Usury and Unconscionable Interest Rates

With the suspension of the Usury Law and the removal of interest ceilings, the parties are generally free to stipulate the interest rates to be imposed on monetary obligations. As a rule, the interest rate agreed by the creditor and the debtor is binding upon them. This rule, however, is not absolute.

In a recent case, the SC again dealt with the validity of interest agreed by the parties, stating that:

Stipulated interest rates are illegal if they are unconscionable and the Court is allowed to temper interest rates when necessary. In exercising this vested power to determine what is iniquitous and unconscionable, the Court must consider the circumstances of each case. What may be iniquitous and unconscionable in one case, may be just in another.

In that case, the SC reduced the interest rate from 18% to 12% per annum, noting, among others, that the amount involved has ballooned to an outrageous amount four times the principal debt.

Indeed, there is no hard and fast rule to determne the reasonableness of interest rates. Stipulated interest rates of 21%, 23% and 24% per annum had been sustained in certain cases.

On the other hand, there are plenty of cases when the SC equitably reduced the stipulated interest rates; for instance, from 18% to 10% per annum. The SC also voided the stipulated interest of 5.5% per month (or 66% per annum), for being “excessive, iniquitous, unconscionable and exorbitant, hence, contrary to morals (“contra bonos mores”), if not against the law”. The same is true with cases involving 36% per annum, 6% per month (or 72% per annum), and 10% and 8% per month. In these instances, the SC imposed the legal interest of 12%.

Just to be clear, “legal interest” doesn’t mean that anything beyond 12% is “illegal”. It simply means that in a loan or forbearance of money, the interest due should be that stipulated in writing, and in the absence thereof, the rate shall be 12% per annum.

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Sources: Trade & Investment Development Corporation of the Philippines vs. Roblett Industrial Construction Corporation (G.R. No. 139290, 9 May 2006); Development Bank of the Philippines vs. Court of Appeal; Garcia vs. Court of Appeals; Medel vs. Court of Appeals; Security Bank and Trust Company vs. RTC Makati; Spouses Solangon vs. Salazar; Cuaton vs. Salud; Ruiz vs. CA; Eastern Shipping vs. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 97412 July 12, 1994.

35 thoughts on “Usury and Unconscionable Interest Rates

  1. Ryan

    Dear Atty.,

    I’m a government employee. I would like to be enlightened if the 30 percent per annum is still legal because this is the rate that the money lender charges me. Also, they do not issue any official receipt every time payment is made through my ATM card used as a collateral for my loan. I hope you can give me an advice regarding this issue becuase this may not only be useful for me but also for the others. Thank you so much.

    Reply
  2. Don

    Atty,
    My partner and I bought a laptop via staggered pay option amounting to PHP 19000 payable in 1 year. We were able to pay 7 months but she got laid off and withmy smallsalary we couldn’t continue with our payment. Our last balance was only PHP 9445. Unfortunately, until now, she has not secured a job. We recently got a call that she has a bench warrant fornon payment, when we contacted the collection agency, they say that we need to pay 39000. We can’t pay 9445, how can we pay 39000? What options do we have to avoid court appearance or possible imprisonment? We have a child who can’t afford to lose a mother just because of a lousy laptop.

    Reply

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