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  • Hari Krishnan

Filing Your Income Tax Return in Germany: [Simplified English Guide]

Updated: Jan 2

Filing your income tax in Germany might seem a bit tricky, especially if you're not used to the German tax system. But it's important to know how it works and the good things that can come from it. In this article, we'll make things simple and clear.


how to file itr in Germany


Who Needs to File a German Tax Return?

Generally, if you made less than €10,347 (as of 2023), or if your employer already took the right amount of tax from your pay, you might not have to file a tax return. But if you earned money from other sources or want to lower your taxes by claiming deductions, you'll need to do it.


Here are some situations when you must file a tax return:

  1. You got extra payments or substitute income (like parental allowance, sickness pay, or unemployment benefits) that added up to more than 410 euros.

  2. You got a special payment, like severance pay.

  3. You got divorced, and either you or your ex got married again in the same year.

  4. You had more than one job at the same time (not counting small part-time jobs).

  5. You earned money in another country or received rent for a property, especially in the year you moved.

  6. You're married, and you or your partner chose tax class III or V.

  7. The local tax office gave you a tax allowance.

  8. You were on short-time work (Kurzarbeit).


If any of these things apply to you, you have to send in a tax return. Sometimes, the tax office will send you a letter reminding you to do it, and you must follow through.


Now, if you're self-employed, a freelancer, or have your own business, you must file a tax return every year and pay your taxes every three months.


But even if none of these situations fit you, you can still choose to do your taxes voluntarily. This can be a smart move because it opens the door to various deductions and exemptions. These can reduce your taxable income and increase your refund. For instance, you can claim expenses related to your job, education, health, family, or donations. On average, nine out of 10 people who do a voluntary tax return get back 1,051 euros or more.


How to file a tax declaration in Germany?


Option 1: Use Online Tax Software

One of the easiest ways to do your taxes in Germany is to use online tax software. This is a service that you can find on the internet, in English or other languages, that helps you with your tax return. You just have to answer some questions about your income and expenses, and the software will fill out the forms for you. It will also tell you how much money you will get back or have to pay, and send your tax return to the tax office. You usually have to pay a small fee for this service, around 30 euros.


Some examples of online tax software are Wundertax, SteuerGo, or Taxfix. You can find them on Google or ask your friends for recommendations.



Option 2: Hire a Tax Consultant

Another way to do your taxes in Germany is to hire a tax consultant. A tax consultant can advise you on how to save money on your taxes, what deductions and exemptions you can claim, and how to deal with any problems with the tax office. A tax consultant can also fill out and send your tax return for you.


However, hiring a tax consultant can be a bit expensive, sometimes hundreds of euros. So, you should consider this if your tax situation is very complicated, for example, if you have more than one job, income from another country, or your own business. You can find a tax consultant on the internet, or by asking your friends or colleagues.


Personal experience:

I used to file my taxes online with an app. I would usually get a tax refund of about 500 to 800 Euros each year. However, one year, a friend recommended a tax consultant to me, and that year, I received a tax refund of around 3500 euros. That's a significant difference! Since then, I've been doing my taxes with the same consultant.


What changed was that the app (at least back then, I'm not sure about the current situation) was designed to cover general areas. On the other hand, the consultant asks a lot of questions, provides different forms, and even collects some documents from the tax office on your behalf. It can be a bit of work, but it's worth it in the end. My friends, whom I suggested seek help from tax consultants, have had similar experiences.


From what I've learned, different tax consultants have different ways of determining their fees. For instance, some have a fixed fee, while others calculate a percentage based on your yearly earnings. There are also those who charge a percentage from your tax refund. So, it's important to consider what suits your personal situation and decide.


Option 3: Use the Official Online Form

The third way to do your taxes in Germany is to use the official online form. This is a system that the German tax office provides for free, called ELSTER (Elektronische Steuererklärung). To use this system, you have to register and create an account on the ELSTER website. Then, you have to fill out the forms online and upload your documents, such as your payslip, receipts, invoices, etc. You can also use a digital signature to send your tax return without printing and signing it.


This option is cheaper than the other two, but it is also harder. You have to know some German, or have someone who can help you, because the forms and instructions are only in German. You also have to know what information and documents you need, and how to calculate your taxes. This option is best for people who have a simple tax situation, such as a single job, no other income, and no deductions.


Documents required for your tax return in Germany

No matter which of the three options you pick to submit your tax information in Germany, you'll need to have certain documents ready:

  1. Your tax ID (Steuer-ID, TIN, Identifikationsnummer) and tax number (Steuernummer), if you have them.

  2. Details of your local tax office (Finanzamt).

  3. The IBAN of your German bank account.

  4. Your employment tax statement (Lohnsteuerbescheinigung), which summarizes your earnings and the taxes you've paid in the previous year. Your employer should provide this by the end of February.


