Why should I submit a tax return in Germany?

Why should I submit a tax return in Germany?

Nine out of ten taxpayers in Germany receive a refund when they submit their annual tax return (according to data from the Federal German Statistics Office). Anyone who has earnings in Germany can claim back part of the income tax which they have paid throughout the year. With the help of a good software tool like SteuerGo.de, this process should only take an hour or so to complete. In the following years, this is even easier and quicker due to the automatic transfer of many entries.

How much can I expect to get back?

If you are employed, you will pay regular tax and social insurance contributions. The amount of tax you pay will depend on the amount you earn, your marital status and your tax bracket. Employment tax is withheld by your employer and transferred directly to the tax authorities.

However, any circumstances which qualify you for a lower rate of tax are not taken into account at this stage. For example, the 1000 Euro allowance for income-related expenses (Werbungskostenpauschale) can only be claimed when you submit your tax return.

This means that most people receive an average refund of about 950 Euro, users of SteuerGo.de can expect even 1100 Euro due to various individual tips on saving taxes.

Register now to get your tax refund from the tax office.

To prevent you from paying tax in both Germany and your home country, Germany has double taxation agreements with most countries. To find information about your country, visit the Federal Ministry of Finance website. You can also submit a German tax return from your home country if you have already left Germany. Just be sure to specify the details of a German current account for your refund.

Who must submit a tax return in Germany?

While employees are generally advised to submit a tax return because of the expected refund, there are some circumstances in which you are obliged to do so.

This is the case if in 2018 your income was more than 9000 Euro for a single person (18000 Euro for a married couple or registered partnership) and if

  • You are married and one spouse has opted for tax class (Steuerklasse) III or V as stated on your employment tax statement (Lohnsteuerbescheinigung).
  • The tax office (Finanzamt) has granted you an allowance (Freibetrag) on the employment tax statement.
  • You have other income or income replacement benefits (Lohnersatzleistungen) exceeding 410 euros e.g. maternity benefit (Mutterschaftsgeld), parental benefits (Elterngeld) or paid sick leave.
  • You have received extraordinary income, such as severance payments for which your employer retained employment tax.
  • You have divorced and at least one spouse has remarried in the same year.
  • You have more than one employer at the same time (excluding mini-jobs).
  • You have received income in another country during the financial year, e.g. in the year of relocation to/from Germany.

Freelancers and self-employed persons are also required to submit a tax return, as well as pensioners who receive a pension of more than 1500 Euro per month and have not previously submitted a tax return.

If the tax office (Finanzamt) sends you a reminder letter stating a deadline for submission of your tax return, then you are required to do so, even if none of the above applies to you.

How can I do my tax return?

Although you can download all the necessary tax return forms and print them out, you can also use the official software known as ELSTER (ELektronische STeuerERklärung). This tool allows you to submit your German tax return via the internet, saving both you and your tax office time. You need to sign up for an account and will then be sent a password by post.

This is a free tool but the software is only available in (bureaucratic) German and it is very complex. Since it was developed by the Ministry of Finance, it does not give you any hints on how to save taxes or maximise your refund by showing you fields which you might have missed.

Tax return software and online applications

If you find the ELSTER tool too complicated, there are a range of desktop and online tools available to help you complete your tax return in Germany correctly. They also provide tips and support for maximising your refund.

As the first and most comprehensive online tax return software in English, SteuerGo.de is ideal for employees and freelancers, especially if it’s your first time.

  • You are guided step-by-step through a clearly structured interface.
  • When you register for your free account, any entries you make are automatically saved.
  • It is all in English – every step of the process. A wealth of explanatory texts help you to understand what is needed and key German terms are given in brackets to help you navigate your way through German tax documents.
  • You can contact us via email, chat or call our hotline if you have any questions.
  • It only costs 29,95 Euro and you only need to pay if you decide to actually submit a tax return using the software.

Our software also tells you in real time how much you can expect to get back as a refund, so you know if it’s worth the one-time fee.

