Living without a bank account is like living without air or water.
A bank account is a mandatory item on the modern-day life checklist.
I’m sure it’s that way in your home country, and things are no different in Germany.
In Germany, a bank account is necessary for everything, right from paying your rent to paying monthly phone and internet bills.
There’s really no way to get around this.
So, when you’re living, working or studying abroad in Germany, you’ll need to use German bank vocabulary.
How to Use Your German Bank Vocabulary
First things first: Getting your bank account in Germany.
In Germany, it’s essential to choose the right bank to handle your transactions. If you pick a bank that isn’t popularly used, you could end up paying heavy ATM withdrawal fees—I’m talking up to 50 euros a month!
The advisable banks to go for are Deutsche Bank, Sparkasse, Kommerzbank, Citibank and Postbank. Picking any of these banks is a safe choice, as they’re always present in every major city (usually right in the city center) in Germany.
Now, the tricky part is the procedure of opening a bank account. It’s a lot of what you might expect, providing identification documents and doing the inevitable filling out of forms.
If you’re just visiting the bank for a quick transaction, you’ll still need the right vocabulary to get things done.
Of course, plenty of Germans and bank personnel might be able to work in English. But what if you end up in a bank branch where little to no English is spoken and you don’t have a German accomplice to guide you? Don’t worry—I’ll guide you through some crucial banking terms here to help you find your feet firmly on the ground in any German bank.
And even if you’re not planning to open a bank account in Germany, you’ll find that this language comes in handy elsewhere. You’ll hear it in TV shows, movies, news broadcasts and on the streets in conversation. You might even need a few choice words and phrases while paying the check at a German restaurant.
Banking and financial vocabulary shows up in many aspects of modern living, so this isn’t a language lesson that anyone can afford to skip.
11 Nuggets of German Bank Vocabulary for Finding Your Financial Footing Abroad
1. Konto (account)
As is the norm everywhere these days, we have two main types of bank accounts to deal with in German, the savings account (Sparkonto) and the checking account (Girokonto).
Ich möchte ein Konto eröffnen.
I would like to open an account.
2. Formular (form)
When you have to fill out a form, the banking personnel might say the following line to you:
Bitte füllen Sie dieses Formular aus.
Please fill out this form.
3. Geldautomat (ATM)
If you’d like to ask where the ATM is located—something every traveler will need to do at one point or another—you can ask:
Wo ist das Geldautomat, bitte?
Where is the ATM, please?
After you’re directed to the ATM, there will be a plethora of German words and phrases on the screen. Sure, you could opt for the English version of the ATM text—if there’s an English version available—but why not improve your German skills while checking out your account?
Here are the German phrases which would be good to know when operating an ATM:
Bitte geben Sie Ihre Karte ein.
Please insert your card.
Bitte geben Sie Ihre Geheimzahl ein.
Please key in your secret/unique Personal Identification Number (PIN).
Print out the bank statement
Note: As you may already know, you can “nominalize” a German verb into a noun by adding the –ung suffix, and these nouns are usually feminine.
So, verbs such as überweisen (to transfer), abheben (to withdraw) and einzahlen (to deposit) can also be displayed as nouns on the ATM screen, appearing as:
- Überweisung (transfer)
- Abhebung (withdrawal)
- Einzahlung (deposit)
4. Unterschrift (signature)
Wherever this word is present, that’s where you’ll need to sign your name on a form. You might hear someone say:
Bitte unterschreiben Sie hier.
Please sign here.
5. Zinsen (interest)
The interest rates in Germany are fairly low, so it doesn’t make saving a very lucrative option! That said, you might catch a rare occurrence of this word while signing up for a bank account or credit card—just pay attention to the numbers that you see it with.
6. Dauerauftrag (standing order)
This set up is required for paying your monthly bills such as rent, electricity, smartphone and internet. If you’d like to set up direct payments for a certain period of time, you’d use the following phrase:
Ich möchte einen Dauerauftrag einrichten.
I would like to arrange a standing order.
7. Kredit (loan)
Contrary to appearances, Kredit doesn’t directly translate to “credit” in English—rather, it’s the German word for “loan.”
This word pair Kredit and “credit” are a “false friend” pair. False friends are a pair of words in two different languages that look the same, but have totally different meanings.
If you’d like to take a loan out from a German bank, you’d utilize the following phrase:
Ich möchte einen Kredit bei der Bank aufnehmen.
I would like to take out a loan with the bank.
8. Zahlungsart (method of payment)
In this modern age, the three most common methods of payment to know are: Bargeld (cash), Kreditkarte (credit card) and EC Karte (debit card).
It’s important to be aware of all three of these words, as there are many cafés and shops in Germany that still don’t accept credit cards. You can’t just assume that you’ll be able to use your trusty card everywhere. Credit cards aren’t as widely accepted as they are in the USA or UK.
In fact, come to think of it, credit cards are rarely used in Germany. Debit cards are what’s most often used in malls, shops and cafés, but there will be plenty of places, especially in the town-side in Germany, that accept only cash.
You might want to ask:
Welche Zahlungsarten gibt es?
Which payment methods are available?
You might hear:
Bezahlen Sie Bar oder mit Karte?
Would you pay by cash or card?
And you might reply:
Ich bezahle Bar.
I am paying with cash.
Ich bezahle mit der EC Karte.
I am paying by debit card.
Ich bezahle mit der Kreditkarte.
I am paying by credit card.
9. Kasse (cash counter)
These are key words to be familiar with. When at a mall, you might be asked to pay at the cash counter.
Bitte zahlen Sie an der Kasse.
Please pay at the cash counter.
However, if you’re standing in a queue at the bank or any public office, you’ll have to wait your turn to be called to a specific, numbered counter. This is known as the Schalter (counter).
Bitte gehen Sie zum Schalter Vier.
Please go to counter four.
You might think that there would be similar words for the different types of counters, but then that’s German for you. They have a unique tendency to design custom words for subtly different usages.
10. Kleingeld (small change)
Getting spare change isn’t something unusual to ask for in Germany either. Most of the times small change is asked for 500 Euro and 100 Euro notes, as people in shops tend to frown upon such large denominations of money. Phrases that could be useful here:
Hätten Sie Kleingeld für 100 Euro Bitte?
Would you have small change for 100 Euro please?
Note: Here hätten (which is an equivalent of “would have” ) is used instead of haben (have). It’s not grammatically wrong to use haben, just that hätten sounds more polite.
11. Bankleitzahl (bank identification/code number)
This could be mandatory to know when you’re carrying out inland and outland money transfers. Your Bankleitzahl (or BLZ) is an important piece of information to know, along with other particulars such as IBAN which stands for Internationale Bankkontonummer (International Bank Account Number) and is used for international transfers.
Some useful phrases to note here are:
Wie lautet die IBAN?
What is the IBAN?
Wie lautet die Bankleitzahl?
What is the bank code number?
Note: Here lautet means “to sound.” We wouldn’t really say, “how does the IBAN sound” in English, so the non-literal interpretation of this would be “what is the IBAN.”
These are the nuances of the German language.
It’s all fun and games to bump into the odd nuances of the German language, until they interfere with an important payment or bank transfer.
Now, when you’re traveling through Germany or putting down your roots there, you’ll know exactly how to handle your day-to-day banking business.
Learn this vocabulary, and it will pay off big time!
Gayatri Tribhuvan is a passionate linguist from Bangalore, India, who speaks German, French and Spanish apart from eight other Indian and International languages. She teaches German and French apart from other languages.