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Spanish bank accounts: Why you shouldn’t leave them inactive for too long

Spanish bank accounts: Why you shouldn't leave them inactive for too long
Photo: AFP
Not using a bank account you have in Spain can cost you dearly in the long run, with both the country's tax agency and your bank having the right to take all or some of your money. Here's what you need to know.

Bank transactions in Spain are monitored by the watchful eye of the country’s Agencia Tributaria, also known as Hacienda, especially when it comes to payments above €3,000, transfers of more than €10,000 and deposits of €500 banknotes. 

Banks in Spain are in fact legally obliged to inform Hacienda of any of these transactions, as well as credits and loans above €6,000, but tax authorities can also request permission from financial entities to investigate a specific account at any time.

The general consensus is that the State and Spain’s private banks maintain a close relationship with little banking secrecy, at least when it comes to the financial movements of ordinary account holders (94 percent of Spaniards have a bank account according to 2018 estimates).

Spain’s Tax Agency can take all the money from inactive bank accounts

Rather than just being able to monitor transactions, Spain’s Tax Agency can also check for account inactivity as banks provide them with this information as well.

Fortunately, they only have the right to empty inactive accounts after 20 years without use.

Although this may seem to exclude the vast majority of account holders, Hacienda still managed to fill public coffers with an extra €12.57 million from these inactive accounts in 2019, 13 percent more than the previous year (€150 million over the last 10 years).

It could be an account which an elderly relative has and completely forgotten about, an account of a person without descendants who can inherit the money or one which you opened when you lived in Spain years ago.

It’s worth noting that this also applies to any inactive banking product: investment funds, fixed income securities, economic rights etc

Don’t leave your Spanish account without any money in it

The Bank of Spain has warned account holders in the country that when cancelling an account “it isn’t enough to leave your balance at zero”, but rather that you have to contact the bank to give express written instructions to cancel the account.

Even if you want to keep the account open in case you choose to use it in the future, remember that most banks in Spain charge maintenance and other fees on a regular basis.

This means that you could be unknowingly overdrawn if you have very few funds, and a penalty fee which could mount up without your knowledge if you’re not receiving correspondence from your Spanish bank.

More banking fees after three years of inactivity

As a general rule, when three years have passed and a Spanish current account has not registered a single transaction, Spanish banks put these dormant accounts on a separate list, to which a different set of maintenance fees apply with respect to regular account users.

The standard practice is for them at the very least to charge the maximum maintenance fees published in the Bank of Spain: €36 euros per year.

There are many cases of parents opening accounts and depositing a small amount for their newborns, only to forget about the accounts all together and then find out that they are a couple hundred euros overdrawn.

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Don’t expect banks to get in touch

Even though the Bank of Spain considers it bad practice for private banks to not inform the holders of inactive accounts that they are being charged, it’s still something which happens regularly.

According to consumer.es, Spanish banks don’t tend to pressure the customer to pay the expenses derived from an account that has been abandoned, allowing debt to mount up.

There are also reports that some account holders are instructed to withdraw all funds from their accounts instead of officially closing them, under the premise that after 6 months these will be deemed cancelled accounts, which is not correct.

You should always update your contact details and address so that you can receive all the necessary correspondence from the bank.

That way you will have a better claim as you do have the right to report them for not informing you about the charges.

If your bank doesn’t offer you a satisfactory solution, you can contact the “Departamento de Conducta de Mercados y Reclamaciones del Banco de España” (The Bank of Spain’s Department of Conduct and Claims) on 900 54 54 54 or 913 38 88 30 (C/ Alcalá, 48, 28014 Madrid). 


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