The discontinuation of the EC card in Germany

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  1. Introduction
  2. Has the EC card been discontinued?
  3. What was the EC card?
    1. How did the cheque guarantee card work?
    2. How did the cheque guarantee card come about?
    3. How the Eurocheque card became an electronic debit card
    4. The Eurocheque card became an international electronic debit card thanks to Maestro
    5. In Germany, the girocard replaces the EC card
    6. What is a girocard?
    7. Are there any disadvantages to the German girocard?
  4. Will the girocard be discontinued soon?
    1. What does the end of the Maestro functionality for girocards and EC cards mean?
    2. Does the change to the girocard payment method take place automatically? Or do card users have to take some action?
  5. Three facts about the girocard in everyday use
    1. How much does it cost to withdraw money with a girocard?
    2. How much money can I withdraw with my girocard each day?
    3. How can you block a girocard?

The EC card is Germany's colloquial name for the most commonly used plastic payment card – even though it has operated under a different name since 2007. It is now known as the girocard. Here's everything that you need to know about the validity of EC cards, or girocards, and what girocard users can expect if Mastercard's Maestro functionality for worldwide payments is no longer available.

What's in this article?

  • Has the EC card been discontinued?
  • What was the EC card?
  • Will the girocard be discontinued soon?
  • Three facts about the girocard in everyday use

Has the EC card been discontinued?

The Eurocheque card, which was commonly known as the "EC card", was actually discontinued over 15 years ago. The "EC card" – which is the most widely used cashless payment method in Germany with over 100 million cards in circulation – is no longer a Eurocheque card with EC functionality (EC referring here to "electronic cash," a cashless card payment system). Instead, it has been called a girocard since 2007, and it is also known as the debit card of the German Banking Industry Committee (Deutsche Kreditwirtschaft).

When it comes to functionality, the payment card has been undergoing constant innovations. Along with the Eurocheque card's original cheque guarantee, additional features have been added over the years, including cash withdrawals at cash machines and cashless payments. Eventually, the card became an international debit card thanks to Mastercard's Maestro feature.

In this article, you will learn about the most important moments in the EC card's development – helping you to gain a deeper understanding of the context behind the steady flow of new features, the renaming of the card and the latest updates regarding the end of the Maestro functionality.

What was the EC card?

At the end of the 1960s, Germany introduced a "cheque guarantee card", also known as a "cheque card" for short. This was a joint effort between German banks and savings banks, and it was institution-agnostic.

How did the cheque guarantee card work?

The cheque guarantee spelled the end for cheque-cashing risk, a weakness of the cheque in its previous usage. According to Article 4 of the German Cheque Act (ScheckG), it was possible that a bank would not accept a cheque once it had been issued. According to the law, acceptance notes written on the cheque were considered not written.

To mitigate the risk of cashing a cheque, a guarantee agreement was reached between cheque-takers and banks. However, the disadvantage of this was that the banks had to bear the risk of default of receivables (also known as "del credere risk").

In order for the guarantee to come into effect, the parties issuing cheques had to enter their guarantee card number on the back of the Eurocheque. This allowed the bank to review whether the individual – for whose solvency it was responsible – was one of its authorised customers. The guarantee contract became effective if the cheque was issued within the term of the guarantee card and submitted on time, and if the following items matched: the card number, the signature of the party issuing the cheque, the name of the credit institution and account number on the guarantee card, and the form for the Eurocheque certificate.

How did the cheque guarantee card come about?

The new cheque card was intended to make the balance of a current account – the number of which had increased dramatically between the late 1950s and early 1960s – more easily accessible. However, with the increase in tourism, demand grew for a payment method that could also be used abroad – just like the card-guaranteed cheque at home in Germany.

For this reason, 1968 saw 15 European countries – on the initiative of Germany – reach a general agreement on cross-border cooperation for card-guaranteed cheques. This laid the foundation for a Eurocheque system. In the same year, the Eurocheque logo, the names "Eurocheque" and "Eurocheque card," the redemption conditions and clearing were established.

