Prepaid card

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Selection of prepaid cards in a German supermarket

The prepaid card (or prepaid card , English prepaid for "prepaid"; in Austria also prepaid card ) is the use of services through prepaid credit using payment cards , which is particularly widespread in the telecommunications sector .


The prepaid card is a type of payment card that can be used for card payments and replaces cash payments . The infrastructure for prepaid cards consists of the card-issuing company ( issuer ), the cardholder and the payment recipient (often identical to the issuer) who accepts the card payment . According to Art. 2 No. 15 Regulation (EU) 2015/751 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2015 on interchange fees for card-based payment transactions , the prepaid card is a payment instrument on which electronic money is stored.

Card as a data carrier

The access information for using the services is usually stored on cards in the format of an EC card (85.60 mm × 53.98 mm), which are made of plastic or cardboard , and their data in printed or embossed font, in a magnetic strip or contained in an electronic memory chip or processor . If the card only serves as an information carrier for printed access and PIN codes , it is in principle possible to memorize the number combinations on the card after purchase, destroy the card and then continue to use the service with the saved number combination.

Card as a means of payment

The access information on the card allow the owner access to his credit account, which is by name or anonymously out the card issuer and from which the amounts due (z. B. for guided telephone calls or the use of vending machines will be charged). The value of the remaining credit is only saved directly on the card for a few applications. Such are often simply structured systems for closed user groups , such as B. Prepaid cards for photocopiers or hot drinks machines , in which the card reader does not have an online connection to a clearing house and, if necessary, offline blacklists of compromised cards are kept. With the cash card system , the credit is also stored directly on the card, but all bookings are tracked via a shadow account, among other things in order to be able to regulate exactly after a card damage. The access information authorizes the owner to use the prepaid card , regardless of whether it is stored in a chip or printed on the card. If the card or card information is lost, only a few card issuers offer card blocking and / or a replacement.

Contractual relationship

Even if the purchase, payment and use take place anonymously, i.e. the provider does not know the personal data of the user, a contractual relationship is established between the customer and the provider in which the card is only used as a means of payment , comparable to the use of stamps as postage or tickets to be validated . In this respect, the advertising of many providers with the slogan “without a contract” is legally wrong. Because the providers of mobile phone prepaid cards actually require the explicit recognition of their terms and conditions and are legally obliged by the Telecommunications Surveillance Ordinance (TKÜV) to save the personal data of the customers. Part of many terms and conditions are clauses that oblige customers to pay large amounts in the event of breach of duty . Whether the customer can view a single connection record depends on the terms of the contract. This customer request is usually only complied with upon request and may also be subject to a fee.

Types of prepaid cards

Cards for using phone call credit

  • Prepaid card (Germany), prepaid card (Austria) or prepaid card (Switzerland) for using GSM mobile phones with initial credit and top-up options.
  • Calling cards : prepaid cards for the use of (international) telephone exchanges , mostly anonymous, with or without the possibility of topping up; are alsooffered postpaid .
  • Prepaid cards for public card phones : Telephone card (Germany), ÖKaTel (Austria) or Taxcard (Switzerland); with credit without top-up.

Game Time Code

Game Time codes used in account -based computer games , such as MMORPGs , the activation of additional playing time. They fall under the type of prepaid cards with a printed code .

Other prepaid cards

Deposit of the balance

Various payment methods are available for topping up the card after the initial credit has been used up:

Many mobile network providers offer regular or automatic top-ups if the credit falls below a certain minimum amount.

If the use of certain services such as If, for example, calling abroad ( roaming ) is linked to the use of automatic top-up via direct debit from the bank account, it is a hybrid of prepaid and postpaid cards.

Reasons for using prepaid systems

The concept of the prepaid card has the advantage for the provider that he can provide his services without having to grant the customer credit (see postpaid ). In addition, the customer grants the card issuer an interest-free loan (Germany) | loan in the form of the credit, which, similar to vouchers , expires with some providers if not used. These interest-free loans represent an advance payment , which means an advance payment risk that the customer has to bear and is lost in the event of the bankruptcy of the card issuer.

