Consumer advocates are alarmed: According to a recent survey, between the beginning of September and the beginning of December alone, every seventh consumer slipped into the red with his account. The rising cost of living is forcing more and more people to overdraw their accounts.

Around half of those surveyed gave high costs as the reason for overdrafting their account, for example due to increased inflation or high energy prices. If the current account slips into the red, the bank usually grants its customers the overdraft facility feared by consumer advocates. However, there can be no question of a benevolent rescue, because the liquidity advance comes with interest rates currently averaging 10.07 percent per year – almost twice as high as regular consumer loans with a term of one to five years.

The consumer centers take a critical view of this development. Like other consumer credits, the overdraft facility is not actually intended to finance everyday life, but for short-term purchases, warns the chairwoman of the Federal Consumer Association (VZBV), Ramona Pop, in an interview with SWR: “In this respect, we see with concern that the increased The cost of living, from energy to food prices, drives people into borrowing because normal income is no longer sufficient.”

Nine percent of those surveyed also assume that they will not be able to bear the increased cost of living in the long term and will have to go into debt. In addition, those surveyed are afraid that they will not be able to balance their account again until six months at the earliest.

For the representative study, Forsa interviewed around 1,000 people by telephone on behalf of the Federal Association of Consumer Organizations from December 8 to 12, 2022.

The Federal Association of German Volksbanken and Raiffeisenbanken sees no problem in this context: “Thanks to a large offer, bank customers have it in their own hands where and on what terms they want to use an overdraft facility,” said ARD on request.

The current account comparison from FOCUS online shows how large the variation is in the overdraft interest. While the ING only calculates 6.99 percent, Commerzbank calculates 11.7 percent. Christian Görke, financial policy spokesman for the left faction, therefore also calls for an upper limit for overdraft interest. He proposes a value of five percent above the key interest rate of the European Central Bank. Since the adjustment on February 2, 2023, this has been three percent, so the required overdraft limit would currently be eight percent. “That’s a lot, but it’s not ten, eleven, twelve percent,” says Görke.

The VZBV, on the other hand, calls on the federal government to only promote short-term use of the overdraft facility, to avoid unjustified costs and to ensure effective help in the event of over-indebtedness. Among other things, a thorn in the side of consumer advocates is that some banks voluntarily grant a credit limit of two or even three times the monthly net income as an overdraft facility. Anyone who then exhausts this, often does not get out of the debt trap for years. According to the VZBV, a limitation of the disposition framework, a ban on compound interest on loan amounts already granted to prevent interest rate explosions and easier access to free debt counseling are therefore necessary.

While the Left Party’s proposal for a ceiling on overdraft facilities will not meet with much approval in the Bundestag, the coalition agreement gives hope for improvement: It was agreed there that fundamentally more should be done to combat over-indebtedness.

Meanwhile, there is a discussion in the European Union that consumer credit, which also includes the overdraft facility, may only be granted if the person concerned also has an appropriate credit rating, i.e. can also repay the loan. A cap on overdraft interest is not planned.

VZBV boss Pop advises people who are particularly suffering from price increases to use advice, for example at the local consumer advice center.

Changing your checking account can also be a sensible precautionary measure. In the FOCUS Online current account comparison you will find the best offers with the lowest interest rates. If the account then slips into the red, you have at least taken precautions and made the best of the situation.