All about the tax return (Steuererklärung) in Germany

Why file a tax return?

Let's start with the fact that there is a category of people who are required to file a tax return every year. As a rule, Finantsamt expects from these people that they must pay additional taxes based on the results of the declaration. Those most likely to receive a tax refund are not required to complete a tax return. Therefore, on average, everyone who submits a tax return receives more than 1,000 € back from the tax office. So filing a declaration is almost always beneficial.

Am I required to file a tax return?

The two most popular cases where you are required to file a tax return each year are:
  • if you are married and have tax classes 3/5
  • if you received wage replacement instead of salary (Lohnersatzleistungen), such as Arbeitslosengeld or Elterngeld

What are the deadlines for filing in 2024?

If you are required to file your 2023 tax return, you must do so by July 31, 2023. If you are assisted by a tax advisor (Steuerberater), the deadline is extended until May 31, 2025. If you are not required to file a tax return, then you have four whole years to file, that is, until December 31, 2027.

How to make a tax return?

I recommend making a tax return using special services. It's quite simple and not expensive. It costs about 10-50 €. The best service is WISO Steuer. For simple cases, I also recommend Smartsteuer. If you do not want to deal with the tax return yourself, you can contact tax consultants. Here, the cost already goes to hundreds of euros, depending on the complexity of the case.

What expenses are tax deductible?

The German tax system is one of the most complex in the world. There are a lot of cases and exceptions that can be written off from taxes. Below I will give the most popular examples:
  • Work-related expenses (Werbungssteuer): The finance department takes into account a lump sum of 1,000 €. You can write off even more if you exceed this amount. You can write off your home office (€600 flat fee), your commute to work, part of the cost of your personal smartphone, laptop, telephone operator and internet, moving (€870 flat fee), just write off the €110 flat fee for petty expenses, work uniform, advanced training, work literature and much more.
  • Housekeeping services (Haushaltsnahe Dienstleistungen): Even if you didn't pay for cleaning or plumbing services, look at your utility bill (Nebenkostenabrechnung). You can write off the services of cleaners, a housemaster, a gardener, and even an elevator repairman from there. Usually such services are specially labeled as Haushaltsnahe Dienstleistungen for ease of calculation.
  • Child expenses (Betreuungskosten): if you have a child, you can write off child care services: kindergarten, babysitting and even train and plane tickets for grandparents.

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