Those who paid in 100 euros a month for decades received seven percent interest on their deposits plus a bonus of up to 50 percent for each deposit, or 600 euros a year on top of that. Such premium savings contracts of the 1980s and 1990s are now a thorn in the side of credit institutions. "In the low-interest phase, such contracts, which originate from a time with a completely different market situation, are particularly burdensome for the savings banks", explains mathias polz, spokesman for the savings bank of bamberg, which recently announced premium savings contracts of 1556 customers. While the interest rates are variable, the guaranteed premiums are expensive for the savings banks.
The decision was not easy, but the market situation left the credit institutions with no other choice. This was made possible by a ruling of the federal court of justice (BGH) in may 2019, according to which such contracts may be cancelled as soon as the highest premium level is reached.
It hits the most loyal
The ruling initially led to waves of cancellations in the new federal states, followed by nurnberg (21,000 cancellations) and munich at the end of the summer. According to "handelsblatt some 40 savings banks across germany have announced more than 100,000 premium contracts.
However, not all notices are legal, as bamberg lawyer udo ostermann notes: "if a specific term is specified in the contract, it is binding." Ostermann has seen contracts with terms of up to 99 years, which the banks were not allowed to approve. This is also guaranteed by sparkasse spokesman polz: "we adhere to our contractual agreements and continue contracts that, in our opinion, are not notifiable according to the case law of the federal court of justice." Lawyer ostermann is currently handling four cases involving the premium savings contracts, but expects more soon: "this is a mass phenomenon." Particularly bitter: "it hits the most loyal savers the hardest." Because only those who have paid in regularly over decades can get the lucrative bonuses. Ostermann is so far only aware of waves of notices from the savings banks.
VR bank customers not affected
"VR bank bamberg currently has similar savings contracts in its portfolio, but there are no plans to "customerize" them on the part of the bank, bernhard lamprecht, chairman of the vr bank bamberg, announced in response to a question. From a business point of view, the old contracts have long since ceased to be worthwhile, "but the volume is manageable for us and we don't want to make a big fuss, he explains. Ten years ago, his bank had already adjusted its savings contract models in response to the low interest rate policy, for example by shortening maturities. The chairman doubts that in the future there will be the same dream conditions for savers as in the 1980s and 1990s. "There are currently few signs in the market that there will be any change in the low interest rate policy." This is also the view of savings bank spokesman polz and banking and capital markets lawyer ostermann. Since banks have to pay penalty interest for parking money at the ECB, such a step is necessary, explains polz. "It is important to keep the sparkasse bamberg efficient in the long term" – in order to stand as a credit as well as an employer.
Ostermann's advice: "economically more important than letting the contract run for another year or two is a correct settlement." In a case he is in charge of, the bank "from our point of view," he told the munchner merkur 15,000 euros undercharged due to incorrectly calculated reference interest rate. Nobody, not even me, can beat this interest rate in a hurry", gives ostermann to consider. However, the consumer advice center, for example, arranges for experts to check accounts for 85 euros.
Klaus muller, chairman of the consumer center, meanwhile, has little sympathy for the wave of cancellations on the part of the savings bank: "the savings banks are not only taking a hit from the low interest rates", he told the munchner merkur. "Loans taken out years ago at high interest rates must be repaid at the high interest rates of that time, even if the interest rate is now significantly lower. Of course, private customers cannot simply terminate their contracts."
In brief: what customers can do
Skepticism "be skeptical about alternative offers to current, high-interest construction or bonus savings contracts", advice the consumer center (VZ). Newer offers usually had significantly worse conditions, especially for long-term savers. In addition, attorney udo ostermann notes that the reference interest rate, with which the savings banks justify their settlement after notice, is sometimes calculated incorrectly. Here a review by a legal adviser or the VZ is worthwhile. If you have already received a notice of objection, the VZ advises you to submit a written objection. VZ provides a sample letter on its homepage. In the event of an objection, those affected do not take any risk, but make their dissenting legal position known. Those who object must continue to pay the savings premiums. And those who receive payments from the savings contract should not spend the money. Otherwise, this could be understood as tacit acceptance of the announcement. Checking individual contracts whether the notice is legal depends on the individual contract. Although the federal court of justice allows the termination of open-ended premium savings contracts as soon as the highest premium has been paid out at least once, there are often also fixed terms. If such a one is indicated, the bank cannot inform them in the rule case also not before.