Brussels, 14 January 2008
Consumer Affairs: European Parliament to vote on Consumer Credit Directive (Wednesday 16th January 2008)
Consumers across Europe would be able to make better informed choices when they take out consumer credit loans - paying for holidays, weddings or a new car - following a vote in the European Parliament on Wednesday 16th January 2008. The proposed EU Directive on Consumer Credit Loans aims to break open the €800 billion EU consumer loans market which remains largely fragmented into national markets denying consumers choice and more competitive prices. The new rules will make the market more transparent for consumers and business competitors. The main effect will be to provide standard, comparable information to customers across the EU taking out a credit loan. Under the new rules, consumers will be assured access to key facts and figures in advertisements. For credit offers, the information given to consumers (e.g interest rates, amount, number and frequency of payments, the obligation to take out an insurance or the charges for defaulting) must be set out in a new comparable EU-wide European Credit Information Form. And there will be a new single EU-wide method for calculating the (APR) Annual Percentage Rate of Charge so consumers can see the real cost of credit. The proposed directive also sets common standards on a right of withdrawal so consumers can change their mind. This Consumer Credit Directive is part of a bigger drive to boost the cross border market in retail financial services as set out in the Green Paper on Retail Financial Services adopted by the Commission in May 2007.
1. What is the current situation?
The current rules on consumer credit result from Directive 87/102. This Directive contains certain minimum requirements, including in particular a few information obligations, a basic right to repay early without any specifications, and a common calculation method for the Annual Percentage Rate. Member States were allowed to go beyond these provisions to better protect their consumers, and a very large number of them did so, but to a different extent. Therefore, credit legislations still differ strongly in the EU.
Consumer credit plays an important part in the EU economy. According to data from 2005, outstanding credit is at a level equal to nearly one tenth of EU GDP. It plays an especially great role in countries like the UK, Ireland, Germany and Austria, where it accounts for around one fifth of household private consumption, and a growing role in countries like Poland and Hungary, where it accounts for nearly one tenth. Consumer loans represent on average almost 18% of the gross income of retail banking in the EU.
Across the EU the picture is varied, as markets are in different stages of development. The outstanding consumer credit per person ranges from less than 100 EUR in some Member States like Lithuania or Slovakia to over 3000 EUR in Member States like the UK or Ireland with the highest level of consumer credit.
The consumer credit market in the EU is already worth over 800 billion EUR, with an average annual growth rate of over 8%.
That shows the potential for big savings for consumers, if increased competition brings even a small reduction in the interest rates charged to consumers on such a significant amount.
According to ECB data the average rate charged on a consumer credit in the Euro area in 2007 varies from around 6% in the cheapest country (Finland) to over 12% in Portugal, the country with the highest interest rate. Other examples illustrate this variety of situations: 9.4% in Italy and Spain, 7.1% in France or 6.8% in Ireland. This suggests there are considerable potential benefits, for banks and consumers, in developing a cross border market in consumer credit.
2. What is the problem?
Direct cross-border consumer credit represents less than 1% of the volume of credit transactions, which shows that the internal market is not functioning. Creditors therefore tend to establish themselves abroad when they want to reach foreign markets. They cannot use the internal market to a full extent, and this deprives consumers from access to a greater diversity of offers and more competitive prices.
3. What are the reasons?
For consumers, according to the Eurobarometer of 2005, the two biggest barriers to purchasing a financial service from another Member State are to do with communicating in another language (31%) and lack of personal contact (26%). However five of the next six barriers given are to do with consumer confidence and quality of information. The Commission wants to tackle those barriers that can be tackled. If we can remove these barriers, with better information, and harmonised levels of protection, there is an opportunity to open up cross border trade. As regards the banks, if they want to provide credit directly across borders, they need to adapt each time to a new national legislation and therefore face more costs, for instance they cannot use the same IT platform throughout the EU.
4. What are the new proposals?
The proposal for a Directive in its current form aims to start to open up the market in cross border credit with new rules with the main effect to provide certain key information to consumers in a standard format. This will make the market more transparent for consumers and for business competitors. Consumers will have the information they need to make informed choices and, if they decide to, to shop cross border.
The Consumer Credit Directive focuses on transparency and consumer rights. It aims to give consumers standard, comparable information on:
The Directive also sets out two essential rights for consumers:
5. The bigger picture
The Consumer Credit Directive is an important first step in improving transparency and competition in Europe. But it is just a part of a much bigger drive to boost the internal market in retail financial services. The recent Green Paper on retail financial services highlighted three important aims:
All of which are central to Commissioner Kuneva's consumer policy strategy.
The Consumer Credit Directive will deliver on all of these, by giving people good standard information, which is easy to compare. The APR figure, indicating the cost of the loan, which they can compare all over Europe, the right to withdraw or to repay early without excessive charges, and a transparent presentation of their rights and obligations will give them confidence to shop around. It will bring competitive pressures to the market, resulting in a better choice, and lower prices.
European Central Bank (ECB) Statistical Data Warehouse: http://sdw.ecb.int/