Personal help

You can also ask a tax accountant (Steuerberater) or an “income tax assistance union“ (Lohnsteuerhilfeverein) to complete your tax return. Although you have to pay a substantial fee for the services of these tax experts, it can be worthwhile if your income is high and your situation is complex due to property holdings or different sources of income. Freelancers and self-employed persons with high income often use these services.

If you decide to do your tax return yourself, you can also contact your local tax office (Finanzamt). The relevant contact information is shown in SteuerGo. While they try to answer any questions you might have, they do not help with actually filling in your tax return.

There are several foreign services that offer tax advice and help you to complete your tax return in Germany. You should be aware that they operate unofficially, as they are not legally permitted to do so by German law. They are therefore unable to officially assist you with questions from/to the tax office or represent you if the tax office makes a mistake, which can happen due to the complexity of the laws and time pressures.


The German tax year is from January to December. You can submit your tax return for any past year from as early as 01.01 of the following year. If you are employed, you will usually receive the employment tax statement (Lohnsteuerbescheinigung) from your employer by February.

Unless you are required to submit a tax return (as outlined above), you have four years to send it in. For example, in 2019 you can submit your returns for 2018, 2017, 2016 and 2015 all at once and can expect to receive a few thousand Euro as a refund in one go.

If you are required to submit an income tax return (Einkommensteuererklärung), you must do so by 31.07 of the year following the one in which the income was received. While there may be penalties and interest payable if the return is submitted late, the tax office will generally send a reminder and issue a warning first.

If you are running out of time, you can always contact your local tax office (Finanzamt) before 31.07 and ask them to extend your deadline by two or three months without further explanations. These extensions are then granted automatically without any formal response by the tax office.

After submitting your tax return, it takes eight to twelve weeks for the tax office to process it and pay the refund into your bank account. In your SteuerGo account, you can see how long it currently takes your tax office to process tax returns. Once processed, you will also find here your tax assessment notice (Steuerbescheid), stating the amount of your refund and comments from the tax office.

Legal ways to maximise your tax refund

As in many other countries, Germany allows you to deduct a variety of expenses from your taxable income, thereby lowering your tax burden and increasing your refund. Some of the expenses which you can specify in your tax return are listed below:

Income-related expenses (Werbungskosten) including

  • Expenses for moving house for professional reasons, (including relocation to/from or within Germany)
  • The costs of applying for jobs, including those applied for from abroad
  • Expenses for traveling from your home to your place of work
  • Costs of vocational further training, such as work-related books, training courses, language courses etc.
  • Expenses for work-related equipment, e.g. laptop, desktop etc.
  • The costs of running two households within Germany or in Germany and abroad, e.g. if you have a primary household abroad where your family (wife and children) are living: flight and train tickets, telephone calls, rent paid in Germany

Special expenses (Sonderausgaben), including

  • Retirement insurance expenses, i.e. insurance premiums and contributions to private pension schemes
  • Expenses for additional retirement savings
  • Charitable and political donations to German entities

Exceptional costs (außergewöhnliche Belastungen), including

  • Personal expenses which most taxpayers inevitably incur; e.g. personal medical costs
  • Financial support to close dependents in need
  • Professional training

The following is provided for each child under 18 (or under 27 if still attending school and without earnings)

  • A tax-free child allowance and an allowance for the child’s care, educational or professional training requirements OR
  • Child benefit.

The tax office checks which option is most favourable for each taxpayer: child benefit or the deduction of the above-mentioned allowance. In addition, a tax deduction can be made for childcare costs, up to 4.000 Euro per child and year.

There are additional tax reductions for employment-related expenses or services in or related to your household.

It is particularly advisable to submit a tax return if you have worked only a few months in Germany and worked in a lower income country for the rest of the year. Your salary will be treated as if it applied to a full year, which leads to a lower tax bracket and lower taxes.

The more conditions you fulfil, the higher your refund will be. The SteuerGo software guides you through all these sections with simple questions and detailed explanations of every step.

