Using a German Bank Account

Find out how the German banking services operate...

When writing or reading German numbers, it is important to know the placement of points and commas:

  • €1000.00 (one thousand Euro) is written: €1.000,00
  • 52.6% (Fifty-two point six percent) is written: 52,6% (zweiundfünfzig Komma sechs Prozent)

Cheques are rarely used in Germany although travellers' cheques (Reisescheck) can be issued by all national banks.

Current account (das Girokonto)

Every current account holder is issued with an account number (Kontonummer) and every branch has its own bank sort code (Bankleitzahl). These two numbers are vital for making transactions and receiving payments.

For international bank transfers, account holders should use the IBAN number and swift code. All accounts in the EU are allocated with these numbers aimed at facilitating cross-border payments. These are vital for employees based in a different country from their employers.

Banks normally provide software to set up online banking services, or they will provide access directly through their websites. Pre-allocated TAN codes are required for secure money transfers. These will be issued when opening an account.

Most accounts also issue an EC card, which can be used in most larger retail outlets as a debit card. A PIN number will be issued when opening a bank account and this can be changed directly at the banking terminals. Most shops that accept EC card payment require the holder to type their PIN number into a card scanner or simply sign the back of a receipt. Cash is still used when making purchases in smaller shops and restaurants.

Savings account (Sparkonto)

Savings accounts can easily be set up by phone, Internet or in person. Current account holders will be issued with a separate EC card for their savings account. Depending on the savings account, money can be withdrawn at any time or must be left for a specific period in order for higher interest rates to come into effect. A standing order can be set up directly from the account holder's current account, or money transfers can be made directly into the savings account from other sources.

Statements

Statements (Kontoauszüge) are normally sent once a month by post to account holders. They may also be printed out at any time from bank terminals in branches of the account holder's bank.

When reading a statement, money which has been credited to the account is indicated with H (Haben) and money debited from the account is indicated with S (Soll).

Receiving money transfers

It is necessary to provide the sender with:

  • Account name
  • Account number
  • Sort code
  • Name of bank
  • Swift code

Transfers from the same bank normally take effect on the same day; from other banks this process can take up to five working days. Transfers from abroad require the international IBAN code, may take longer and incur additional costs.

Transferring money to other accounts

The details required for money transfers (Überweisungen) are:

  • Account name (Kontoinhaber)
  • Account number (Kontonummer)
  • Name of bank (Bank)
  • Sort code (Bankleitzahl)
  • Swift code (Swift Code)
  • Amount (Summe)
  • Transaction purpose (Verwendungszweck). This is especially important for standing orders for rent or utilities and normally consists of a name and customer reference number

Transfers can be made:

  • Online
  • Directly from the bank clerk (fill out an Überweisungsformular before getting in line)
  • From the banking terminals in local branches of all banks

It is recommended to get and keep a receipt (Quittung/Beleg) of each transaction.

Setting up a standing order (Dauerauftrag)

When setting up a standing order, many companies (including water, utilities or telephone companies) will ask for a direct debit authorisation (Einzugsermächtigung) to be completed, enabling them to draw money directly from the holder's account on a regular basis. A standing order can also be set up directly with a bank clerk, by telephone or by using the banking terminals in local branches of the account holder's bank. Simply fill out the account information, frequency of payment and start date.

Credit cards (die Kreditkarte)

Credit cards can be issued at any bank from a variety of credit card companies. Visa and Mastercard are the major issuers, but other smaller companies exist as well. Credit card bills will be deducted straight from the current account at the end of every month and a separate statement will be sent to the account holder's address.

Telephone banking

Many services can be carried out over the telephone through a centralised telephone service or directly with a local branch of the bank. It is useful to have a contact name at the chosen branch who is familiar with the account.

Opening Hours

In general banks are open from 08:30 or 09:00 until 16:00. On Wednesdays smaller branches are often closed, and larger banks may close at 13:00. Banks frequently stay open until 18:30 on Thursdays.