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Accounts & Cards

Debit Mastercard in Switzerland: Questions and Answers

October 11, 2023 - Ralf Beyeler

The Debit Mastercard is being adopted by a growing number of Swiss banks as a replacement for the Maestro debit card. Independent online comparison service moneyland.ch answers key questions about the new debit card in this review.

Debit cards – sometimes referred to as EC Cards locally – are widely used in Switzerland. The Maestro card, which was the most widespread debit card, is now being replaced by the Debit Mastercard.

Here, moneyland.ch answers the most important questions about the Debit Mastercard:

1. Can I use the Debit Mastercard to pay online?

Yes. Unlike the Maestro cards typically offered with Swiss private accounts, the Debit Mastercard can be used to pay for online purchases much like a credit card. The Debit Mastercard is accepted by most online merchants which accept Mastercard. The ability to make online payments is the primary advantage of the Debit Mastercard over the Maestro card for cardholders.

2. Is the Debit Mastercard widely accepted?

Most merchants which accept Mastercard will accept the Debit Mastercard. But there are exceptions. Some merchants require credit cards as a security against rentals or bookings, and will not accept prepaid cards or debit cards. Merchants which may require credit cards include car rental agencies, airline, hotels and subscription-based services.

3. How is a Debit Mastercard different from a Maestro card?

Both the Debit Mastercard and the Maestro card are debit cards, not credit cards. The primary difference is that the Debit Mastercard can be used to make card-not-present transactions (such as online or phone-based purchases).

4. How is the Debit Mastercard different from a Visa Debit card?

The Debit Mastercard and the Visa Debit card are very similar with regards to the functions they provide. The primary difference is that the Debit Mastercard is a Mastercard product and uses the Mastercard clearing network, while the Visa Debit is a Visa product and uses the Visa clearing network.

5. What are the advantages of the Debit Mastercard over credit cards?

Depending on the bank which issues the Debit Mastercard, card fees can be lower than those of a credit card. For example, you are often charged much less for cash withdrawals both in Switzerland and abroad when you use a Debit Mastercard than when you use Swiss credit cards.

6. What are the disadvantages of the Debit Mastercard compared to credit cards?

Many credit cards come with cardholder benefits like complimentary insurance coverage or rewards programs which generally are not offered with Debit Mastercard cards. Credit cards are also still more widely accepted for car rentals, hotel reservations and some other transactions.

7. Do I need a credit card when I can use a Debit Mastercard to pay online?

If you regularly make car rentals or hotel bookings using a card, you may encounter situations in which a credit card is required. Using a credit card can also make financial sense when the complimentary benefits provided save you money which you would otherwise spend. Carrying a credit card when you travel to foreign countries is recommended because credit cards are more widely accepted.

8. What does a Debit Mastercard cost?

The fees charged by Swiss banks generally match those which applied to Maestro debit cards. The debit cards which come with private accounts for adults typically have annual fees. Depending on the bank, annual fees for Debit Mastercard cards can be as high as 50 francs (in the case of bank packages, debit cards are normally covered by the package fee). You do not pay transaction fees when you make purchases from Swiss merchants in francs. For purchases from foreign merchants, a 1.50-franc foreign transaction fee is often charged. You generally do not pay for cash withdrawals from in-network ATMs. You pay a withdrawal fee (typically 2 francs) when you make a withdrawal from an out-of-network ATM in Switzerland. Cash withdrawals outside of Switzerland typically command a 5-franc withdrawal fee in addition to the foreign transaction fee. Exact fees and charges vary between banks.

9. Can I use a Debit Mastercard with Apple Pay?

Depending on the card issuer, a Debit Mastercard can be linked to Apple Pay, Samsung Pay or Google Pay just like a credit card. This is beneficial if you use mobile wallets.

10. Which banks offer Debit Mastercard debit cards?

Currently, the Aargauische Kantonalbank, Berner Kantonalbank, Credit Suisse, Banque Cantonale de Fribourg, Raiffeisen, St.Galler Kantonalbank, UBS and Valiant offer Debit Mastercard debit cards. The new Postfinance debit cards issued from April, 2022, include a Mastercard logo and double as a Debit Mastercard. They can be used everywhere that the Debit Mastercard is accepted, in addition to the Postfinance network.

11. How does the Debit Mastercard affect merchants?

Swiss merchants generally pay more to accept payments from Debit Mastercard cards than from Maestro cards.

The reason for this is that merchants do not have to pay interchange fees when they accept payments via Swiss Maestro debit cards, but they do have to pay these for Debit Mastercard transactions.

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Expert Ralf Beyeler
Ralf Beyeler is the telecom expert at moneyland.ch and also covers other areas of personal finance.
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