It is important to keep receipts of most expenses, as proof that they were incurred between 01.01 and 31.12 of the year in question. However, if you take up employment in Germany, which makes you liable for income tax, and you incurred costs related to this during the previous year, you can declare them and have them deducted from your taxable income. To do so, you must submit a tax return for the previous year as well, even if you had no income in Germany that year. The tax reduction will be carried over to the year in which you earned income in Germany.

Documents needed for your tax return

  1. Your employment tax statement (Lohnsteuerbescheinigung), which summarises all your earnings and the taxes you paid during the year and which is issued by your employer either at the end of your employment or at the end of the tax year.
  2. Your tax identification number (TIN, Steuer-Identifikationsnummer or Steuer-ID), a unique 11-digit number that you receive by post, about six weeks after you register your residency with the local municipal office (Bürgeramt)
  3. Your tax number (Steuernummer), if you have one from your current  local tax office. It can be found on your last tax assessment (Steuerbescheid).
  4. Your German bank account details for your refund (IBAN, BIC)
  5. Proof of any income received outside Germany for the year of the tax return. This is used to determine your tax rate. There is no double taxation.
  6. Documents relating to any deductions (see above)
    • Income-related expenses (Werbungskosten)
    • Special expenses (Sonderausgaben)
    • Exceptional expenses (außergewöhnliche Belastungen)
  7. Child(ren), if applicable
    • Name, date of birth of child(ren)
    • Amount and period for which child benefits (Kindergeld) were received. If an application for child benefit was rejected, the rejection letter is required.
    • Expenses for childcare or education, e.g. Kindergarten/Kita, afterschool care
  8. Any other income or government benefit, e.g. parental benefits (Elterngeld), maternity benefit (Mutterschaftsgeld) etc.

Register now to get your tax refund from the tax office.

30 Kommentare zu “Why should I submit a tax return in Germany?”:

  1. Chris Lister

    Lieber SteuerGo,

    Ich erhielt am Samstag einen Brief vom Finanzamt, dass ich eine Rückerstattung bekommen werde. Wissen Sie, wie lange es normalerweise dauert, bis das Geld ein Bankkonto erreicht?

    Ich habe ihre Software benutzt und es war sehr hilfreich.

    Danke vielmals,
    Chris Lister

    1. Thilo Rudolph

      Hallo Chris,

      in der Regel wird die Steuererstattung von den Finanzämtern sofort ausgezahlt, d.h. auf Ihr Konto überwiesen, dass Sie in der Steuererklärung angegeben haben.

      Die Auszahlungsdauer hängt aber natürlich auch vom Finanzamt ab. Das Geld sollte daher spätestens Ende der Woche bei Ihnen auf dem Konto ankommen.

      Mit freundlichen Grüßen

      Thilo Rudolph

  2. Maria

    Hi. I must contact the finanzamt here in Germany to get proof that I don’t have an income here in Germany. This is requested for my studyloan repayments in Sweden.

    How can I do that?

  3. Vivian

    Hello! I have just left Germany and have closed my Commerzbank account (to which refunded tax was paid in previous years). If I am to use SteuerGo to apply for 2018 tax refund, can it handle the additional requirement on money being sent to a foreign account?

    Thank you,

    1. Thilo Rudolph

      Hello, Vivian,

      yeah, that’s possible.

      Tax refunds with IBAN are possible within the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA), which includes all EU and EEA countries as well as Monaco, San Marino, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Mayotte, Guernsey, Jersey, Isle of Man and Switzerland. Please enter your IBAN and the account holder. Your IBAN can be found, for example, on the account statement of your bank.

      For tax refunds in SEPA payment transactions to countries outside the EU/EEA area, the BIC must also be entered. In the case of other bank details outside the European Payments Area (SEPA), the required details must be submitted in writing to the tax office.

      Yours sincerely

      Thilo Rudolph

  4. Kerry

    I am interesting to use your website. Here are my situations.

    For 2018 tax.
    From 01.01 – 31.05 I was on Tax class I.

    From 1.06 – 31.12 I am on Tax Class II.

