Spanish mortgages – How to remove the minimum interest rate clause from your mortgage.
If your mortgage has a minimum interest rate, or mortgage floor, it can cost you money.
What is a mortgage with a minimum interest rate?
HelpMyCash.com, a mortgage portal, explains that a mortgage floor is a mortgage in which there is a lower limit on the amount of interest you pay on your mortgage each month, which means that if the Euribor falls below a certain level you do not benefit from the fall, even though, in these times of crisis, there are a lot of families whose monthly mortgage payments have been greatly reduced thanks to reductions in the Euribor.
Mortgage contracts which have a minimum interest rate also have a variable interest rate (Euribor + differential) and this means that banks can use the two rates in the following way:-
- If the Euribor + differential is below the minimum interest rate, the bank charges the minimum interest rate
- If the Euribor + differential is higher than the minimum interest rate, the bank charges the Euribor + differential.
This means that banks will always charge the higher amount, whatever the rates.
When does a mortgage floor constitute an unfair clause?
Although there are multiple irregularities regarding mortgage floors (confusing publicity, banks failing to provide sufficient information, being deemed unfair under Article 49 of the Consumer Act etc), from a legal point of view, mortgages with a minimum interest rate can only be considered to be unfair when they fulfill at least one of the two following conditions:-
1. The contract with a minimum interest rate does not have a cap. That is to say, the bank protects itself against reductions in the Euribor, but does not offer the mortgager any protection if the Euribor goes up.
2. There is no legally binding mortgage offer (document drawn up by the bank which contains the exact mortgage conditions agreed upon by the parties), the mortgage offer does not mention a floor, or it is not signed by the customer. For this reason, it is always best to start by negotiating with your bank. There are various ways to try and remove, or at least reduce, a mortgage floor.
Recommendations on how to remove a mortgage floor from your mortgage:-
1. Negotiate with your bank before the periodic mortgage review.
As a result of the complaints made by several consumer associations and bank customers over recent months, banks are coming to realise that the era of “anything goes” is coming to an end. For this reason they are increasingly willing to remove these controversial clauses from the contracts, or at least reduce them, if customers ask them to do so before the periodic mortgage review. If you have a good financial reputation and an excellent payment history, the bank should do everything in its power to keep you as a customer.
2. Consider a mortgage subrogation (change of bank).
If the bank is unwilling to modify or negotiate the mortgage floor, you can consider the possibility of changing banks. If the new bank offers you better terms by removing the minimum interest rate, and puts this offer into writing in a legally binding mortgage offer, you can use this offer as a negotiating tool with your bank. It will only have two options: match the offer to keep you as a customer, or let you sign the better option.
3. Demand your rights through legal means.
If the negotiations with the bank are not successful, you can still claim your right to a mortgage with no unfair clauses by making a complaint. There are 3 main ways of doing this: (1) making a formal complaint by submitting an extrajudicial complaint to Banco de Espa├▒a (although Banco de Espa├▒a’s decisions are not legally binding); (2) taking private legal action against the bank, and; (3) becoming a member of an association such as ADICAE, ASUAPEDEFIN or similar organisations and becoming part of a joint complaint. As of the time of writing, these actions have prompted several banks against which complaints had been lodged into calling the affected parties, and offering them a reduced interest rate in exchange for withdrawing the complaint.
Recommendations from ADICAE when taking out a mortgage:-
The Banks and Insurance Consumers Association of Spain (ADICAE) recommends that all homebuyers should calculate how much they will pay for the mortgage on the basis of the whole mortgage term, and not just the first five years, as it believes that the latter approach is misleading. To help people avoid the worst mortgage traps, the Association offers several recommendations for anyone thinking of taking out a mortgage.
1: Customers should avoid any binding conditions which are unfair. It is important to take into account the fact that many financial institutions offer loans with a differential over the Euribor of less than 0.5%, but that this offer is conditional to contracting products, pension plans, or investment funds, all of which makes the mortgage much more expensive
2: The requirement for loan guarantees should not be accepted at any time, as it is the borrower, with the property, that is responsible for the loan, and not the guarantor.
3: Toxic products such as minimum interest rate clauses or swap contracts are high risk, and should be avoided. ADICAE thinks that a fair minimum interest rate clause would be one which had a 2% floor, and a 6% cap. If your mortgage has a floor, read these recommendations.
4: ADICAE, advises against going to debt consolidators. The OCU also advised against using them because they earn substantial commissions from acting as intermediaries between clients and banks, and because the solutions they provide are the same ones that you would get by negotiating directly with the bank.
┬áCredit: Fuster & Associates. www.spainsolicitors.com