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SEPA: Europe-wide rules in payment transactions

From the specified date onwards, banks and savings banks are no longer allowed to accept payment orders with details of the account number and bank code and convert the data into the IBAN. Account holders must enter the IBAN from the outset. Anyone who does not know the IBAN of a payee can enter the account number and bank code into an IBAN calculator on the Internet and receive the necessary information.
Since February 1, 2017, a BIC is no longer required for domestic and international transfers. The IBAN is sufficient.

For more information, see our answers to frequently asked questions.

Which countries belong to SEPA?

SEPA means Single Euro Payments Area. The EU wants cross-border and domestic payments in euros to be faster and cheaper for consumers. The customer should be able to process all payment transactions in the SEPA area with just one account. In addition to the members of the EU, the countries of the European Economic Area (EEA) as well as Switzerland and Monaco also participate in the system.

What's the IBAN?

IBAN is the abbreviation for "International Bank Account Number", the new, internationally valid account number. The IBAN in Germany is structured as in the following example:

IBAN: DE98987654321123456789

DE= Country code

98= individual check digit

98765432= Bank code

1123456789= Account number

The IBAN therefore consists of the old bank data, each of which is only supplemented by the country code and the check digit. Account numbers that do not have ten digits are padded with zeros at the beginning. The check digit in front corresponds to the bank code and the account number, so that rotating digits when entering the bank code and account number lead to a different check digit. In the vast majority of cases, a different check digit is likely to prevent a transfer from being carried out in the first place.

You can find your own IBAN on your account statement for a number of years, usually also on your bank card.

Only in a few cases - especially when banks have been merged - does the IBAN deviate from the above pattern. The account number and bank code will then not match the previous data. Consumers should therefore not simply convert account details themselves, even if they have the mathematical knowledge to determine the two new digits of the check digit.

IBANs from other SEPA countries sometimes have a different structure and even a different length. What they all have in common, however, are the two-letter country code and a two-digit check digit that follows.

Does the SEPA transfer only apply to international payments?

The SEPA procedure is not only relevant for cross-border payments, it is also the only system in Germany for national payment transactions. It is no longer necessary to specify the BIC.

The SEPA transfer cannot be used for cross-border payments outside the euro area and for payments within Europe in other currencies. The more expensive international transfer must be selected here. SEPA transfers are only ever made in euros.

What happens with number rotators?

The following also applies to the IBAN: The customer is liable for rotated numbers! If the account number and routing number are incorrect and the transfer amount is credited to an incorrect account, he cannot hold his institution responsible for this. He has to repeat the money from the recipient. The banks and savings banks do not need to check whether the recipient's name and account details are correct. The only thing that counts is the customer identification, i.e. the IBAN.

What if the transfer was made to the wrong account?

The customer can request his bank account to cooperate in his attempt to get the money back. A payment guarantee is not connected with this. If the recipient refuses to reimburse the money, the banks and savings banks must pass on their details to the payer so that they can take legal action if necessary. A violation of banking secrecy is not associated with this.

The financial institutions are allowed to have their help paid for. This is provided by the legal regulations.

What exactly is the SEPA direct debit?

What used to be the direct debit authorization is now called the SEPA mandate. As a direct debit debtor, the customer gives his contractual partner written permission to have amounts debited from his account. At the same time, he instructs his bank or savings bank to pay the amount to his contractual partner. In the mandate, he must state whether it is a one-off or a recurring direct debit. Each mandate has two numbers, and the creditor identification number clearly identifies throughout the EU who initiates the collection. The mandate reference number identifies exactly the mandate. If it is not already stated on the form, it must be communicated after the mandate has been issued.

With SEPA direct debit, the consumer must know when the debits will be made. For example, this must either be stated in advance in invoices; If payments remain the same, however, it is sufficient to state that the amount is debited on the 3rd of every month or the following business day.

SEPA mandates can only be issued in writing. However, the use of the Direct debit on the Internet widespread in Germany. According to an agreement in the German SEPA Council, direct debits issued via the Internet will continue to be tolerated, even if there is still no Internet direct debit under SEPA. This means: If everything is okay with the debits of such direct debits from the consumer's point of view, payments will continue to be possible. However, if third parties misuse their own account details on the Internet, for example, the consumer is protected as follows: In the event of such an unauthorized direct debit, the account holder must notify his bank or savings bank immediately after discovering it. Since unauthorized bookings are also valid after 13 months, you have to pay attention to this deadline. Apart from that, as before, the providers alone have to bear the risk that unauthorized persons have issued mandates on the Internet. This corresponds to what has previously been the case for internet direct debits.

Are there still verbal direct debit authorizations?

The SEPA direct debit no longer provides for such mandates. If no written mandate has been issued and is still withdrawn, then there is an unauthorized payment transaction.

Can an amount be refunded?

If there is a mandate, the account holder has the option of returning the direct debit without giving a reason. This must happen within eight weeks of the debit entry. Anyone who contradicts a rightly collected amount must bear the associated costs. This also applies if a direct debit fails because the account does not have sufficient funds.

If the account holder has not authorized a direct debit, the deadline is thirteen months rather than eight weeks. This is not a normal refund, but an unauthorized booking. The deadline is met if the account holder notifies his bank account of such a booking. This notification must be made immediately after discovery. So don't wait because you think you still have time! However, if you only discover late that a booking was not justified, for example because you mistook it for another booking, you can object to the booking within 13 months.

What happens to the electronic direct debit?

Electronic direct debit is still possible. So you can pay by card and signature in the shop.

What happens if there is no funds in the account?

If the account does not have sufficient funds, the bank or savings bank will not honor the direct debit if it is not prepared to allow or tolerate an overdraft. The account holder has to bear the resulting costs. The bank holding the account may charge the customer a fee for the notification.

Which regulations serve to protect the consumer?

In the case of direct debits, consumers can create so-called "white lists" or "black lists". This means that the consumers of their bank or savings bank can specify who is allowed to access the account by direct debit (white list) or who is not allowed to do so under any circumstances (black list). The list should be maintained, however, because changing, for example, the energy supplier or the telecommunications company could lead to problems depending on the customer's specifications for his institute. If the customer does not update the list, the new provider cannot debit in case of doubt - and the consumer is in default.

Since direct debits are also signed when paying with the giro card, as described above, it is not advisable to keep a "white list" from previous practice when dealing with direct debits in Germany. Unless you are careful and can really name all the people moving in that you need.

It is now even possible for customers to completely block their accounts for direct debits.