As a replacement for cash, the prepaid cards allow B. in canteens or vending machines the provider to save the handling of coins, thus to accelerate the sale and to dispense with coin checking and change storage especially in vending machines.

In the cellular area

A customer's decision to opt for a prepaid plan can have several reasons, such as: For example, if the customer wants to set a fixed cost limit, mistrusts the correct billing of calls with mobile phone contracts, benefits from the often cheaper tariffs compared to conventional mobile phone contracts or wants to avoid the usual minimum contract duration for mobile phone contracts.

The "simplicity", which also favors spontaneous purchases , and the fact that prepaid cards are often the only way to use mobile phones for customers without their own income or with negative Schufa entries (Germany) or negative credit checks (Switzerland) enables providers to use to charge higher prices for identical services in prepaid systems than in the case of invoicing in term contracts.

The provider can minimize its costs in managing the customer relationship by reducing it to the level required by law in the Telecommunications Surveillance Ordinance. In some cases, this can mean that no itemized bill of quantities or no invoice is offered.

Since, in accordance with Section 106 of the German Civil Code, mobile phone contracts with young people under the age of 18 are temporarily ineffective and invoices that have already been paid could be reclaimed, such a risk is excluded if the young person has already provided his service (payment) from his own resources, the contract is effective from the start and reclaiming is excluded ( § 110 BGB).

Credit cards without credit report

Prepaid credit cards are purchase cards. They are suitable, inter alia for persons who, because of negative credit entries in credit reporting agencies not a regular credit card can get. In contrast to regular credit card types, prepaid credit cards offer the advantages of cost and expenditure control as well as increased protection against high credits from outside influences (e.g. theft). On the other hand, there is the disadvantage of always having to provide sufficient coverage and thus accepting an often unnecessarily high tied-up money. Furthermore, the fees for the annual card usage are usually significantly higher than for regular credit cards.


Starter packages with a SIM card and starting credit are common in the mobile communications industry. In some cases, bundles with mobile phones are also offered, whereby the phones are usually locked with a SIM lock to prevent the use of other SIM cards. The first European provider to offer prepaid SIM cards was the Düsseldorf company Walter Siebel Elektronik, which launched “Siebel's Guthabenkarte” in April 1996 on the German market. Siebel's prepaid cards were completely anonymous and limited not only in terms of credit, but also in terms of their duration. The company Mannesmann Mobilfunk later adopted Walter Siebel's idea and launched the CallYa card under its own name. Since 2005, mobile phone discounters in Germany and service providers in Switzerland have been growing in the market that offer SIM cards and initial credit without subsidized telephones.

Since only the time-dependent call costs, but not the basic fee, are charged, the time tariffs are usually higher than for contracts with subsequent billing. With their prepaid offers, however, the mobile phone discounters often offer lower time tariffs.

In July 2006, of the approximately 2.3 billion mobile phone contracts worldwide, 1.5 billion were prepaid contracts. Above all Africa with more than 90% and South America and Eastern Europe with approx. 80% each lead the way. In Germany, 37.7% of mobile phone owners had a prepaid card in 2006, in 2012 it was 41.8%, and at the end of 2016 it was 46.5% of a total of 128.1 million active SIM cards in Germany.

If the credit is used up, the number can still be reached for a certain period of time (between 2 and 15 months). If the credit is not renewed during this period, the card will be blocked. A distinction is made here between credit validity (“PhoneTime” - between 3 and 24 months) and subsequent availability (“MessageTime”).

The mobile network operators usually operate credit systems via an intelligent network (IN). In the IN network node SCP / SMP, both the card data are stored and the call costs are calculated.

Some of the mobile phone providers offer prepayment systems in parallel to contracts with registration, while others only sell prepaid cards.


Card offers from German mobile phone providers include: CallYa ( Vodafone ), O₂ Prepaid (O₂) and MagentaMobil Prepaid ( Telekom ). Cheap offers, so-called no-frills offers, are available directly on the Internet or from various retail chains .

