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Is card payment always free when shopping?

Status: 01/28/2021 3:55 p.m.

It has become commonplace in retail: Instead of paying with cash, more and more customers are pulling out plastic cards. But it is not always free for them.

Giro, money or credit cards were used for around every fourth purchase in retail, according to the Deutsche Bundesbank in a 2019 study. In terms of sales, card payments even accounted for around every second euro. Since the beginning of the corona pandemic, the use of cards has increased further.

The girocard is in front

When it comes to card payments, there is a clear favorite - the Girocard. Almost every German citizen has such a card, which is often still referred to as an EC card, although this term officially no longer exists since 2007. A giro card is always linked to a giro account. The issuers, banks and savings banks, sometimes also use the terms bank card or savings bank card. A small symbol with a keyboard and the word girocard on the front or back indicates that the card can be used for purchases and money can be withdrawn from machines.

Pay with signature or PIN

The Girocard symbol on the front or back of the card stands for the payment function.

When paying with the Girocard, the reader accesses the customer's account data in the shop. The issuing bank determines the maximum amounts that can be collected - usually between 1,000 and 3,000 euros per day. In practice there are three payment methods:

  • With the electronic direct debit procedure (ELV), the customer orders a direct debit with his signature on a printed receipt. The seller may then have the amount withdrawn from the customer's account. However, the ELV does not check whether there is enough money in the account or whether the card has been stolen.
  • On the other hand, entering the secret number (PIN) immediately triggers a payment to the store using the electronic cash procedure (EC). The EC procedure is safer for retailers, but also more expensive.
  • The third variant only works for amounts up to 50 euros: contactless payment without a PIN and signature. Most giro or credit cards contain a chip that establishes a radio link to the payment terminal via Near Field Communication (NFC). The process also works with smartphone apps from various providers.

Dealers bear the costs

Cashless payment is not only attractive for many customers, but also for retailers. Although merchants have to pay for electronic billing, they save the costs and hassle of transporting cash. For the retailer, the EC procedure costs around 0.2 percent of the amount collected - i.e. 20 cents for a purchase of 100 euros. If the customer pays with a credit card, it becomes noticeably more expensive for retailers. The credit card company demands around 0.8 percent, and significantly more if the merchant's sales are low. Both procedures are initially free of charge for customers. Surcharges for paying with private credit cards (exception: American Express) are no longer permitted.

Some banks collect money from their customers

However, the consumer center Saxony-Anhalt points out that some banks and savings banks charge account holders additional fees for cashless payments. These are mostly current accounts in the so-called basic or individual price model, in which the banks charge additional fees for direct debits, transfers and standing orders in addition to the account management fee. According to the consumer portal Biallo.de, around 460 banks and savings banks charge a fee for payments with the Girocard for certain account models. On average, that's 35 cents per card payment, in individual cases even up to 75 cents.

What do the symbols on the Girocard mean?

If the card has a Maestro symbol, it can be used worldwide.

Girocards have very different colors and design features, because each bank determines the design itself. On most cards, however, there is a blue-red symbol with the words Maestro. Then you can use the card to pay at hundreds of thousands of retailers or service providers around the world. If the card shows a blue V with the addition PAY, it can only be used for purchases in Germany and numerous other European countries. In online trading, customers cannot pay with the Girocard.

Help, the card is gone!

If the credit card or girocard is stolen or lost, it should be blocked as soon as possible. Most card issuers have contacted the central emergency number on the telephone number 116 116 connected. The call is free of charge within Germany. The number also works with the prefix +49 from abroad.

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My afternoon | 01/26/2021 | 4:10 p.m.