How the Eurocheque card became an electronic debit card

The first cash machines have been in service since the beginning of the 1970s. The Eurocheque card evolved as cash machines became more widespread: the simple cheque guarantee card was also approved as an operating card for cash machines, and it later gained approval for usage at point-of-sale (POS) terminals. This meant that customers were able to make cashless purchases at payment terminals. Upon making an EC payment, authorisation was granted by entering the card PIN, generally made up of four digits.

At the beginning of the 1980s, the use of the Eurocheque card was internationalised. The cross-border cash-machine functionality was marked with the "EC pictogram" on Eurocheque cards. Bank cards without the Eurocheque guarantee functionality also carried the EC pictogram. From this point onwards, the term "EC card" became commonplace in Germany. The reason behind this was that the plastic cards were printed with "EC", representing the electronic debit card system "electronic cash process" (also called "EC cash", "electronic cash" or "e-cash"), and they thus became "EC cards".

At the end of the 1980s, the "electronic debit card" was developed. In collaboration with the US business MasterCard International, the corresponding EDC functionality was also extended to non-European financial institutions. This was implemented under the leadership of Mastercard's Maestro. In doing so, EDC became an additional feature on Eurocheque cards and bank customer cards without a Eurocheque function, on top of the "EC pictogram" becoming a feature of European cash machines.

The Eurocheque card became an international electronic debit card thanks to Maestro

With the collective growth of the global community of countries, globalisation and increasing levels of cross-border payment transactions, Maestro offered global debit functions for cash machines and the use of POS terminals under the Maestro brand – in addition to the two European debit features of the EC pictogram and EDC. For this payment method today, the term "co-badge" is common, and means that the girocard includes a Maestro symbol.

The Maestro function offered by Mastercard quickly replaced the two European debit functions, however. They disappeared from European Eurocheque cards, as well as from European bank customer cards without a Eurocheque function. Over time, the cheque guarantee feature of the Eurocheque card became less important.

Even though the Eurocheque card with Maestro function could be used worldwide as an electronic debit card, its usage in Germany was far more significant. And debit cards without the Maestro function could only be used in Germany.

In Germany, the "girocard" replaces the "EC card"

In 2007, the Central Credit Committee (Zentraler Kreditausschuss) – known as the German Banking Industry Committee (Deutsche Kreditwirtschaft) since 2011, and an association of the leading players in Germany's credit industry – introduced a new name and logo for the EC card: "girocard". In addition to the term "EC card", the name "girocard" became common across Germany.

What is a girocard?

The girocard is a national debit card in Germany. The girocard offered two advantages: by agreeing on a common card payment system, the system became more efficient. At the same time, the costs for card users were reduced.

Today, there are over 100 million girocards in Germany. The majority of these are girocards with the Maestro co-badge. The girocard debit card of the German Banking Industry Committee is, therefore, the most widely used cashless payment method in the country. Nationwide, 12,000 payments are made each minute, across roughly 1,097,000 terminals.

And thanks to the near-field communication (NFC) technology included in the latest girocards, these contactless payments – which are enjoying increasing popularity – are also secure.

The analogue plastic girocard has, for a long time, had a digital equivalent: the digital girocard, which customers can always carry and use on their smartphone.

Are there any disadvantages to the German girocard?

For many years, the main disadvantage of the girocard was its unsuitability for online trade, also known as "electronic commerce" or "e-commerce" for short. This changed in 2021, when the German Savings Banks Finance Group (Sparkassen-Finanzgruppe) enabled its customers who use Apple to make payments in online shops and apps using their girocard in the Apple Pay Wallet. However, strictly speaking, this is not an independent payment process. Instead, the card fulfils the role of a "settlement" payment method in Apple Pay.

This can be used to balance negative credit balances in the Wallet. For legacy reasons, this online functionality of the girocard and the payment process behind it only works in Germany. This is because it is processed via network operators that have been authorised by the German Banking Industry Committee. In order to make payments with the girocard possible in other European countries, it is necessary to join forces with another business, such as Mastercard or Visa, and a corresponding payment method.

Will the girocard be discontinued soon?

No. The girocard – the debit card of the German Banking Industry Committee – will not be discontinued officially.

