How do charging and debit cards differ?

Which card is better: credit card or debit card?

"With the card, please!" You hear that more and more often at German cash registers, especially since Corona. According to a Bundesbank survey, consumers used a card to pay for 30 percent of their purchases at the checkout, in their free time and online. For comparison: In 2017 this value was still 21 percent.

Which card do Germans pull out most often? Clearly: the Girocard. According to the German banking industry, around 100 million of these plastic cards are in use in this country. In contrast, there are almost 30 million credit cards. But many people ask themselves again and again how the girocard, debit card and credit card actually differ. And: which card type is actually the better one.

The "classic" girocard or debit card

When you open a current account, you will automatically receive a current card. The 2007 Girocard emerged from the former EC card.

With the Girocard you can withdraw cash from ATMs anywhere in Germany and use it to make cashless payments. However, online payments do not work with the Girocard. Withdrawing money abroad is associated with high additional costs. Especially when you want to withdraw money from ATMs that are not part of the institute.

And at home? That depends entirely on which bank or savings bank you are a customer of. As a savings bank customer, you can - depending on the account model - use the Girocard at your savings bank's ATMs free of charge and usually also in the savings bank network. Sometimes free disposals are limited to a certain number of pieces per month. It is similar with the Volks- and Raiffeisenbanken. Such restrictions do not (yet) exist at the large national banks such as Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank, Postbank.

Good to know: Most banks have activated their girocards for cash supply through retailers. Up to 200 euros can be paid out free of charge at Aldi, Netto, Rewe, sometimes with a purchase value of five euros or more.

In addition to the classic Girocard, there is also the variant with Maestro or V-Pay imprint of the debit card systems from Mastercard or Visa. If the card now bears a V-PAY logo or a Maestro logo, it can also be used in other European countries and even in some countries outside Europe as well as worldwide.

Contactless and hygienic yes, not always free of charge!

The Mastercard and Visa debit cards

Visa and Mastercard debit cards, which are almost always linked to a checking account, are also mistakenly referred to as credit cards. But these don't give you credit. Because the English term "debit" means "direct debit", "direct debit" or "debit". Every euro paid with the debit card is debited from the account promptly, sometimes on the same day.

Some direct banks add one or two Visa or Mastercard debit cards to their checking account in addition to a standard checking card. Examples are:

Why are you doing that? Direct banks and neobanks regulate the supply of cash using Visa and Mastercard debit cards. Because they only have a few ATMs and so their customers usually have to withdraw their money from ATMs from other financial institutions. Particularly annoying: If you use the Girocard for this, the savings banks and other banks will take up to EUR 4.50 per withdrawal. This is not the case with the Visa and Mastercard debit cards. Because here the card-issuing bank determines the fees. For a cash withdrawal with a Visa card, for example, this is a fee of just under 1.00 euros, which the direct bank pays for its customers so that they benefit from a free cash supply.

The savings banks recently added a new product to their card portfolio. The new Sparkassen-Card with debit-mastercard function has been available since October 2020, which can be used worldwide as well as for online shopping and which can be used for mobile payments by smartphone with Apple Pay.

These new types of debit cards - also Master or Visa cards - are, so to speak, a hybrid of debit and credit cards. As a rule, they allow free withdrawals from ATMs in Germany, in the Eurozone (for example: ING) or even worldwide (for example: DKB) up to the customer's personal limit. Nothing stands in the way of online shopping with these cards.

But watch out: since they are not "real" credit cards, most rental car companies do not accept them. Because with them no amounts can be "reserved", so to speak as a kind of deposit and as security for the car rental company.

  • Biallo tip: A debit card with Mastercard or Visa functionality is worthwhile for anyone who wants to take full advantage of the advantages of a credit card, but does not want to take the risk of secretly spending money that is actually not available on their account.

The credit card

The respective credit limit is based on the cardholder's salary. In the case of private individuals, this is usually the sum of one to three times the net salary. Credit cards are generally available from banks and savings banks, but also from other providers. A credit card is often offered when opening a current account. Example: The account-based and free DKB Visa Card (including partner card) as an automatic component of the DKB Cash current account.

The explanatory video shows you what is in a DKB Visa card, for example:

Credit cards - whether from Visa, Mastercard, American Express or Diners - differ fundamentally from debit cards in terms of functionality, but also in other areas.

Standard credit cards, such as those offered by banks and savings banks, cost an annual fee of between EUR 20.00 and EUR 30.00. Golden credit cards, which often contain an extensive package of travel policies, cost between 60.00 and 100.00 euros per year. They are already included in the price of the premium account at every third bank or savings bank. And two thirds of all savings banks have also linked them to a free cash supply abroad.

Girocard, debit card and credit card - the differences at a glance

Girocard / also: Debitbarte
(formerly: EC card)
Debit card
(Mastercard or Visa Card)
Credit card
Only in connection with a current accountYesYesNo
providersGirocard (plus Maestro or Vpay)Mastercard, VisaMastercard, Visa, American Express, Diners
Offsetting of salesSales are debited directly from the relevant current account within one to two days.Sales are debited directly from the relevant current account within one to two days.Sales are pre-financed by the card provider, listed in the credit card statement and debited from the reference account in the following month.
creditThe amount of the account balance determines the card limit.The amount of the account balance determines the card limit.A credit check is necessary to receive the card / credit line.
costsBetween six and twelve euros a year or included in the package price of the current account.Usually free of charge or included in the fees of the respective current account.Depending on the type of credit card, different annual fees apply.
acceptanceGermany / European UnionWorldwide / partially restrictions in German or local trade on site for car rentals and high-priced hotelsWorldwide / partially restrictions in German or local trade on site
Online paymentNoYesYes
Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay & Co.Yes, if the desired pay app is supported by the card-issuing bank.Yes, if the desired pay app is supported by the card-issuing bank.Yes, if the desired pay app is supported by the card provider.
ExtrasNo additional servicesNo additional servicesExtra services such as insurance, cashback, etc.


A classic girocard is now available with practically every giro account. But for more and more consumers a credit card with its additional services belongs in the wallet. But for those who are often too expensive or who simply do not need a "real" credit card with one or the other extra, you should opt for a debit card with Mastercard or Visacard functionality. Especially when cardholders are mostly traveling within the euro zone.

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