Credit vesting

According to two judgments by high courts, the mobile phone operators O 2 Germany and Vodafone Germany may no longer expire their credit, either after a grace period has expired or after the contract has been prematurely terminated. In addition, there is now a ruling that prohibits a fee for paying out prepaid credit. Regardless of this, the statutory statute of limitations apply.

Anonymity of prepaid cards

Since 2004, providers have only been allowed to activate prepaid cards after giving their name, address and date of birth ( Section 111 (1) TKG ). Until July 2017, the providers were not obliged to check the information provided by the customer using an ID. Over 1000 authorities have online access to the network operator's customer data. There are 6 million hits per year. As a result of an amendment to the TKG that came into force in July 2016, telecommunications providers have had to separately verify the customer data provided since July 1, 2017.

After corresponding commercial offers have been warned, a non-commercial mobile phone card exchange platform is offered on the Internet.

In 2012 the Federal Constitutional Court rejected a constitutional complaint against the German compulsory identification “in view of the not very extensive information content of the data recorded”. The complainants lodged a complaint against this decision with the European Court of Human Rights in July 2012 ; the complaint found admissible by the European Court of Human Rights has meanwhile been dismissed and the judges considered the current legal regulations to be lawful.


Card offers from Austrian mobile phone providers are: B-Free, bob , YESSS! & GeORG ( Mobilkom Austria ), Nimm3 (formerly: 3Reload) ( Drei ), Klax ( Magenta Telekom ), Mücke ( Tele.ring ). The mobile communications company eety offers credit and cards in supermarkets ( Lidl ). HoT (HoferTelekom) has existed exclusively at Hofer since January 2nd, 2015 .

On January 1, 2019, the registration requirement for prepaid cards also came into force in Austria. When purchasing new prepaid cards, customers have had to identify themselves since this date. For existing prepaid card customers there is a transition period until September 1, 2019. In order to be able to (continue to) use the offer, the user must identify himself with the mobile phone provider (e.g. with an official photo ID ), whereby according to Section 97 Para. 1a TKG 2003 for this the name, the academic degree and the date of birth must be registered.


The following prepaid offers are currently available on the Swiss mobile communications market:

Prepaid cards from the mobile network operator:

Prepaid cards from service providers:

Registration requirement:
Anyone who buys a SIM card in Switzerland must register in order to activate it. For this registration, an identity card is required which, if not issued in Switzerland, is valid for crossing the border into Switzerland . Registration was introduced in 2004.

Literature on payment methods using prepaid cards

Web links

Wiktionary: credit card  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. General Terms and Conditions of MEDIONmobile: Compensation of up to EUR 1,250.00 per cell phone card used in breach of contract (point 10.4) ( Memento of July 6, 2006 in the Internet Archive )
  2. Information page of the Mannheim University Library about ecUM
  3. 1.5 billion prepaid contracts worldwide. In: heise online
  4., cell phone use via credit card, Typology of Desires 2006/2007
  5., Distribution of prepaid and contract mobile phones
  6. Frederic Ufer: The verification of customer data via the new § 111 TKG . In: Multimedia and Law . 2017, p. 83-88 .
  7. Munich District Court : (PDF; 705 kB) , accessed on November 20, 2011
  8. Prepaid Germany - can prepaid credit expire? , Higher Regional Court Schleswig (2 U 2/11)
  9. Federal Network Agency, Annual Report 2008, p. 108, Link (PDF; 5.2 MB)
  10. Federal Network Agency, Telecommunications Activity Report 2010/2011, p. 280, Link
  11. T-Mobile takes action against sellers of pre-registered SIM cards , In: heise online
  12. Federal Constitutional Court, decision of January 24, 2012, Az .: 1 BvR 1299/05
  13. of January 30, 2020, lawsuit against the ban on anonymous prepaid SIM cards failed
  14. Prepaid card registration. Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology , accessed on January 26, 2019 .
  15. ^ RIS - Telecommunications Act 2003 - Federal law consolidated. Legal information system of the Republic of Austria , accessed on January 26, 2019 .
  16. Lycamobile AG, Zurich
  17. OK.- mobile
  18. Registration of prepaid SIM cards for mobile phones in Switzerland ( Memento from January 11, 2012 in the Internet Archive )