4. Information on card payments
If you pay by debit card, you must always ensure that you have enough money in your account. Otherwise the card payment may end up being very expensive.
Card payments: PIN number or signature
When you open a current account (Basiskonto or Girokonto), you will be given a type of debit card (a Girocard, previously called an EC card). You can use this to make cashless payments, e.g. in the supermarket, in the chemist’s or at the ticket machine at the station. It is important to know that you are responsible for ensuring that there is enough money in your account.
A debit card is not a credit card. Different rules apply to payments made via credit card.
There are two types of card payments: with a PIN number or using your signature. If you have to enter your PIN number, then the system will generally verify online whether the payment is covered by your available balance. If there are not sufficient funds in the account to cover the purchase, then the card will be refused and you will have to use another method of payment.
What are the consequences of using a signature?
In some countries, payments can be made without a PIN number. Instead you will be asked to sign a payment receipt or sales receipt. On the front you will see the amount to be paid and on the reverse the payment conditions.
When a payment is made by means of a signature, there is no immediate verification of whether there are sufficient funds in your account. The money is withdrawn from your account within a period of few days (via direct debit). At this point at the very latest, there will need to be enough money in your account. Otherwise things can get expensive – debt collection agencies, lawyers and other companies may charge fees, in addition to the actual amount owed for the purchase. This can soon result in a 10-euro purchase costing 50 euros or even as much as 100 euros. You will be sent a letter with a breakdown of the costs.
The Consumer Advice Centre can help
Our tip: If you are not sure whether there is enough money in your account, then it’s better to pay cash. Always try to leave a certain amount of money in your account, for example to cover regular direct debits for your phone bill or your electricity bill.
If you have any questions or problems, ask for advice at the Consumer Advice Centre (Verbraucherzentrale). We can check whether the fees charged by debt collection agencies are justified.