Fair Lending Practice - Penal Charges in Loan Accounts

Reserve Bank has issued various guidelines to the Regulated Entities (REs) to ensure reasonableness and transparency in disclosure of penal interest. Under the extant guidelines, lending institutions have the operational autonomy to formulate Board approved policy for levy of penal rates of interest. It has been observed that many REs use penal rates of interest, over and above the applicable interest rates, in case of defaults / non-compliance by the borrower with the terms on which credit facilities were sanctioned.

2. The intent of levying penal interest/charges is essentially to inculcate a sense of credit discipline and such charges are not meant to be used as a revenue enhancement tool over and above the contracted rate of interest. However, supervisory reviews have indicated divergent practices amongst the REs with regard to levy of penal interest/charges leading to customer grievances and disputes.

3. On a review of the practices followed by REs for charging penal interest/charges on loans, the following instructions are issued for adoption.

(i) Penalty, if charged, for non-compliance of material terms and conditions of loan contract by the borrower shall be treated as ‘penal charges’ and shall not be levied in the form of ‘penal interest’ that is added to the rate of interest charged on the advances. There shall be no capitalisation of penal charges i.e., no further interest computed on such charges. However, this will not affect the normal procedures for compounding of interest in the loan account.

(ii) The REs shall not introduce any additional component to the rate of interest and ensure compliance to these guidelines in both letter and spirit.

(iii) The REs shall formulate a Board approved policy on penal charges or similar charges on loans, by whatever name called.

(iv) The quantum of penal charges shall be reasonable and commensurate with the non-compliance of material terms and conditions of loan contract without being discriminatory within a particular loan / product category.

(v) The penal charges in case of loans sanctioned to ‘individual borrowers, for purposes other than business’, shall not be higher than the penal charges applicable to non-individual borrowers for similar non-compliance of material terms and conditions.

(vi) The quantum and reason for penal charges shall be clearly disclosed by REs to the customers in the loan agreement and most important terms & conditions / Key Fact Statement (KFS) as applicable, in addition to being displayed on REs website under Interest rates and Service Charges.

(vii) Whenever reminders for non-compliance of material terms and conditions of loan are sent to borrowers, the applicable penal charges shall be communicated. Further, any instance of levy of penal charges and the reason therefor shall also be communicated.

(viii) These instructions shall come into effect from January 1, 2024. REs may carry out appropriate revisions in their policy framework and ensure implementation of the instructions in respect of all the fresh loans availed/ renewed from the effective date. In the case of existing loans, the switchover to new penal charges regime shall be ensured on next review or renewal date or six months from the effective date of this circular, whichever is earlier.

Source: RBI/2023-24/53 DoR.MCS.REC.28/01.01.001/2023-24 August 18, 2023