    Now, I wanted to do my tax return, but I have two Lohnsteuerbescheinigung from my two employers.

    E.g if I want to entry my ANNUAL Gross Wage (Bruttoarbeitslohn) should sum up the total Gross Wage from two employers?


    1. Thilo Rudolph

      Hi Kerry,

      If you have more than one employer, for example, for a part-time job, click on „Enter details for another income tax statement“. Then you can enter the name of another employer in the newly appearing input mask. In this way, you can keep a clear overview of different jobs in your tax return.

      You can remove an employment from your tax return by clicking on the recycle bin symbol to the right of the employer’s name and thus delete it completely.

      Best regards


  5. Naomi

    Dear SteuerGo,

    I worked in Germany last year in sept/oct at a Volksfest.
    I got paid.
    I didn’t register in Germany though, because I didn’t ever live there.
    I can’t find any information on internet indicating it´s possible to receive
    an ID number without registering in Germany, so now I don’t know if I have one.
    I have one letter with all the numbers on it of what I earned and what tax was taken
    from it (42 percent, which surprised me as a very high number..)
    but there is no tax number on there.

    I would be very happy if you could enlighten me. Am I in trouble now :/
    I’d really like to ask my taxes back and hope I can organise everything online and through post
    because I am in Mexico for the next months.

    Thank you..

  6. Behrouz

    Dear SteuerGo team,

    Thanks for provided info,
    Would you kindly advise on how can I prove my help to my dependent family (my parents) who are not living in EU? then if there is any limit for tax refund on it?

    Moreover, together with my wife we have recently moved to Germany, and both are resident here but I had to keep my previous rental property at least for another 6 months, can I claim back the taxes on this expense as well?

    Many thanks in advance for your helps.

    1. Thilo Rudolph

      Hi Behrouz,

      In the Maintenance attachment, you can claim all maintenance payments to needy persons such as parents or children.

      Up to a maximum amount of 9,000 euros (2018), maintenance payments can be deducted as extraordinary burdens without taking into account a reasonable burden. However, the person receiving support will be credited with his or her own income and emoluments of more than 624 euros per year.

      If your place of work is far away from your place of residence and you have to move into a second home for this reason, there is double household management. You can deduct from your tax certain costs that you incur as a result.

      However, some conditions must be met: First, you must have a main residence with your own household at your place of residence. In addition, you must move into a second home at your place of work for professional reasons. Since 2014, a new condition for „owning your own household“ has been financial participation in the cost of living.

      There are occupational reasons, for example, if you have been transferred to a foreign place of work or if you take up a job far away from your own place of residence. Dual household management is also deemed to be professionally induced if you move your main place of residence away from your workplace for private reasons and use an apartment at your place of work as a second household.

      Please understand that for legal reasons we are not allowed to provide individual tax advice. If you have more detailed questions, please contact a tax consultant or lawyer in your area for binding information.

      Best regards

      Thilo Rudolph

  7. Cameron

    Greetings Steuergo Team,

    The 12 weeks expected delivery of the tax refund has surpassed. I’m now worried I’ve done something wrong in submitting. How can I follow up on the status of my tax return?



    1. Thilo Rudolph

      hi Cameron,

      Unfortunately, we cannot give you any information about the processing status of your tax return at your tax office. The processing of your tax documents is the sole responsibility of the tax authorities.

      There is no deadline within which the tax office must process your tax return! Experience shows that the processing can usually take between 2 and 3 months. However, waiting times can also be considerably longer. In case of doubt, it may be useful to call your responsible clerk.

      Important: Also the tax office cannot leave itself for your tax declaration arbitrarily long time. If more than six months have elapsed since the tax return was submitted without the tax office taking any action, you have the option of submitting a so-called objection to inactivity. You file this with your tax office (§ 347 Abs. 1 Satz 2 AO).

      Please understand that for legal reasons we are not allowed to provide individual tax advice. If you have more detailed questions, please contact a tax consultant or lawyer in your area for binding information.

