In the first phase of their home savings contract, many customers pay annual fees – but is that even permissible? Consumer advocates have serious doubts about this. To get the issue resolved, they brought a test case to court. Tuesday will be am Federal Court of Justice (BGH) negotiated in the last instance. It is possible that there is already a verdict.
Building savings for real estate financing is always divided into two major stages: In the savings phase, the building savers pay part of the agreed building savings amount themselves in monthly installments. 40 to 50 percent is usual. After the “allocation” the loan phase begins. The saver receives the entire savings sum and begins to repay the loan granted.
The BGH examined annual account fees in the loan phase a few years ago – and declared them inadmissible. The judges in Karlsruhe ruled in 2017 that customers would be put at an unreasonable disadvantage as a result. The mere administration of the contracts was “not a separately chargeable service”. Here costs would be passed on, which the building society primarily provides in its own interest. For example, the institutes should not charge any additional fees if a customer requests a home loan that is due. A corresponding clause of the Schwäbisch Hall building society, which was widespread in the industry at the time, was declared invalid by the federal judges.
The Federal Association of Consumer Centers (vzbv) believes that nothing else applies to the savings phase. He has the BHW building society sued, which demands an annual fee of twelve euros for each account. According to information from industry circles, such fees are widespread in the savings phase. They can also be called account fees or service flat rates and range from 9 to 24 euros a year.
Building societies rely on the law
The Association of Private Building Societies considers the fees to be legal. The Bausparkassen Act already expressly provides for fees, a spokesman said on request. And there is also something in return: “A sufficient allocation volume requires appropriate control of the building society collective.” The building society must “find the right compromise between stable and the shortest possible waiting times”, constantly monitor the development and, if necessary, take countermeasures in good time.
With the eight state building societies, there are 18 building societies nationwide and almost 24 million building savings contracts (as of the end of 2021). This means that there is at least one home savings contract for every second household. In the past year alone, 1.4 million new contracts were signed and more than 40 billion euros in building funds were paid out.
In the proceedings against BHW, the Celle Higher Regional Court recently agreed with consumer protection groups. If the BGH confirms this judgment, this could have industry-wide effects. The vzbv expects that those affected will then have claims for reimbursement. Usually, statutes of limitations have to be observed. (Az. XI ZR 551/21)