Mr Black buys a BMW car in terms of a hire purchase agreement and the financing is done through BMW Finance. After a few months Mr Black inherits a huge sum of money and decides that he wants to settle the outstanding amount. Mr Black’s concern is whether the credit provider is entitled to charge a penalty fee for early settlement of the outstanding finance amount.
The first step in answering the abovementioned question will be to determine which laws regulate the situation. The legislation that applies here will be the National Credit Act 34 of 2005 and the Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008.
In the above scenario a distinction should be drawn between the scope of each of these Acts, as the one pertains to the credit agreement itself and the other to the goods, being the BMW car. Section 5 of the Consumer Protection Act lists the situations in which this Act will apply. Section 5(2)(d) is of particular interest to Mr Black as it excludes credit agreements which are regulated by the National Credit Act. However, the goods or services provided in terms of the credit agreement are included and will be regulated by the Consumer Protection Act, whereas credit agreements as contemplated in the National Credit Act, specifically section 8(4)(c), includes hire purchase agreements (instalment agreements) in the ambit of the National Credit Act.
Mr Black’s situation illustrates the position as stated in Article 5(2)(d) of the Consumer Protection Act. The implication of this section is that all credit agreements that are subject to the National Credit Act will be governed by the National Credit Act, but the goods and services in terms of the agreement will fall within the scope of the Consumer Protection Act. It is here that the above acts overlap with each other. The overlap actually lies in that both acts can apply to one agreement. The credit agreement must comply with the National Credit Act, but the goods and services must comply with the Consumer Protection Act. If there is a defect in the quality of the goods or the service the Consumer Protection Act will provide the appropriate remedy, but if it is about the credit agreement itself, then the National Credit Act will apply.
Section 2(9) of the Consumer Protection Act deals with the interpretation of the Act and more specifically on how the law has to be interpreted in cases where there are discrepancies between the Consumer Protection Act and any other law. The Consumer Protection Act should be read in harmony with other legislation as far as possible, but if it is not possible, then the law that offers the most protection to the consumer shall apply.
The two sections in the National Credit Act which deals with the early settlement of credit agreements are sections 122 and 125 of the Act. According to section 122 of the National Credit Act, a consumer may terminate the credit agreement at any time. The consumer can do this by paying the settlement amount as calculated in accordance with section 125 of the National Credit Act.
Section 125 states that a consumer is entitled to cancel a credit agreement at any time with or without prior notice to the credit provider. The settlement amount will be the sum of the following amounts:
- The outstanding balance of the principal debt / capital amount.
- All rates and charges up to and including the settlement date. For example, if the outstanding amount can be settled after 3 months, then 3 months’ interest would be charged. The interest will be calculated on the principal amount borrowed.
In the case of a large credit agreement (R250 000.00 or more) the outstanding amount will be calculated as above, but with additional interest, known as an early settlement fee. The fee may not exceed an amount equal to three months’ interest on the capital amount.
Therefore, if the BMW that Mr Black bought was worth more than R250 000.00 the credit provider will be entitled to charge a penalty fee of not more than 3 months’ interest on the capital amount. In the event that the purchased item’s worth is less than R250 000.00 the credit provider will not be entitled to charge a penalty fee.
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted. (E&OE).