Debit Card

Key differences between credit and debit cards
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What is a debit card?

In Germany, the term debit card is often equated with "EC card", "bank card" or "girocard". Basically, all these terms mean the same: a payment card that is linked to a current account at a bank, for example. It differs from a credit card in many ways. With a debit card you can make cashless payments in stores or withdraw money from ATMs.

  • Debit card is a payment card tied to a checking account
  • It can be used to pay or withdraw money
  • The money is withdrawn directly from the bank account, which must be covered at the time (or if necessary has an overdraft facility)
  • Often called EC card, bank card or giro-card

Each debit card is usually tied to exactly one checking account - if you now pay with this account card, also known as an EC card or checking card, the corresponding amount will be debited directly from your account. Checking cards are available by opening an account at a bank and they are as part of the regular account package.

In addition to the debit cards, there are also so-called debit credit cards, which, for example, can also be used to pay with the Maestro or VPAY system of the various credit card service providers. 

In the following article, we have compiled all the relevant information on debit cards and the difference between debit cards and credit cards for you.

The most important info about debit cards

How does a debit card work?

With currently over 110 million debit cards, these are more popular in Germany than ever before and at the same time exceed the number of credit cards. The account cards made of special PVC basically consist of 7 elements that are present on each card.

  1. The logo of the bank or credit institution with which your account is held with the debit card.
  2. The EMV chip ("Chip and PIN") of your account. EMV stands for Europay International, MasterCard and VISA and is a specification for payment cards that can be used at POS terminals or ATMs. Europay, MasterCard and VISA developed the EMV card and are therefore named after it.
  3. The hologram as a security feature of the card
  4. The debit card number of the debit card. In Germany this is usually the IBAN, which begins with "DE" and is then supplemented by a check digit, bank code and account number
  5. The payment system logo. The most popular are V-Pay from VISA and Maestro from Mastercard. UnionPay, for example, can be found in the Asian region
  6. The expiration date in the MM / YY format. The validity of debit cards is usually between 2 and 5 years
  7. The name of the cardholder, possibly with special embossing.

When using the debit card, the amount is debited directly from your account. Thus, you need a connected account with sufficient funds to use of a debit card. This applies to both cash withdrawals and transactions at the point of sale (i.e. in retail).

What is meant by the debit card number?

Your debit card is tied to a bank account and therefore has an IBAN and a BIC that belongs to the issuing bank. In both cases, this is a system-based combination of numbers and letters that provides information about the bank, the respective country and your account number.

The IBAN represents the International Bank Account Number, which is a 22-digit combination. In the foremost two places, this gives information about the country code (for example: "DE" for Germany). This is followed by a two-digit check digit, before this in turn is followed by your 8-digit bank code and your 10-digit account number. The BIC is the bank identifier code, which is made up of the bank identifier, the country code as well as the regional location and the branch identifier.

In contrast to the credit card number, which provides information about the issuer, the type of card and the institution behind it, a debit card number is provided with less information-rich data.

How does a debit card work when paying or withdrawing money?

If you would like to use your debit card for cashless payments as well as for withdrawing money from an ATM, all you have to do is insert your card into the corresponding card reader or into the ATM. In the following, you will be asked to enter your PIN. This is your personal identification number or PIN, which you can use to authorize any payment or debit from your current account.

Your PIN usually consists of a four-digit number combination. Depending on the payment method, payment by signature is also possible in retail, which means that the PIN is no longer required.

Our recommendation for a free account with a debit card: The DKB current account

Das kann Bank
  • No account management fees
  • Free debit card and DKB VISA card
  • Withdraw money abroad free of charge
  • Modern app, online banking, contactless payment, Apple Pay, Google Pay

What is the difference between a debit card and a credit card?

Outwardly, debit cards and credit cards hardly differ, but these are two completely different types of card. The biggest difference is the time of settlement: if you pay with a checking card, for example, the corresponding amount will be debited directly from the amount of money available on your checking account. With a credit card, on the other hand, you take out a small "loan" with a revolving credit card, i.e. the money does not have to be available in your account, but is either billed to you in full at the end of the month, or you only have to pay it back partially. In return, you pay interest on the credit card.

