When José H., 49, hired a mortgage with his usual bank, they offered him a credit card that was all advantages: no annual fee, with the possibility of paying small or large amounts by month depending on your possibilities … Then you opened another account, and it was also accompanied by a deferred payment credit card, known in the sector as revolving. As he traveled a lot to Barcelona, in his office they proposed another one, linked to an airline, that would discount him. "I almost got together with a Spanish but credit card", jokes José, who asks for anonymity because he is still a client of the same office in an Asturian city of the same bank, Caixabank, despite having won three trials, one per card.
The word usury refers to the nineteenth-century and miserable environment in which the Mr. Scrooge of Dickens, but in the courts of the Spanish mercantile is very topical. Judges are condemning banks for their cards revolving based on a law enacted more than a century ago which prohibits lending money with "leonine" and "disproportionate" interests. With that law in hand, and a judgment of the Supreme Court of 2015, the courts are giving the reason to hundreds of users of these cards, canceling contracts and forcing entities to return all interest. Sources in the banking sector admit their concern about the phenomenon, which is relatively new and still a minority, but which is growing encouraged by successes in the courts.
The Law of Usury, of 1908, has only 16 articles and "is one of the few historical laws that remains in force," says Juan Antonio Lozano, magistrate of the Provincial Court of Almeria and expert in commercial law. "We still call it Ley Azcárate, the name of the Minister of Justice of the time. It is very valid, very flexible and has few articles, but it is very clear: it declares invalid the usurious interest, "he adds.
"In the years of the bubble where everything was credit and happiness people got very involved," reflects José H. He was no exception. The bank was increasing the line of credit and he was buying. He paid small fees when he was in a hurry and higher when the payroll allowed. Years passed. "I always owed 10,000 euros. And I thought: how strange, because I'm paying, sometimes 350 or 400 euros a month, but that never went down ". The three cards of José H. had an APR (annual equivalent rate, the real cost of a loan, including interest and commissions) of between 26.8% and 30%. And when he sued Caixabank the judges said that this was usury. He recovered 7,000 euros.
"We are winning everything, 100%," says Ignacio Hernando, a lawyer from a small office in Aviles that is starting to make banks nervous. Many of the favorable judgments for the consumer have come out of here. They have 400. They started in Asturias but they have also won in Cantabria, León, Madrid, País Vasco and Barcelona, explains their partner, Celestino García Carreño. The last sentence, of September 27, has been issued by a court of first instance in Salamanca. The interest, of 19.55% "is usurious considering that the average interest rate for consumer loans at that date was 8.92% in Spain", says the ruling. In terms of usury, the reference is usually an interest higher than two and a half times the legal interest of the money. Recently several provincial hearings (Oviedo, Gijón, Madrid …) have also failed in appeal in favor of consumers.
"We are modest and they see us as a lesser evil, because it has not been generalized throughout Spain. We do not make them pupa. Your problem will come when this extends. The mortgage commissions are going to be in peccadillo compared to this. We talk about astronomical quantities. 95% of the credit cards on the market are usurers. Many people have a mortgage, but who does not have a credit card? "Asks Hernando.
Personal loans and credit cards
For the lawyers of Avilés, the only difference between the personal credits as those of Cofidis or Vivus and the credit cards are the interests, much higher in the first case. "Our record is an APR of 4.333%," says Hernando.
In 2006, Yolanda C. Pulido was recently divorced, with two young children in her charge and chaining temporary jobs. The breakdown of his car was that drop that fills the glass of the battered family economy. The bill: 700 euros that I did not have. The bank did not lend them and suddenly all that Cofidis publicity that he used to ignore began to get his attention. He ended up contracting with them a loan of 1,000 euros. "I was expanding the line and, as I was in a very precarious situation, suffocated, I used it. But the years passed and for more than paid he did not finish liquidating the debt ", he explains.
A decade later, he sat in front of the computer, made an Excel with all the payments and realized that, of 50 euros, he was only paying 15. The rest was interest and insurance. It turned out that Pulido had been lent 5,562 euros, had paid well more than double (12,480) and still claimed another 2,000. He demanded. And he won: the court declared the interest "usurious" and Cofidis had to return him 6,799 euros, all that exceeded the amount initially lent. "Only those of us in a desperate or critical situation fall into this type of cards or credits. How will you think they charge you illegal interests if they advertise everywhere? You do not even think about it, "says Pulido.
Sources of the banking sector assure that not all the provincial audiences share the criterion of the Supreme and defend that the problem is in the credits to the consumption of entities not regulated and not in the credit cards with deferred payment of a bank, that have very similar prices between them. Banks such as Caixabank, WiZink, Evo Finance and BBVA have been convicted already in second instance. In some cases also foreign funds that bought debt packages from banks like Citibank. Only WiZink (Banco Popular group) has 800 claims, according to a spokesperson, which states that they only represent 0.03% of the client portfolio. "Largely there is still no sentence" because they are very recent, he adds.
"Banks always say that cards are easy credit means, that guarantees are not requested and that there is a lot of delinquency," says García Carreño. "But the Supreme Court is forceful." The 2015 ruling that initiated this escalation of lawsuits states: "The irresponsible grant of consumer loans that facilitates the over-indebtedness of consumers and has the consequence that those who regularly comply with their obligations have to bear the consequences of the high level of defaults, not it can be protected by the legal system ".
María Pérez Arellano, lawyer for Pola de Siero (Asturias), also got her client to recover the money. The woman hired the card in an Ikea, buying the furniture for the house on time. In the Swedish company they say that their conditions are advantageous, with up to 36 months of deferred payment and without interest, but they add that "the rest of operations are managed by the banking entity". That was her client's problem: when she bought outside of Ikea or when she took out money with the card, from Caixabank, she paid interests so high that they were "usurious" according to the court.