23 October 2012

Cash and Cashless

I have spent seven years in Buffalo, and so I was able to adapt to the monetary conventions that are in place in that community. Now that I have moved to a new city, there are different monetary conventions that are in place, and I am slowly getting used to them. However, sometimes it still bugs me that it is different, and because it is different, there are limitations.

The main difference I see I guess is the attitude of the people here about credit cards. Not everyone has one. Well, when I was in the USA, I didn't have a credit card either, but my debit card that was issued to me by my bank functioned like a credit card. It had the requisite 16-digit number, and a security number at the back, so I was able to use it like a credit card. With that, I made Internet purchases and so forth, and life was good.

Here, I am getting used to a different system. My bank issued me a EC card (electronic cash card), which is a debit card. I can use that to get money from ATMs. However, it doesn't have a credit card functionality. It has the Maestro symbol, so I can pretty much use it on any ATM with a Maestro symbol, and it also has a PIN number, so I can get money out of it, but I cannot use it to make Internet purchases. I cannot use it to renew my Linguistic Society of America membership, for example. Which sort of sucks.

I explored my options, and it seems that my bank offers a pre-paid "credit card" service, for 30 EUR a year. I then get a "credit-card" or rather, a card with credit card features, like the 16 digit number, and I need to load it with money first, before using it. Now I am still deliberating whether the 30 EUR per year charge is worth it, or whether I can survive without having one. In the case of the latter, I just have to ask someone who has a credit card to pay for my LSA membership and I'll reimburse them with cash or something.

The thing is, Germany seems to be a bank transfer society. Everyone knows their bank account number (Girokontonummer) and bank code (Bankleitzahl). I pay my rent by bank transfer, I pay my Internet with bank transfer, I pay my electricity bill with bank transfer. And if you need to book flights, if it is done through a German/EU company, either in case the airline is based in the EU, or the travel agency is based in the EU, then you can pay with a bank transfer. It's a rather different system that I am still getting used to.

I remember when I was in Denmark. That was a different society as well. It seems that the Danes hated cash so much, they pay everything with cards. Here in Germany, it seems that people hate credit cards, they prefer to pay things with cash or bank transfers. In fact, most food establishments (coffee shops, for example) prefer cash, and when it comes to purchases done online, usually the bank transfer option is cheaper by a few euros than the credit card option.

So we'll see. It seems that I only need the "credit card" when I have purchases that are not based in the EU. And so far, those are few and far between. I'll think about whether my bank's fake credit card option is worth it or not.

(Extended Mouth, from my Museum of Modern Art Series)


  1. The main differences between France and Canada is also credit cards, like you noted. They don't really exist in France, people have a debit card with an overdraft. And in France, people still use cheques a lot, banks provide them for free. Here you have to buy them and I typically write one cheque a year... to the Canada Revenue Agency!

    1. Zhu,

      Ah checks. Somehow for me it was always a North American thing. We never used checks in the Philippines either. I used them in the USA whenever I made big payments, like rent, for example. It's nifty to write something on a piece of paper, and then mail it, for example.

    2. Oh dear Jeruen, it seems that you are attaching more importance to the 16 digits on your debit card than you should. To begin with, one can easily tell, from first few digits, that the card you are using is not credit. Secondly, not all credit cards (or debit cards) have 16 digit numbers or 3 digit security codes. The only reason you could use debit card for purchases is because the company explicitly honoured debit cards, not because your debit card functioned like a credit card (the reason I am so passionate about it is because this is a common myth and can be potentially risky). I am sure you'll discover that your EC's function like a credit card in certain places where you couldn't have used your US debit card. Then you go to USA few years later and re-write this post. :-)

    3. Puku,

      Well, I already tried using my EC card for purchases where a credit card should be used, and the purchase is to a US company. Sad to say, as I predicted, it didn't work. I need a 16-digit number to make a purchase online when the vendor is not in the EU.

    4. Both my cc and debit card are 15 digits. The digits don't matter (!) AE has 15, Maestro does 12 and Visa is either 14 or 16.

    5. Puku,

      My Maestro card only has 8 digits, and Maestro is not a choice for card; I just tried fake-booking Amtrak tickets in the USA for example and there is no Maestro on the drop-down card selection box. Only MasterCard, American Express, Discover, or VISA.

      My point is, I don't care if it is a credit card or a debit card, I want a card that has either one of those four logos so that it can talk to companies outside the EU when I need it to do so.