You'll also need proof of payments for any deductions you claim, like receipts, invoices, or certificates. Depending on your situation, you might require additional documents such as:

  • Your spouse's income and tax details if you're married and filing jointly.

  • Your children's birth certificates and tax IDs if you're claiming benefits related to children.

  • Your pension statement (Rentenbezugsmitteilung) if you receive a pension.

  • Records of your business income and expenses if you're self-employed or a freelancer.

  • Information about your capital income and losses if you have investments.

  • Details about any income from abroad if you have earnings from other countries.


It's a good practice to keep all these documents and records for at least 10 years, just in case the tax office requests them or audits your tax return.


Additional Tax Forms (Anlagen)

The primary form for your tax return in Germany is called the Mantelbogen, and it includes your personal information, income, and deductions. However, depending on your circumstances, you may also need to complete additional forms known as Anlagen. These forms provide more specific details about various aspects of your income and expenses. Here are some of the most common Anlagen:



What is the Deadline for the Tax Return in Germany?

The deadline for filing your tax return in Germany depends on whether you're doing it because you want to or because you have to. If you're doing it voluntarily, you've got four years to get it done, starting from the end of the tax year. For instance, if you want to file your 2023 taxes, you've got until December 31, 2027 to do it. But it's a good idea to do it sooner to get your refund faster and avoid extra charges.


If you're required to file your taxes, you need to do it by July 31 of the following year. For example, if you must file your 2023 taxes, it's due by July 31, 2024. However, you can ask the tax office for more time if needed or hire a tax advisor who can do it for you by February 28 of the following year.


How long does it take to get your tax refund in Germany and how to check the status of your tax filing?

When you file your income tax return in Germany, you might get some money back from the tax office. This is called a tax refund. But how long do you have to wait for your tax refund? And how can you check if your tax return is ready?


The answer is: it depends. It depends on when you did your taxes, where you live, how hard your taxes are, and how busy the tax office is. The official rule is that it can take from two to six months for the tax office to send you a letter. This letter is called a tax assessment (Steuerbescheid). It tells you how much money you will get back or have to pay.


Below, you can take a look at an example letter you might receive from the tax office (Finanzamt) once they've reviewed your tax return.


tax assessment letter from finanzamt

But sometimes it can take longer or shorter than that. For example, in 2020, the tax office had a lot of work because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people got short-time work (Kurzarbeit) or other benefits, which made their taxes more complicated. So, it might take longer to get your tax refund for 2020 than for other years.


Also, some tax offices are faster than others. According to some data, the fastest tax office is in Berlin. It takes about 38 days to get your tax assessment there. The slowest tax office is in North Rhine-Westphalia. It can take up to 180 days to get your tax assessment there. You can find the waiting times of all the states on the Taxpayers Association (BdSt) website.


If you want to check the status of your tax refund, you can do it in different ways. If you did your taxes online using the ELSTER system, you can log in to your account and see a green check mark if your tax return is done, a yellow exclamation mark if your tax return is being processed, and a red cross if your tax return is rejected or needs correction.


If you did your taxes online using one of the online tax services, like Wundertax, SteuerGo, or Taxfix, you can log in to your account and see a green check mark if your tax return is sent, a yellow clock if your tax return is being processed, and a red cross if your tax return is rejected or needs correction.


If you did your taxes on paper or with a tax consultant, you can call your local tax office and ask about your tax return. You will need to give them your tax ID (Steuer-ID, TIN, Identifikationsnummer) and tax number (Steuernummer) if you have one, and the year that you did your taxes for. You can find the contact details of your local tax office on the Federal Central Tax Office website.


If you have any questions or problems about your tax return or tax refund, you can always ask the tax office or your tax consultant for help. You can also use the online tax services to get support and advice from their tax experts.


Conclusion

In conclusion, doing your taxes in Germany may be a bit tough, but it's worth it. You can get tax breaks that lower what you owe and increase your refund. You can fill out the forms on paper or online, all by yourself or with a tax expert. Just remember to keep a record of your income.


Some frequently asked questions

Who needs to file a tax return in Germany?

In Germany, you generally need to file a tax return if you have multiple sources of income, significant deductions, or special circumstances like self-employment.

When is the tax return deadline in Germany?

Can I file my tax return online in Germany?

What kind of deductions can I claim in Germany?

How long should I keep my tax documents and records in Germany?

Do I need a tax advisor to file my taxes in Germany?

What happens if I miss the tax return deadline in Germany?

How do I check my tax assessment in Germany?

Can I amend my tax return in Germany?

Are there any tax incentives for expatriates in Germany?





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