What you should know about bank giro accounts

Everyone who wants to participate in the economic life cannot renounce a giro account.
Ein Mensch steckt eine EC-Karte in einen Geldautomat

Everyone who wants to participate in the economic life cannot renounce a giro account. Wage and salary are practically transferred only cashless. Even welfare recipients are urged by the offices to open a giro account. Since payments are already mainly cashless, there is no way around a personal financial manager.

How to choose the right bank

When opening a giro account, you have to comb through many price models and fees: Some banks charge all-in prices for the account management, others a basic price with additional costs for each individual booking processes. The free account management is offered, too.

But beware: A bank which keeps an account free, but has high costs at the standing orders does not fit someone who has a lot of standing orders for example.

By the way: Some credit institutes offer special conditions for students, apprentices, pensioners or union members.

For the choice of the credit institute you should not only check the conditions for the account management. It is also important for example whether there is an office of the bank near your residence or workplace. Because travel costs, telephone costs, postage costs and charges for the use of an external ATM can make a supposedly good offer economically unattractive. You should especially be careful when considering a direct bank. These institutes have no branch offices, but do all transactions via telephone, fax or computer.

Transfer, standing order and direct debiting

The transfer is especially for a one-time or occasional money transfer appropriate. The advantage: You decide on your own, whether and when the money shall be transferred. Transfers can basically not be called back, unless you made another agreement with your bank. Once a transfer is made, you cannot call it back, whether with twisted numbers or not. Everything you can do then is to contact the wrong receiver via your bank and reclaim the money. But for this assistance the bank can claim a little remuneration if there is an appropriate agreement.

By standing order you can transfer equal amounts of money to specific dates by debiting the account. This way you can periodically pay the rent, or school fee, for example, at the beginning of a month. The standing order cannot be called back. Just like transfers.

Important: A Termination or amendment often lasts a number of bank working days. Therefore, inform your bank in good time about that.

For recurring payments in different highs, like telephone or electricity costs, the direct debit procedure is most practical.

By using the direct debiting you commission a company to collect money from the account. Simultaneously you place an order with your bank or savings bank to debit the amount. You have the possibility to return the direct debit free to your bank within eight weeks after clearance of account and without justification. Unauthorized debits of your account can be reported within a deadline of 13 months at your account-holding institute. If a company allows payments only per direct debit authorization you have to get involved under certain conditions.

Debits come in two variants: SEPA Core Direct Debit and SEPA Business to Business Direct Debit. Only the first one is relevant for consumers. SEPA stands for „Single Euro Payments Area“. This area includes the 27 member states of the European Union and several other countries, for example, Norway or Switzerland.

Consumers can return the SEPA-debit within eight weeks after the debit entry without justification. Direct debit mandates given in writing were transferred into the so-called SEPA-mandate back in 2014, without the consumer having to arrange for anything.

Which card should it be?

Depending on wishes and financial possibilities of the consumer, the banks offer different cards.

With the customer card you can only print account statements and withdraw money at the counter.

The giro card offers to withdraw cash from an ATM, additionally. At the distributor consumers can pay for their goods by entering the secret number (electronic cash) or by signing (direct debit authorization). Who uses the giro card with money chip can also pay little amounts at an automat.

For this the chip will be topped up with cash and serves as an electronic wallet. So, for example, you do not need change for parking fees or tickets of the public transport. The disadvantage: If the card gets lost, the money is gone, too. In the future contactless payments shall be possible with the money chip.

The money chip is modified by the so-called NFC-Chip (Near Field Communication).

With the credit card and signature or PIN (personal identification number) account holders can pay worldwide cashless at all contracting parties of the credit card company. Who does not shy away from the sometimes high fees and has the PIN at hand can also withdraw cash at ATMs.

The so-called revolving credit card exists for years in the USA and Great Britain. In Germany these revolving cards with partial payment function get more popular, too. With conventional credit cards, the complete amount is due at the end of the month and will be debited from the account.