The rumour began following a change in functionality of the card, which was announced by Mastercard in 2021 and implemented in the summer of 2023. Since then, Mastercard no longer offers its Maestro payment functionality for new cards. This means that this global payment functionality is gradually being discontinued for all EC cards or girocards with the Maestro functionality.

What does the end of the Maestro functionality for girocards and EC cards mean?

Removing the global Maestro payment functionality from the girocard means that German banking customers will have until either the expiry of their card, or the end of 2027 at the latest, to make payments and withdraw money using their girocard with Maestro functionality and associated pictogram. Once the card has expired, or at the end of 2027, customers will no longer be able to pay with their card or withdraw money worldwide. If they want to make cashless payments overseas after this point, they will need a new card issued by the bank after 1 July 2023 with an alternative payment system.

This is what using a girocard abroad could look like in the future:

  • Girocard with another co-badge: In the future, German banks could offer their girocard with an integrated debit card from Visa (Visa Debit) or Mastercard (Debit Mastercard). These can be used domestically via the girocard system, as well as overseas using the partner's payment system. The girocard would then come with extras, including a 16-digit card number and a security code (a "card verification value" or CVV code), which you might recognise from traditional credit cards. A girocard with a CVV code is also called a CVV-girocard. Online payments are also possible using this card.
  • Girocard with V Pay: German banks could also implement global payments using Visa, Mastercard's competitor. This would mean that future girocards would be available via the V Pay payment system instead of Maestro. According to the German Consumer Advice Centre (Verbraucherzentrale), Visa has thus far stated that its V Pay functionality will continue to be available.
  • Girocard plus an additional card for overseas travel: In the future, German banks could also use a two-card system. This would mean that the girocard would be for domestic use, and a debit or credit card would be available for international use.

Discontinuing the girocard might also be an option. Finally, customers in the retail sector could also make payments using another debit card. However, not every shop in Germany still accepts these cards. In other words, retail shops would need to convert their payment systems. This would result in higher costs for businesses due to the fact that the respective card providers collect fees. But if businesses pass their increased costs on, customers will also face higher prices.

Does the change to the girocard payment method take place automatically? Or do card users have to take some action?

As German banks stopped issuing girocards with Maestro functionality on 1 July 2023, the cards will gradually expire automatically. However, cards that had already been issued before this date will not lose their validity. They can be used in full at home and abroad – with their Maestro functionality – until they expire.

Discontinuing the Maestro functionality does not mean that the full girocard functionality is no longer available. Even without the global payment functionality, the girocard can still be used without restriction in Germany. All of the girocard's domestic functionality is therefore retained.

The transition from a girocard with Maestro functionality to a CVV-girocard is driven by the banks. Card users will receive new CVV cards once their girocard with Maestro functionality expires.

Three facts about the girocard in everyday use

Here are three facts that you should know about everyday payments with the girocard:

How much does it cost to withdraw money with a girocard?

In general, withdrawing money with a girocard is free of charge in Germany when you use your own bank's cash machine. If you withdraw cash from another bank's cash machine, you will normally only pay a fee if the bank does not belong to the same network of cash machines. The total fees incurred may vary from bank to bank.

How much money can I withdraw with my girocard each day?

The maximum daily amount that you can withdraw from a cash machine with your girocard depends on the bank and your individual card limit. However, you can typically withdraw €1,000 in cash per day from a cash machine. Higher amounts are possible if agreed individually with the bank.

For pharmacies, supermarkets and petrol stations that dispense cash, withdrawals with the girocard are limited to €200 – subject to a minimum purchase amount.

How can you block a girocard?

If a girocard needs to be blocked, the card owner should act swiftly. To block an account, they'll need to call the emergency number 116 116 or contact their own bank. Alternatively, you can call 0180 5 021 021.

Calls to the emergency number 116 116 are free of charge, as is the associated blocking service.

Note: If calling from overseas, you must dial the country code for Germany (0049) before entering the emergency number. Calls from overseas can incur costs.

If your girocard has been stolen, you are advised to report the theft to the police immediately and block the card using the KUNO blocking service. This can only be done on-site at a German police station.

Learn more about cashless payments. To discuss how Stripe can support you when issuing cards, contact our Sales team.

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