20 years of the euro

Cash: facts and figures 20 years of the euro

Volume of banknotes in circulation in the Eurosystem

The amount of cash being issued is rising continuously: the volume of banknotes in circulation grew by an average of 6% per year in the last ten years. The threshold of over €1 trillion was exceeded as far back as the end of 2014, with almost €1.2 trillion having been issued at this point. Looking at the Eurosystem as a whole, the Bundesbank is by far the largest issuer of cash. More than half of the banknotes in circulation come from the vaults of the German central bank.

The public have great trust in cash. This was especially evident during the financial crisis in 2008. There was an exceptionally strong increase in withdrawals of banknotes during this period, not only in the crisis-hit countries, but in Germany, too.

This shows that cash not only plays an important role in everyday and business life but is also deemed to be a stable store of value. The Bundesbank is therefore committed to retaining cash so that the general public can continue to use their preferred means of payment and store of value.

Banknotes in circulation within the Eurosystem by denomination

Towards the end of the year, there is significantly more demand for cash than during the rest of the year. This is because, in the run-up to Christmas, private consumption rises considerably and purchases are made in cash. In terms of value, the most frequently used banknote is the “medium-sized” €50 note. 

The €100 and €500 banknotes mostly serve as a store of value and are used much less often in daily life than other banknotes. This is particularly evident in the case of the largest denomination: the volume of €500 banknotes issued rose continuously and then remained almost constant over the last five years. Since the announcement of the decision to stop issuing the €500 banknotes, the number of banknotes of this denomination in circulation has been clearly falling. The €500 banknotes retain their status as legal tender, however, and in the future the Eurosystem will still accept these notes in exchange for other banknotes.

Coins in circulation in the Eurosystem

The individual Member States have control over minting coins in the Eurosystem. This is why each coin displays a national side as well as a common European side. Alongside the familiar regular issue coins – ranging from one cent to two euros – each country can issue its own collectors' coins. In Germany, the €5 euro coins with a coloured polymer ring are one of the more popular coins among collectors. These collectors' coins only constitute legal tender in the respective issuing countries.

To date, 125 billion coins with a total value of just below €28 billion have been issued across Europe. In terms of quantity, the one-cent coin leads the pack, with 34 billion coins issued. If the two-cent and five-cent coins are also included, these represent almost two-thirds of the issued coins, but constitute less than 7% of the value of the coins in circulation. On the other hand, €1 and €2 coins make up 70% of the value of the coins in circulation. In Germany, there are no plans to introduce a rounding rule, which is already used in some other European countries. The Federal Ministry of Finance (BMF) is responsible for coin issuance in Germany. Some of the operational tasks are transferred to the Bundesbank.

Incidentally, creditors in Germany are obliged to accept up to 50 coins or coins worth up to €200, provided this has not been explicitly ruled out previously.

Incidence of counterfeits in Germany

Counterfeit prevention is another of the Bundesbank’s tasks. However, it is impossible to prevent criminals from attempting to introduce counterfeit notes into the cash cycle. Due to its high usage in everyday life, fake €50 notes are especially common in Germany.

Past losses arising from counterfeits are very low compared with the total volume of cash in circulation. Our cash is still safe: attempts to bring counterfeit money into the cash cycle are made at checkout counters, which means it is rare for consumers to be directly confronted with counterfeits. In order to ensure that the high banknote quality is preserved, since May 2013 the Eurosystem has been introducing a new banknote series with improved security features, called the Europa series.

However, if a member of the public should ever receive counterfeit money, they should report this to the police. It is a criminal offence to intentionally bring counterfeit banknotes into circulation.

Outstanding Deutsche Mark banknotes and coins

Although the Deutsche Mark ceased to be legal tender at the beginning of 2002, there are still large volumes of banknotes and coins in circulation. These are only gradually finding their way back to the Bundesbank.

Anyone finding Deutsche Mark coins or banknotes today can exchange them in unlimited amounts at all Bundesbank branches indefinitely and at a fixed rate. There are currently no plans to discontinue this service in the future.

Private individuals can also visit a Bundesbank branch to exchange euro banknotes into coins and vice versa. This service, like the exchange of Deutsche Marks, is provided free of charge.

Use of banknotes issued by the Bundesbank

Alongside the everyday use of euros as a means of payment, the majority of banknotes are not used for purchases but mainly as a store of value. In addition, the euro is a popular reserve currency abroad, much like the US dollar today and the Deutsche Mark in former times. Safety and stability play an important role here for those who hoard cash. The euro's standing outside the euro area is thus not to be underestimated either. 

But there are also many people in Germany who put aside large amounts of cash. The reasons for this are numerous: some people like to set aside a nest egg while others save in this way.

Share of payment instruments by turnover and number of transactions

The Bundesbank conducts a representative survey of consumers’ payment behaviour at regular three-year intervals. 

Among consumers, cash is the most popular means of payment by far, both in terms of turnover and the number of transactions. Although a slow and steady decline in use over the years can be observed, there are still no signs that cash will be completely replaced by cashless payment instruments. The use of the girocard, also known as a bank or debit card, dominates in this area. Consumers in Germany have access to a vast array of payment instruments. The Bundesbank takes a neutral stance, not dictating to the public which payment methods they should use.

Instead, everyone should be able to decide which means of payment they prefer. Banknotes and coins play an integral role in the everyday life of many people and this is why the Bundesbank continues to take a stand in the debate about keeping cash, decisively opposing any attempts to abolish it.