What Expats should do if there is bank trouble with their bank in Germany


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Banks are increasingly being criticized. In the past, for example, many premium savings contracts were canceled by the savings banks and the interest was incorrect. Read below on what rights you have when it comes to bank trouble.

This is especially important for Expats who are trying to get on their feet in Germany. Sometimes banks in Germany tend to make changes to their terms and conditions and retroactively inform their customers. Read below what rights you have and how you should handle issues if you run into bank trouble with your bank.

Bank trouble: Bank Charges

Which bank charges are allowed and which are not?

Banks now charge a large number of fees and additional fees. The imagination seems to know no limits, especially since the classic banking business seems less and less profitable due to the permanently low interest rates. Not all fees are allowed, however. 

Account management fees, fees for giro and credit cards as well as fees for paper transfers or fees for withdrawing cash from the machine are permitted, for example. 

In contrast, courts have declared the charging of processing fees for credit agreements to be inadmissible (this “service” is already covered by the contractual interest), fees for sending SMS TANs and unsolicited account statements.

bank trouble

Bank trouble: Unfair treatment at the bank

Who can you turn to if you feel that the bank has treated you unfairly?

First of all, the consumer advice centers have specialists who are familiar with the matter and from whom you can get advice. Their websites are also very informative and deal with current questions about banking law. In the event of disputes with the bank about credit agreements, payment transactions or checking accounts, the complaints offices of the private banks can be called in. 

As a customer, you can use the forms provided to present their concerns. If there is no agreement, ombudsmen mediate between the customer and the bank. They examine the case and propose a solution:

Although the ombudsmen named are each financed by the companies in the sector, they make objective decisions based on their articles of association. While the companies affiliated to the respective sponsoring association have generally submitted to the arbitrator’s ruling in advance – limited to certain maximum amounts – the customer is free in all of the cases mentioned to accept the arbitrator’s ruling or to file a lawsuit.

Bank trouble: Unfair interest rate adjustments

Interest rate adjustment clauses in long-term savings contracts have been the subject of several model declaratory actions before the Dresden Higher Regional Court. The court found the consumer advice centers right in the starting point and declared the clauses to be inadmissible. 

The interest rate adjustment is not per se inadmissible, but must be based on a reference interest rate that must be determined individually for each contract. The Federal Court of Justice had previously ruled in a similar case as well. Those affected should contact the consumer advice centers if necessary.

bank trouble

Bank trouble: Stolen credit card

Can the holder of a credit card, if it is stolen from them and used by the thieves to pay for services by means of a forged signature, be used by the credit card company?

The credit card company, which – figuratively speaking – disburses the money to pay for the services used (purchase, service, etc.) for the credit card holder can demand so-called reimbursement of expenses (Section 670 BGB). However, this entitlement does not exist if the credit card was used improperly by a third party, i.e. without or against the will of the credit card holder (Section 676h BGB). So the risk lies with the bank.

However, the credit card holder may be liable to pay compensation to the credit card company in connection with the improper use of the credit card, for example if the loss of the credit card is not reported to the credit card company immediately after it is discovered so that it can be blocked. Leaving the credit card lying around in a generally accessible place also represents a culpable breach of contractual obligations, which enables the credit card company to recourse.

Bank trouble: Stolen girocard

The girocard was stolen and immediately after the theft it was used several times to withdraw money from ATMs. The cardholder cannot explain how the thief got his personal identification number (PIN). Does he have to accept the debits on his account?

If the holder of a giro card culpably allows a third party to misuse it, he is liable to the bank for damages, whereby the liability according to the general terms and conditions is limited to certain quotas depending on the degree of fault. 

The cardholder may have to compensate for the entire damage if he has kept the giro card and the associated PIN in the same place. It is usually unclear how the thief obtained the knowledge of the PIN required for use at the ATM. 

The Federal Court of Justice (judgment of November 29, 2011, Az .: XI ZR 370/10) allows prima facie evidence to the detriment of the cardholder that the cardholder, contrary to his duty, noted the PIN on the card or kept it together with it if the original card was withdrawn has been used.

bank trouble

Bank trouble: Negative interest rates

Are banks also allowed to charge negative interest rates from private customers?

In combination with account management fees, even low or no interest rates can result in the bank customer losing part of his credit balance or daily money. Whether banks are also allowed to charge negative interest rates has not yet been conclusively clarified in the case law. 

However, initial judgments at the sub-judicial level show the tendency that in business dealings with private customers, formal agreements (“General Terms and Conditions”) on the charging of negative interest are considered to be ineffective.

Bank trouble: Wages in cash

Are you still allowed to ask for your wages to be paid out in cash or does it have to be processed through a bank account?

Cash is legal tender. So you can settle your debts, including the obligation to pay your wages, in cash. In principle, the obligee may also request cash payment, but a different method of payment is usually agreed. Most employment contracts contain a – without hesitation effective – regulation, according to which the wages are to be paid to a current account of the employee.

Bank trouble: Savings guarantee and insurance

How safe is my money in the bank? What is the maximum amount you should have in one account?

Deposits up to an amount of 100,000 euros are legally protected in Germany (and across the EU). In the event of a bank becoming insolvent, the statutory compensation scheme or the institutional security system to which it belongs will apply in the amount of 100 percent of the respective deposit, up to a maximum of 100,000 euros. 

The banks’ voluntary deposit insurance usually goes far beyond that. Even with small banks that only have the legally required minimum equity of 5 million euros, amounts of up to 750,000 euros per depositor are fully protected. 

In the statutory compensation scheme, liabilities from securities transactions are also secured at a rate of 90 percent, up to a maximum value of EUR 20,000.

Expaturm aims to help educate Expats in Germany on key issues that they will have to deal with while living in Germany by providing everything you need to know about Banking, Healthcare, Lifestyle, and Housing in Germany


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