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Duty to accept cash - which coins and banknotes really have to be accepted?

Most Germans prefer to pay for their purchases in cash, and around 80 percent of all purchases are made with cash. This usually works smoothly - provided the customer does not want to settle his debt with accumulated coins or a 200 or 500 euro note. But may the acceptance of certain bills, many coins or even cash in general be refused at all? Or is there a legal obligation to accept that you have to accept all euro bills and coins? We clarify these and other questions about the obligation to accept cash here.

Table of contents of the article

Restrictions on the acceptance obligation by law or contract

According to Section 3 Paragraph 1 Clause 2 of the Coin Act and Section 14 I. Clause 2 BbankG are Euro bills and coins legal tender. However, this does not mean that all purchases can always be paid for with any number of coins or large bills. In principle, there is an obligation to accept euro bills and change - however, this is subject to legal restrictions and can even be contractually excluded.

Unloved notes: must banknotes be accepted?

Do traders always have to accept money?

If you have to pay for your excess baggage at the airport, you can usually only do so with a giro or credit card. And also at the gas station, signs on the pump often indicate that 200 or 500 euro bills are not accepted for payment. Often this may be understandable - after all, it is not always enough changein order to also issue on the large note. And the fear of counterfeit money also prompts retailers and service providers to reject large bills. But aren't they actually obliged to accept all types of banknotes?

According to ยง 14 I. Clause 2 BbankG, euro banknotes are legal tender and in principle must also be accepted to an unlimited extent. Whether this actually leads to a compulsion to accept large bills is disputed even among experts.

However, the European Commission stipulates that a retailer can only refuse to accept banknotes to settle an existing debt if it can be proven not enough change or the price of goods or services purchased in one gross disproportion stands for the denomination of the banknote.

There is also an obligation to accept a 500 euro note

The obligation to accept also applies to "large notes" - but not without restrictions.

If the customer would like to pay with a 500 euro note, many dealers and service providers are particularly inconsistent. But is the refusal of acceptance permitted in this case or is there an obligation to accept the 500 euro note?

In principle, the provision of Section 14 I. Clause 2 BbankG also applies in this case. According to this, banknotes denominated in euros are not only legal tender, they must also be be accepted to an unlimited extent. Of course, this rule also applies to large 500 euro bills.

However, since the European Commission stipulates that the retailer can refuse to accept the bill if it can be proven that he does not have enough change in stock or the price of the goods purchased is grossly disproportionate to the denomination of the bill, there are cases in which the acceptance refuses can be.

Exceptions to the obligation to accept

According to the European Commission, anyone who wants to pay for a purchase worth 30 euros with a 500 euro note cannot insist on the retailer's obligation to accept. After all, the price of the goods and the denomination of the banknote are disproportionate here. However, if you want to pay your bill for an expensive car repair with a 500 euro note, you do not have to ask the retailer to refer you to a card payment or to pay with smaller bills.

Obligation to accept 200 euro bills

In principle, the regulations of Section 14 I. Clause 2 BbankG also apply to the acceptance of 200 euro bills - these apply to all euro banknotes. However, if an existing debt is to be paid with a 200 instead of a 500 euro note, the probability that the retailer has demonstrably too little change is lower. A disproportion between the debt and the denomination of the banknote can also be assumed less often here. The obligation to accept the 200 euro note is therefore even more common in practice than an obligation to accept when paying with a 500 euro note.

Obligation to accept even torn banknotes?

As already seen, retailers and service providers may well be obliged to accept banknotes to settle an existing monetary debt. But does that also apply if the banknote has been torn or accidentally washed in the washing machine?

In principle, damaged banknotes are not necessarily worthless either. That is at least true if still received more than half of the ticket is. In this case, the Deutsche Bundesbank will usually replace the owner's bill free of charge. Dealers or service providers, on the other hand, are not obliged to accept banknotes that are badly damaged or only half of them left. This also applies especially when it is a question of a large denomination bill.

Coin acceptance requirement - How many coins are "Allowed"?

"Anyone who does not honor the penny is not worth the taler either" - this or something similar could have been thought by a man who allegedly paid off a tax debt in the USA with 300,000 cent coins. But would that also be possible in Germany? Or is there a maximum number of coins that may not be exceeded when paying?

Maximum of 50 coins per payment

How many coins do you have to accept?