      Best regards

      Thilo Rudolph

  8. Nadia Salam

    Greetings Steuergo Team,

    I am a foreign doctor who spent 10,000 Euros to study the German language in the year 2017. I did not pay any taxes in this year since I was a student. Do you think it would make any sense for me to apply for tax return in the year 2017?

    1. Thilo Rudolph

      Hi Nadia,

      You can only receive a tax refund if you have also paid taxes in Germany or will do so in the future.

      Whether this is worthwhile in your case cannot be answered in this way.

      Please understand that for legal reasons we are not allowed to provide individual tax advice. If you have more detailed questions, please contact a tax consultant or lawyer in your area for binding information.

      Best regards

      Thilo Rudolph

  9. Jophet

    hello.. I put a wrong number of working days/weeks in my form but i already submitted it.Now i am worried if it will impact the result of my tax return.. What to do to correct it?Thanks in advance..

    1. Thilo Rudolph

      Hi Jophet,

      That shouldn’t be a problem.

      If you have not yet received a tax assessment, simply call your tax consultant and explain the error to him.

      You can also wait until you receive the tax assessment. Then you can lodge an appeal against the tax assessment within four weeks and thus also later submit „forgotten“ income-related expenses.

      Please understand that for legal reasons we are not allowed to provide individual tax advice. If you have more detailed questions, please contact a tax consultant or lawyer in your area for binding information.

      Best regards

      Thilo Rudolph

  10. David Hawkins

    I am an artist but although I have regular exhibitions, I haven’t earned anything recently (although I hope this will change !)
    I get an income from two small UK pensions (state and university) and some shares.
    I am uncertain how to register for tax (and get a TIN) and what I should register as (retired or professional artist).

  11. Karthik Mohan

    Hello Team,
    Is there a possibility for a Foreign National Student studying in Germany to Apply for Ta Refund while the person is still continuing his studies ?.
    If so can you point me to the right direction ?.

    1. Thilo Rudolph

      Hi Karthik,

      You can only receive a tax refund if you have also paid taxes.

      So if you are still working while you are studying and your employer pays tax on your payroll, you can of course file a tax return and receive a tax refund accordingly.

      Best regards

      Thilo Rudolph

  12. Venkata

    Hello Team ,
    i have two Lohnsteuerbescheinigung from the same employer ,
    1) one for full time Internship
    2) As a full time employee (Both are same Employer )
    Do i need to add /sumup each category or do i need to enter separately ?

    For 2017 i used Steur Go , Inspite of getting refund the tax office asked me to pay in return (to them ) ; why did they asked me to pay for them ? i filled details accordingly i dont have any other incomes except part time job worked for 80 hr / month

    1. Thilo Rudolph

      Hi Venkata,

      if you have more than one employer, for example, for a part-time job, you have also received several employment tax statements (Lohnsteuerbescheinigungen). In this case, click in our App on „Enter details for another income employment tax statement (Lohnsteuerbescheinigung)“. Then you can enter the name of another employer in the newly appearing input mask. In this way, various jobs will also remain clearly arranged in your tax return.

      If the employer taxes the minijob at a flat rate, the income does not have to be entered in the tax return. In this case, however, you cannot claim income-related expenses or the employee lump sum for your part-time job. You will not receive a employment tax statement (Lohnsteuerbescheinigung) for the minijob.

      If you have any questions about our program, please email at hilfe@steuergo.de. Please enter your email address with which you registered with SteuerGo and submitted your tax return.

      Best regards

      Thilo Rudolph

  13. Paramesh

    Hello, I have spend 1 year Germany as postdoctoral research fellow in the year 2015 and I have paid taxes. We came back you india. I have the tax identification number and statement. How can we apply for the tax returns?
    We had bank account number but I don’t know whether it is active or not?
    Please suggest in these regard.

    1. Thilo Rudolph

      Hi Paramesh,

      If you worked in Germany in 2015, you can submit your tax return to your tax office in Germany by 31.12.2019 (Deadline!).

      In the case of a tax refund, you can also specify a foreign account to which your tax office can make the payment.

