active account from 5.90 euros to 6.90 euros in autumn 2020. For the Best account, the monthly fee went from 11.90 to 13.90 euros.
  • In May 2020, ING Diba broke with a long tradition and introduced a monthly fee of 4.90 euros for the free current account for the first time. Since then, the institute charges the fee if customers do not use the ING current account regularly, but only to store money.
  • Commerzbank increased the premium account by 30 percent in the same year. Instead of 9.90 euros, customers pay 12.90 euros from June 1.
  • Starting April 1, 2020, Sparkasse Ulm increased the popular current account from 6 euros to 7.90 euros; The product is no longer called Giro Kompakt, but Giro Komfort.

Who else could claim the money back?

Do you have a checking account that has been paying higher fees since January 1, 2018? You will then be entitled to a refund as soon as the judgment becomes final. Online, branch and, above all, premium accounts of the main German financial institutions are affected.

These include, for example, accounts at ING Diba, Postbank, Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank. In addition, some regional savings banks, Volksbanks and Landesbanken, increased their banking fees by up to 65 percent between January 1, 2018 and December 2022. This affects not only account management fees, but also the costs of transfers, SMS-Tan or account statements.

How to recover bank fees

The verdict is not yet legally binding. Customers should now look for their statements from previous years. Because then the demands would be possible. “The tariff increases of recent years are simply ineffective,” explains Niels Nauhauser from the Baden-Württemberg Consumer Center in Stuttgart. “Customers can request this money back from their bank or savings bank.”

You can request your money back using the sample letter from the consumer service center. As proof, the letter must be sent by certified mail with return receipt requested. According to Nauhauser, the price list valid at the time of account opening applies. Customers have to find out for themselves what that was.

FOCUS online advises: Browse your bank's old monthly statements from January 1, 2018. You can also search online banking. Many banks require a fee or TAN to release data and view overdue transfers online.

Look for the “account maintenance fee” item on the statement. Now let's look at a current bank statement as an example. Look again for the “account management fee” item. Is there any difference between the January 2018 value and approximately the April 2024 value? If so, write a letter and demand that your bank refund the overpaid fees. Simply calculate from the time the increase was applied to the current month. To count months, you can use so-called time calculators.

  • Case example: Martín paid 7.90 euros for his bank account in January 2018. The bank increased the fees to 11.90 euros in June 2019 and again to 12.90 euros in December 2020. In March 2024 the bank will increase it to 13.90 euros. Martin now has to do the math: he can demand the money back for the period from June 2019 to March 2024, as long as he does not agree with the price increases.

17 months have passed between June 2019 and November 2020. During this period he paid 202.30 euros in bank fees. Due to the BGH ruling, only 134.30 euros were legal. This represents additional costs of 68 euros.

For the period from December 2020 to May 2021, he paid five months again. During this time Martín paid 64.50 euros. In reality, he would have only had to pay 39.50 euros for it because, according to the BGH ruling, he only had to pay 7.90 euros instead of 12.90 euros. The additional costs were 39.50 euros. Martin can therefore claim a total of up to 107.50 euros at best! If you add the euro from March 2024, the refund is 108.50 euros.

Here you will find a sample letter on how to request a refund:

Banks press for signatures and threaten to terminate the contract

Banks have already responded to the ruling of the Federal Court of Justice by actively urging their clients to accept the general conditions. In several specific cases, financial institutions even threaten to cancel the account if the signature is not received on time.

FOCUS online advises: Check potential refund claims before accepting.

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