The wallet can no longer be closed properly because of all the change, or the coins you have collected at home should finally be used - but using a bag full of cents and euro coins to pay for your next purchase is still not always the best idea.

Although, of course, coin money as well "real money" and can generally be used for payment without any problems, this idea may only be valid up to a certain limit. At least that is how the legislature sees it and therefore stipulates in Section 3 Paragraph 1 Clause 2 of the Coin Act that no one is obliged to make a payment accept more than fifty coins.

If euro commemorative coins with a value of 10 euros per coin are used for payment, a maximum amount of 200 euros may not be exceeded in the payment.

This regulation does not only apply to business dealings. Private individuals are also not obliged to accept more than 50 coins per payment transaction.

No general obligation to accept coins and bills

Cash is still the most popular form of payment in retail

Although Section 3 (1) Sentence 2 of the Coin Act and Section 14 I. Sentence 2 BbankG allow the conclusion that all purchases can be paid for with up to 50 coins or notes of any size, the assumption is often wrong. After all, that overlays Principle of freedom of contract the obligation to accept coins and banknotes.

According to the principle of freedom of contract, one of the most important basic principles of civil law, retailers and service providers are also free to decide for themselves with whom and on what terms they want to conclude contracts. The payment options can also be negotiated by the contracting parties. However, if the buyer and seller do not agree on the terms of the contract and payment, no contract is concluded at all.

This means: If a monetary debt has not yet arisen, the seller or service provider can decide for himself which means of payment he would like to accept to settle the later debt. Accordingly, it cannot constitute a violation of the obligation to accept legal tender if payment with certain banknotes or coins is contractually excluded!

It depends on the origin of the monetary debt

The principle of freedom of contract means that the retailer may, for example, use a clearly visible sign or in his terms and conditions to indicate to his customers that he will not accept certain banknotes and coins (or even cash in general). If he does so before the debt arises, the contractual partner cannot fulfill it later using the contractually excluded means of payment. In this case there is no obligation to accept!

However, if the contract has already been concluded without the exclusion of certain means of payment, the acceptance of large bills or up to 50 coins to meet the monetary debt cannot be refused retrospectively. An obligation to accept cash would then have arisen.

Obligation to accept coins

An example: In the ice cream parlor, a customer orders two scoops of chocolate ice cream and places a handful of cents on the counter to pay. Since he has not yet received the ice cream, he has not yet owed money and the seller can still make it clear that he will not accept the cent pieces to pay for the ice cream scoops. If the customer does not agree to this, an ice cream purchase contract does not even come into being. As a result, the ice cream is not sold and the coins do not have to be accepted.

The situation is different, however, if the customer has already eaten the chocolate ice cream and is only supposed to pay then. In this case the debt has already arisen. If the ice cream seller has not made it clear beforehand - verbally or by means of a sign, for example - that he does not want to accept coins for payment, he must also accept up to 50 coins.

Obligation to accept banknotes

An example: If the cashier in the supermarket refuses to accept a bank note to pay for the selected goods and declares that he would rather not sell the goods when paying with this note, no contract is concluded. There is no way to force the cashier to accept the bill.

However, if a monetary debt has already arisen - for example because the mechanic has already repaired his customer's car - he must, in case of doubt, also accept a 500 euro note to pay for the repair, unless he has already excluded the acceptance of certain notes when the contract was concluded. The exclusion of certain means of payment could have been done, for example, by means of a sign or a verbal declaration.

What to do with change and large bills?

If too many coins have accumulated in the wallet, they can of course gradually be put back into circulation. However, if you want to get rid of your hassle of small change more quickly, you can exchange euro and euro cent coins for banknotes free of charge at a branch of the Deutsche Bundesbank. Other banks may incur costs for exchanging large numbers of coins. Larger notes, on the other hand, can be exchanged for smaller denominations in most bank branches - which makes issuing them much easier.

Conclusion on the obligation to accept cash

Although euro coins and bills are legal tender and large euro bills must also be accepted in principle, this is superimposed Principle of freedom of contract nevertheless the acceptance obligation. In principle, commercial traders as well as private individuals are free to choose certain means of payment to settle a debt that has not yet arisen to be contractually excluded. If such an exclusion has taken place in the contract, there is no possibility of forcing the contractual partner to accept it later.

Only if a monetary debt has already arisen and certain means of payment have not been expressly excluded when the contract was concluded, there is also an obligation to accept coins and banknotes of any size.