Card payments outstrip cash for first time in Germany

DPA/The Local
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Card payments outstrip cash for first time in Germany
Image: DPA

Grounded in history, German’s scepticism for card payments has meant cash has long been king in Deutschland. But a gradual increase in card payments – along with growing trust in the medium – has seen them eclipse cash payments in Germany for the first time.


Germany’s preference for cash is legendary. While in neighbouring Holland, Sweden and Finland some supermarkets will have cash-free aisles, simply paying with a card in some parts of Germany is difficult. 

But a new study has shown that growing trust in card payments – particularly among younger Germans - has tipped the balance in plastic’s favour for the first time in German history. 

The EHI Retail Institute in Cologne published a report into how Germans paid in 2018, showing that over €209 billion was spent by card. The cash amount totalled €208 billion, meaning cards outweighed cash for the first time. 

It meant that 48.6 percent of sales took place with card and 48.3 percent took place with cash. The remaining 3.1 percent was made up of invoices and vouchers. 

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Due primarily to a desire for privacy and a passionate fear of debt, Germans have historically preferred to pay with cash. Card payments allow financial institutions and potentially others to monitor where your money is being spend, which is something that reminds Germans of the slippery slope of a surveillance state. 

German distaste for debt has halted the rollout of credit card payment in the country – the German word for debt ‘Schuld’ also means guilt – meaning that even if you wanted to pay with credit card it would be difficult. 

Up until recently, many major supermarkets and retail chains wouldn’t accept credit cards, regardless of the size of the transaction. 

The EHI has however suggested that while Germany may be slowly creeping towards a cash economy, don’t expect Nordic levels of card payment anytime soon. 

More than three quarters of the 20 billion purchases made in Germany in 2018 were made with cash.

While the amount of money spent on card may have eclipsed cash for the first time, cash is still king in smaller transactions.

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