      Best regards

      Thilo Rudolph


    Good Day,
    I’m currently studying in Germany as a foreign student and in 2019 my earning was less than 9,000 Euro. I know I can submit an income tax return and get back some taxes I have paid so far. But I have a plan not to submit now rather submit after the next year when I’m expecting my study to be finished. Can I do that legally? And will there be any such consequences like – I will get lower amount of return or I will get any penalty?

    Up to how many years of tax return I can submit at a time? Can I combine 2-3 years together?

    Another thing, my other expenses like my payment for semester fee, insurance payment do they have an effect on it?

    Please give me the best suggestion. And definitely ask if you have any question.

    1. Thilo Rudolph

      Hello, Hossain,

      If you file a tax return (Abgabepflicht, tax liability), you must always do so for one year.

      If you want to file a tax return for 2019 and are not obliged to do so, you have 4 years time (Abgabefristen, submission deadlines), i.e. the tax return for 2019 must be received by your tax office by 31.12.2023 at the latest. If, on the other hand, you are obliged to file, the tax return for 2019 must be submitted to the tax office by 31.7.2020.

      Please understand that for legal reasons we are not allowed to provide individual tax advice. If you have more detailed questions, please contact a tax consultant or lawyer for binding information on tax matters in your area.

      With kind regards

      Thilo Rudolph

  15. Adel

    I have a few questions:

    1. Let’s say I started work here in Germany in August 2019. can I submit a tax return anytime I want or I have to wait until 1 year from the day I started?
    2. I’m using public transportation to go to work is the refund will be exactly the same amount?
    for example, if the monthly ticket is 150 euro do I get it all back or half of it?
    3. does the return includes everything I purchase online (amazon, shopping,…. etc)?


    1. Thilo Rudolph

      Hello Adel,

      to your questions:

      1. if you are obliged to file a tax return (duty to file), the tax return for the year 2019 must be received by the tax office by 31.07.2020 If, on the other hand, you are not obliged to file a tax return, you have 4 years, i.e. until 31.12.2023.

      2. the income-related expenses (including travel expenses) reduce the taxable income. The tax liability is then assessed on the taxable income. This means that you will not receive a full refund of travel expenses, as these only reduce the assessment basis and thus the tax liability. However, you will only receive a tax refund if you have also paid taxes in 2019.

      3. income-related expenses are all expenses that you have incurred in direct connection with your professional activity. You can claim these costs for tax purposes if they have not already been reimbursed tax-free by your employer.

      If you do not claim individual income-related expenses, a lump sum of EUR 1,000 will be accepted without proof.

      Please understand that for legal reasons we are not allowed to provide individual tax advice. If you have more detailed questions, please contact a tax consultant or lawyer for binding information on tax matters in your area.

      With kind regards

      Thilo Rudolph

  16. Eban

    Dear SteuerGo,

    I’m employed in Germany since 2016 and have filled tax return (through a tax consultant) for the year 2016 &2017.
    However, I’m yet to fill the tax return for 2018 & 2019 and I want to do it myself this time.
    My question is am I already late to file the tax return for 2018? If yes, do I need to pay penalty? Thanks in advance for your helpful suggestion.


    1. Thilo Rudolph

      Hello, Eban,

      If you want to file a tax return for 2018 and you are not obliged to do so, you have 4 years time (Abgabefristen), i.e. the tax return for 2018 must be received by your tax office by 31.12.2022 at the latest.

      If, on the other hand, you are obliged to file (Abgabepflicht), the tax return for 2018 should have been submitted to the tax office on 31.7.2019. In this case, however, the tax office would probably have already sent you a reminder. You are therefore probably not obliged to file and can now take your time to file your tax return. If you are not sure whether you have to file or not, you can also call your tax office to find out.

      Please understand that for legal reasons we are not allowed to provide individual tax advice. If you have any further questions, please contact a tax consultant or lawyer to obtain binding information on tax matters in your area.

      With kind regards

      Thilo Rudolph

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