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French banks investigated for discrimination against US citizens

A campaign group in France has asked a Paris judge to rule on alleged discrimination by a number of online banks which, the claimants say, refused to accept account applications from US citizens.

French banks investigated for discrimination against US citizens
Photo by Fred Tanneau / AFP

The complaint was filed at a court in the French capital in July 2020, and a judicial investigation, focused on suspected acts of discrimination based on origin, ethnicity or nationality, committed between October 2018 and March 2019, opened in August the following year a judicial source confirmed to AFP.

It claims that a section of US citizens in France are being discriminated against by French banks unwilling to fall foul of the USA’s 2010 Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).

The claim was filed by the Association des Américains Accidentels (AAA) which represents people who are considered to have US citizenship through being born in the USA, but have spent almost all of their life outside the US and do not consider themselves American.

However they are affected by FATCA in the same way as Americans who move to France.

“There are discriminatory practices that result from this regime,” said Antoine Vey, the lawyer for around 70 claimants, adding that banks in France are under “pressure from the United States” to transmit information. 

Its customers have faced “disappointment” when trying to open bank accounts in France or obtain loans. It is hoped this investigation will prompt “banks to change their practices”.

Many American readers of The Local have reported difficulty in opening accounts with French banks, or being threatened with the closure of their existing accounts. 

The investigation is aimed at suspected acts of discrimination based on origin, ethnicity or nationality, committed between October 2018 and March 2019, reports say.

The AAA represents the estimated 40,000 people living in France who are also, under US law, considered to be US citizens because they were born on American soil. Even if they have lived in France since early childhood and have never worked in the US, they may be subject to FATCA legislation. 

Americans are subject to income declarations and can be taxed in the US no matter where they live in the world.

A report to the National Assembly published in May 2019 said: “French establishments show a willingness to over-compliance compared to other countries. Thus the French Banking Federation reminded the rapporteurs that this is the first time that the attitude is probably due to the trauma of the fines.

“The representative of the Société Générale Group has clearly confirmed to the rapporteurs the willingness of its Boursorama platform to not accept clients from persons or entities with a profile that would have hints of ‘American-ness’.”

An earlier complaint filed in 2019 by some 300 “accidental Americans” did not lead to the opening of an investigation by the prosecutor.

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FOOD & DRINK

7 tips to keep your grocery shopping in France affordable

With rising inflation and cost of living, many people in France are desperate to keep their grocery bill low. Here are a few tips for how to avoid paying too much for food, drink and other everyday items.

7 tips to keep your grocery shopping in France affordable

With inflation ticking upward, we’ve seen prices rise, especially for things like fresh vegetables, meat, pasta and cooking oil. Even though inflation is affecting food prices less than energy prices, buying groceries is still a huge part of every household’s budget, and unfortunately things are set to keep getting more pricey. 

We’ve put together a list of a few ways you can save a few euro at the supermarket:

Figure out if you qualify for any government benefits

First things first, it is worth seeing whether you can qualify for any existing government assistance, like CAF. On top of this, the French government has promised to set up a food voucher of €50 per month for low-income households after the parliamentary elections in June. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to receive CAF payments in France

Compare store prices

Unfortunately, going to the closest supermarket is not always the most economical solution. If you prioritise grocery stores on the lower end of the price spectrum (and you’re willing to walk a bit further) you can save a lot of money. A helpful tool to find the cheapest store near you is the “Que Choisir” online interactive map (click here) that has listed 4,000 affordable stores in mainland France. 

Discount grocery stores, like Lidl and Aldi, are great options for saving a little extra at checkout. But if you must go to a pricier chain, like Monoprix for instance, try to buy Monoprix brand items – they’re typically a little less expensive than name brand foods.

Plan ahead to make the most out of discounts

If you go online ahead of heading to the grocery store, you can see which items will be discounted (“promotion”). If you cannot find this information online, you can always go to the store and ask for a catalogue of that week’s sales items.

Normally, this is something the cashier should have access to. With these discounts in mind, you can construct more affordable recipes. 

Franprix’s website, the ‘discounts’ page

Also, if you’re looking for cheaper recipes in general, you can always go to blogs and online recipe sites specialised in frugal shopping. If you want to try some French specific sites, you can test out “https://www.marmiton.org/” or “https://1repas1euro.com/recettes/

When it comes to discounts though, be careful about conditions involved (particularly when it comes to loyalty cards).

Sometimes these promotions promise a lot, but actually getting your money back might not be as simple as slashing a few cents at the checkout – you might need to send the coupon somewhere to get the discount, or wait for points to accumulate on your card.

That being said, you can optimise your discounts using several online sites that allow you to combine your loyalty cards (Fidme, Fidall, and Stocard). Other online coupon sites include Groupon, which allows you to make grouped purchases (therefore cheaper), and Coupon Network and Shopmium, which help you benefit from existing discounts. For cashback plans, you can look to websites such as Shopmium, iGraal, FidMarques and Quoty, which allow you to be reimbursed for a part of your expenses.

Make a list, set a budget… and stick to it

It might seem obvious, but when you go into the store, try to resist temptation. The best way to do this is to keep track (in real time) how much you are spending.

Some stores make this easier by allowing you to carry around a ‘self-scanner,’ this will help you to watch your bill go up as you shop. Another tip for this is to withdraw the exact amount of cash you expect to need for the essentials of your trip – obviously in order to do this, you’ll need to know the base prices of your essential items, so it will require a bit of planning ahead.

Buy (then freeze) soon-to-expire products

A consumer’s best friend and sure-fire way to decrease waste! Items coming up on their use-by-date tend to be discounted, so if you plan to purchase these foods and then immediately freeze them, you can significantly extend their shelf life.

Lots of supermarkets make this easier for you by dedicating entire shelves to “short shelf life” items that, according to Elodie Toustou, the head of the “Money” section of the magazine 60 Millions de consommateurs, opting for these foods will allow you to “pay three to four times less.”

Another great way to do this is to use applications like “Phénix” and “Too Good to Go.” These applications will allow you to set your geographic parameter and then click on food stores, restaurants, and bakeries in your area that are getting rid of “panniers” (sacks) of soon-to-be-expired foods. Lots of times these panniers cost only a couple euros.

The trick here is to plan ahead by arriving at the start of the allotted time (if the boulangerie on your corner is offering “Too Good To Go” bags from 11am to 2pm, try to get there as close to 11am as possible for the best items).

Re-consider markets and farmer’s stores

Contrary to popular belief, buying from farmers’ markets and grocers that sell predominantly local products actually can save you money, particularly if you are buying the seasonally relevant fruits and vegetables. Buying directly from a producer can also allow you to eliminate the margin taken by intermediaries. But be careful, this rule is not true all the time.

One way to benefit from cheaper prices at markets is to arrive as late as possible, when the merchants have started to pack up their products. This might allow you to benefit from lower prices or even free items, as they’ll be hoping to get rid of their remaining items.

Know what items are most impacted by inflation

Finally, as inflation continues to increase, try your best to monitor which foods are most impacted. If possible, it might be worth removing or limiting them from your diet – or looking for more affordable alternatives.

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