The Dangers of Leaving Spanish Bank Accounts Inactive for Too Long

It would be near-impossible to live in Spain without opening a Spanish bank account. This will make it easier to pay your bills and expenses, and deal with all the other day-to-day financial aspects of your life in Spain. Choosing the right Spanish bank account is essential, but so too is ensuring that you use your bank account regularly. If you don’t both the Spanish tax agency and the bank themselves are legally able to take money from your account, without having to tell you about it first! To keep your cash safely in your pocket where it belongs, here’s everything you need to know:

The Role of the Agencia Tributaria

The Agencia Tributaria, also known as the Hacienda is the body whose role it is to monitor bank transactions in Spain. If you make a payment of over €3,000, transfer funds of more than €10,000 or deposit any €500 banknotes then your bank is legally obliged to inform the Hacienda, who will investigate to ensure that the transaction is legal and above board. Even if your transaction doesn’t meet any of these criteria, the Hacienda can still request permission from financial entities to investigate a specific account at any time, usually as a result of an ongoing financial investigation. There is little banking secrecy in Spain: the State and the private banks in the country work together closely, and therefore the state generally knows about the financial status and movements of bank account-holding citizens.

Why is this important? Well, because as well as being able to monitor your transactions, the Hacienda can also check for account inactivity. If a bank account hasn’t been used for 20 years, then the bank will inform them, and they have the right to empty this account no matter how much money is in them. 20 years might seem like a long time, and this might not seem relevant to you right now, but in 2019 the Hacienda managed to glean an additional €12.57 million from these public accounts, meaning it is affecting a significant number of people. Over 150 million euros has been raised for the public purse in this way over the last ten years.

Who is Being Impacted?

It could be that an elderly relative has opened an account and then forgotten about it, that someone has passed away without descendants or a will dictating where their money should go when they’ve gone, or that someone moved to Spain and opened a bank account, then forgot to close it when they left the country. If you have ever had a bank account or any other kind of banking product in Spain, it is worth checking before it’s too late.

Close Your Bank Account Properly

If you do leave Spain, or simply switch from one bank to another, then it is important that you contact the bank to close the account. The Bank of Spain has issued a warning for account holders that leaving an account with a zero balance is not the same as cancelling it; most Spanish banks charge maintenance fees, and other regular fees to their account holders, so you could find that if you leave an account with a balance of zero, you will run up a significant overdraft on the account due to the penalty fees that will quickly mount up, even without your knowledge.

If your account is left in this state of inactivity for three years or more then it will be placed on a separate list of dormant accounts by your bank and a different set of maintenance fees will apply. This will vary slightly from bank to bank, but the standard practice is for them to charge the maximum maintenance fees published in the Bank of Spain: €36 euros per year. They may add other charges too. This is a system that many new parents fall foul of, as they open a bank account with a small balance for their children and then forget all about it, until the account is empty of overdrawn when they check it several years later.

Will The Bank Get in Touch?

If your account is dormant or running up an overdraft due to fees being charged, you would expect them to get in touch to inform you about the activity on your account. Whilst this would be considered best practice, sadly many Spanish banks do not contact their account holders in this way. The onus is on you to check any bank accounts in your name.

Close your account correctly, even if you bank informs you it would be easier to simply leave it with a zero balance: this isn’t always the case, as outlined above. Ensure that your bank always has your most up to date contact details, so that if they do contact you, you will receive the correspondence. Keep track of your banking, so that you don’t have to give away any of your hard-earnt money unexpectedly!

If you have fallen foul of these banking systems, and don’t feel that your bank has treated you fairly, 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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