Debit Card Use Rises but Greeks Still Prefer Cash

POS terminal: Photo: Eurokinissi/ Giorgos Kontarinis

ATHENS – While there’s been a big jump in the use of credit and debit cards in Greece to get around capital controls limiting how much money can be withdrawn from banks, people still prefer using cash, the best method for evading taxes.

Greeks like using cash so much they are the highest in the Eurozone at the practice and don’t mind queuing in long lines to pay utility and other bills instead of doing it online at home at any hour, and fork it over to pay rent and even taxes.

Unlike many countries, most Greeks still get paid in cash and want to use cold currency instead of the digital universe of paying, the newspaper Kathimerini wrote of the seemingly-unbreakable habit.

Cash also means money can change hands without being tracked so buyers and sellers can both avoid reporting anything to the tax department. The government, in a bid to gain revenues and cut down evasion, is giving away millions in lotteries for those who use debit and credit cards.

A recent European Central Bank survey on cash use in Eurozone households showed that 57 percent of Greeks, more than double those in second at 28 percent, Cyprus and Slovenia, while in other countries using the euro cash salaries ranged from 5-20 percent.

Since 2016, salaried workers in Greece have been required to be paid directly into a bank account as another method of following the money trail, cutting the cash use.Payments by credit and debit cards were expected to show a jump of more than 40 percent in 2017 over the previous year when the trend toward card use began to spike.

Bank estimates said credit and debit card use could go as high as 23 billion euros ($27.06 billion) by the end of the year compared to 15.5 billion euros ($18.24 billion) in 2016 – which itself had more than doubled from 2015 when the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA came to power but has failed to cut into tax cheating as promised.