How do debit cards work in Germany?

german debit cards

If you get cheering letters from the bank these days regarding your cards, you should think very carefully about what you are doing. Usually you are currently offered a debit card as a free alternative that is at least as good as the credit card that may have been free up until now. In return, this will be subject to a fee and the giro card may also be subject to a fee.

Complications abroad?

The debit card is also advertised very nicely and anyone who switches now should experience a nasty surprise on their next vacation at the latest. Namely when he is at the rental car counter and wants to pick up his car. Or when you are asked for your credit card when booking a hotel or checking in at the hotel. In these cases, only credit cards are usually accepted internationally, because a deposit can be blocked on them. Means: The credit card company guarantees the payment of this deposit, for example if the car is damaged, is not returned with a full tank, a restaurant bill accumulates in the hotel or a phone call is made in the room. Without a credit card, there is simply no car or room, even if you have paid the rental price in full in advance.

If I only have a debit card then there may be problems with the rental car. Many customers don’t know this, take the free debit card and then there they are.

David Riechmann, banking expert at the consumer advice center in North Rhine-Westphalia

Credit and Prepaid Card

The popularity of the credit card among landlords can be explained by the fact that a credit card virtually identifies the owner as creditworthy, while the debit card is a credit card. Only what is in the account will be paid out. The international industry association of car rental companies has also confirmed this. Vehicles are of great value, so car rental companies rely on a security deposit in the form of a security deposit when renting.

“From an international perspective, the credit card is still the most common means of payment. It offers customers the advantage that they can always deposit a deposit due to the credit limit, regardless of the current balance of their checking account,” the association continues, whereas debit cards require a deposit usually only offer within the scope of the current account balance including a possible overdraft facility.

What’s next?

The changes in this market go even further. Anyone who was previously traveling within Europe could also use their German EC card, thanks to the integrated Maestro or V-Pay function. But that will soon be over, the last cards with these functions will be issued in 2023 and when they have expired, it will be over. Then the next travel problem arises, but the debit card is not the solution.

However, you have to know that Girocard (“EC card”), debit card and credit card are very different payment systems. And that’s why you should be careful about going entirely on the debit card just because you don’t need a rental car. Smaller shops in Germany in particular are connected to the Girocard system, but may not offer payment with debit cards.


Credit card Debitcard Girocard = “EC card” = “bank card” Maestro or V-Pay Co-Badging
Monthly billing, purchases and deposits possible within the framework of the credit line, often a basic requirement for picking up a rental car, even if this has been paid for in advance or to guarantee a hotel booking, Internet payments possible, additional offers such as insurance Credit card that has been in use internationally for a long time, mostly not accepted when picking up a rental car or to guarantee a hotel booking, internet purchases possible, PIN/TAN procedure with TAN generator not possible, currently still low acceptance in small shops in Germany German payment system, credit card similar to the debit card, no deposit possible for hotels and rental cars, PIN/TAN procedure with TAN generator possible, almost nationwide acceptance in shops in Germany, no internet purchases possible Additional function of the German Girocard, so that it can be used Europe-wide (V-Pay) or worldwide (Maestro), gradual discontinuation from 2023, this combination of functions is internationally known as co-badging Multiple functions, one card. This will initially affect many savings bank customers, but also customers of other banks. The Sparkassen-Card will also have a debit function, combining a giro and debit card with additional functions such as ApplePay.

How do I know what my card can do?

It says so, albeit often very small. It is important that debit cards and credit cards, for example from Visa or Mastercard, which are still issued by the bank that holds the account, may only differ visually in some cases by the small word “debit” or “credit” with the consequences described above at the rental car counter or in the hotel.

The conversion of many banks will mean that customers will have to think about which card do I really need for which account and is the “holiday account” perhaps completely superfluous if the advantage of a free credit card suddenly disappears? You also have to take a close look at the prices, especially if the debit card is the only free card in the future and both the giro card and the credit card cost a few euros. This model is also quite possible.

Karren Brandenburg

Karren Brandenburg is a travel and shopping expert. She has been quoted in Street Insider, Yahoo Finance, Reuters, ABC News, and MarketWatch. Karren has a total of 18 credit cards, using reward points to see the world on a budget.