Further differences between debit and credit cards arise in terms of creditworthiness. A credit card and the limit depend heavily on your creditworthiness and your income. However, a checking card is usually part of the normal bank account, which is why debit cards are so common. This is also related to the "Everyman's Account", according to which everyone has the right to make cashless payments.

With regard to payment or withdrawal processes abroad, you can run into problems with the debit card, which is why credit cards have some advantages here. Credit cards can also be used outside of the EU without any problems, as VISA, Mastercard or American Express payment centers are used all over the world. V-PAY from VISA, on the other hand, is primarily to be found in Europe.

FeatureDebit cardCredit card
Direct debitaccount instantly chargedaccount charged at the end of the billing period
Credit lineRed XTick
Costscash withdrawals fee*
transaction fee
yearly fee
interest rate
cash withdrawal fee
Available with bad creditTickRed X
Payments abroadto checkusually suitable

*Debit cards themselves are usually free of charge and issued when opening a bank account. Therefore, you do not need to pay a yearly fee for the card.

Tomorrow Holzkarte
Tomorrow debit card

No credit history in Germany? Don't worry!

If you need a debit card but you do not have a credit history in Germany yet, you can have a look at the sustainable Tomorrow Bank! Besides supporting carbon-offsetting and social projects, the mobile bank from Berlin offers a free bank account with a free debit card.

What is an EC card or girocard?

The current system of the debit card was still implemented by the Eurocheque system until 2002. This is considered to be the predecessor system, which was introduced in the 1960s. The first EC cards - i.e. Eurocheque cards - were then supplemented over the course of time by the functions of the debit card. With the Eurocheque system, on the other hand, a guarantee contract between the banker and the check taker ensured that the corresponding check could actually be paid out. In terms of structure, however, the Eurocheques were also plastic cards, with which various payment services were made possible at credit institutions.  In addition to the possibility of withdrawing money and paying in Germany, the Eurocheque system was also the first cross-border payment system in Europe. In the end, 49 active and passive countries accepted the Eurocheque cards as a payment option. 

Here you can find information about the different types of debit system:

Debit systemInfo
Girocard Means of payment that can be used in Germany from the Deutsche Kreditwirtschaft (DK). Mostly with co-branding with Maestro or V-Pay.
Maestro System Provided by MasterCard since 1992. The EC logo is very similar to the Maestro logo and is therefore often confused.
Debit Mastercard A system primarily used in the USA, which is mainly used by fintech banks such as Fidor Bank or N26.
VISA V-Pay Widely used VISA payment system, currently limited to Europe

FAQs about debit cards

What does a debit card cost?

Banks usually issue debit cards free of charge when opening a checking account. You can then use this to pay, shop or withdraw money. There are usually no ongoing charges, but this may vary from bank to bank.

What does 'issuing a debit card' mean?

The issue of a debit card is a regular term from the banking world, which means that the bank issues you a debit card in addition to the bank card (Girocard or EC card). For example, comdirect has turned the tables and issues the girocard as an option, whereas the issue of the debit card (a Mastercard) is mandatory.

What are the benefits of a debit card?

Debit cards are replacing giro cards more and more, as they are better connected to the payment network of the major payment service providers such as VISA and Mastercard. This makes it easier to withdraw money abroad, for example, as payment systems such as girocard are not accepted abroad.

With the introduction of contactless payments via Google Pay, Apple Pay or Samsung Pay, debit cards have become even more useful, since debit cards from Mastercard and VISA can be used for Google Pay. This applies, for example, to Commerzbank, DKB, comdirect, but also many other banks.

Do you still need a Girocard?

Strictly speaking not. With a debit card that is linked to your current account, you have all the functions of a current card at your disposal. Whether withdrawing money, paying in stores, shopping online or using the contactless payment function: Debit cards offer all of these functions.

Do the cards have a credit limit?

Not always. The payment transactions with a debit card are immediately debited from the account. However, it is quite possible that the bank will set up a credit line for you on your account. The DKB VISA debit card, for example, automatically comes with a € 500 limit on the card, so that you can overdraw the account up to five hundred euros.

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