The instalment-credit card works differently: At the end of the month (depending on the supplier) the consumer just has to pay a determined percentage of the aggregate balance for example. For this flexible service the institute charges high interests and high costs. The variants at the market are very versatile. The Problem for consumers: They can barely see whether it is a revolving-credit card or not. And such a card increases the risk to buy things on tick, which you actually cannot afford, and to lose the overview.

Therefore, the Consumer Association cautions against revolving-credit cards and the linked risk to become overindebted.

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Different types of bank accounts

There are more account types for transactions than the standard salary account. Especially spouses can choose between several options. A salary account is a giro account which receives a regular income from the account holder. Only a few banks offer an interest on the balance. Nevertheless, it is worth asking.

Private giro accounts, which receive no salary, can also be created as rent accounts (Mietkonto), building accounts or accounts for school trips etc. For customers with a bad financial situation or those, who are rated with an inadequate creditworthiness by credit institutes, a credit account is useful. Owners of such accounts can only receive credits and make payments within the asset. If the account balance is negative, the account will be blocked.

More people can rule over a joint account. Depending on the account type you have different rights and duties. There are two types of accounts – a joint account with the option‚ both or all to sign (Und-Konto) and a joint account with the option‚ either to sign (Oder-Konto).

With the so-called Und-Konto the account holders – mostly spouses or communities of heirs – can only dispose together. In practical handling it can cause problems, because all account holders need to sign for all disbursements and transactions. This is only sensible, if everybody shall always have control over all transactions on the account. And you also depend on others in the case of death: If one of the account holders dies, the other one can only dispose together with the heirs. And vice versa the hands of the creditors are tied, too.

Creditors can seize the account only if there is an attachment and transfer order against every single account holder. If only one of the spouses is in debts, the common balance on the Und-Konto must not be touched.

With the so-called Oder-Konto it’s the other way around. Every account holder can make his financial transactions independent from the others. This independence has one disadvantage: Even if only one of the account holders has debts, the joint account can be seized. For example, if the wife buys a new refrigerator and does not pay, the husband is liable, too. Tip: Spouses in debt should better decide for two individual accounts with mutual account authorisation or an Und-Konto.

With a security transaction account (Wertpapiertransaktionskonto), consumers can transact their securities transactions.On this account you, for example, transfer a monthly amount and then buy fund shares or shares depending on the assignment. Unlike the salary account, there are usually interests for the balance. Only a limited category of persons are allowed to keep an escrow account.

For example notaries, lawyers or tax consultants handle the payments of their clients over such a special account. In case of buying a house, for example, the purchaser transfers the purchase price on a notary trust account, whence the payment is processed. This is the safest payment method both for buyer and seller, so both should insist on it.

Garnishment protection account (Pfändungsschutzkonto or just P-Konto): The subsistence level remains automatically available

So far debtors had to apply and enforce at the court or the seizing authority, that a monthly allowance remains. With the garnishment protection account an amount of 1.178,59 Euro is automatically protected. Protected are for example work income, pensions and social benefits as well as cash gifts of a third person.

As account holder you do not have to do anything more. In case of an attachment you still have full access to your account and you can make transfers up to your allowance.

However: Whereas a garnishment protection account offers more scope for indebted persons, it is not recommended for account holders that are in the black. A possible report to the SCHUFA for example could impair your creditworthiness.

Answers to frequently asked questions

Right to a basic account

Every consumer is entitled to a payment account with standard functions (basic account) since the 18 June 2016. Also for homeless people, asylum seekers and tolerated persons.

The basic account has to allow at least deposits and cashouts in cash, debits, transfers and card payments. If the respective bank offers to keep giro accounts online in general, this has to be possible for the basic account, too. The bank can demand reasonable account management fees.

Cancel your account

Holders of an account can normally and any time without notice cancel their account. An agreed notice period, that is longer than a month, is inadmissible.

Whereas if the bank wants to end the business relationship, it has to set a reasonable deadline (at least two months). The account holder must have enough time, to repay his overdraft facility and to open a new account at another credit institute. For the closing of the account there must not be costs. Far more often banks cancel the account without previous notice.

This is only premitted, if an important reason exists. Important reasons are for example if the customer makes false statements about his financial situation or he insults the bank staff. No important reasons are an one-time account seizing or an impermissible overdraft of the account.

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