Five simple steps to getting your German tax refund

It can’t be avoided – wherever you live, taxes are a certainty. However, the taxes we pay provide an enormous benefit to society, in that they provide a social safety net.

Five simple steps to getting your German tax refund
Photo: Getty Images
Nowhere is this more evident than in Germany, where the wealthiest can expect to pay up to 45% in 'Lohnsteuer', or income tax. Unemployment benefits, pension payments and ‘Kindergeld' (literally ‘child money') for parents are all significant benefits paid for by German taxpayers. 
Filing a tax return in Germany is not compulsory (unless you fit into a few select categories). You'd be crazy not to however! With the tax-filing app Taxfix, a return typically takes under half an hour to complete – and the average person gets back more than €1,000. If you're an expat and unfamiliar with how German tax deductions work, you could easily be paying more than your fair share of tax. Here are five simple steps to help you make sure you get your return in on time – and get back all the money you're entitled to. 
1. Gather your paperwork – and keep it in order 
Germans prize organisation and good record keeping as a virtue, and if you follow them in this respect, you'll be well-prepared for tax season. Firstly, do you know the final deadlines for filing a tax return? The last chance to file for 2016 comes on December 31st this year, as part of a four-year rolling cycle.
Using a single folder for each tax year and a hole punch will often suffice to keep your receipts and invoices in order, with dividers for different categories, such as fuel receipts, energy bills, food expenses during business trips, and software.
If you're intent on reducing your paper waste, there are a number of apps, such as Simple Scan and Microsoft Office Lens, that allow you to photograph your paperwork, turning them into readable PDF files that you can store somewhere on the cloud. This can be handy and a major timesaver at tax time, when you're hunting down figures – new technology means that figures can often be copied and pasted from these files directly. 
2. Keep up to date on what you can claim.
The federal government in Germany often updates legislation regarding what people can claim as deductions against their tax. There are always attempts to close loopholes and maintain tax revenues. Generally, your everyday, regular travel costs to work can be claimed, as can a percentage of home office costs such as internet and power bills. 
Other common tax deductions for employees include business literature and work equipment. Personal deductions can be made for a variety of things, including health insurance premiums, childcare expenses up to the age of 14, and charity contributions.
Depending on what you do, professional insurance that you may have taken out can also be claimed. However, it pays to check websites such as the official federal government Make It In Germany site for updates in the lead up to tax season. If you're genuinely confused about what you can claim, any tax adviser should be able to help you for a minimal fee. 
3. Get the help you need in an app (in English!) 
Paradoxically, Germany's complex tax system has given rise to a number of apps, websites and services that streamline the process of lodging a tax return. Multiple popular services, including Taxfix, use a series of guided conversational questions to lodge your return, calculating your estimated return based on the answers and data that you provide.
The apps work with Elster, the German government's tax return software, to process your return speedily. While you can also file a paper return, and some prefer this method, electronic services save not only time, but a significant amount of paperwork. 
Each of these electronic tax services have different strengths – Taxfix especially has been designed with the needs of expats in mind. All questions are in simple, direct English and have been drawn up to make sure you get back all the money you're due under German law. The app aims to make it simple for everyone to claim their full tax refund, even with no prior tax knowledge – so you won't be confronted with confusing jargon!
Photo: Taxfix
4. Don't rush it – time really is money
You can easily feel overwhelmed or confused by the rules of the German tax system. While the temptation may be to click through each question in an app as quickly as possible, you can save potentially hundreds of euros by reading each question carefully, and ensuring you can justify each answer with your records. Even doing so, it won't take anymore than an hour at the most – and isn't that worth a chunk of money landing in your account?
5. Avoid hidden costs with a transparent service
The amount tax accountants charge can vary wildly. With Taxfix, all costs are set and transparent. If your estimated return is under €50 and you're not obligated to make a return, submitting via Taxfix is free.
If your estimated refund is over €50 (or you're obligated to file), there's a single fee of €39.99. That's it. Furthermore, this fee can be claimed against your next return, as tax consulting fees.
Ready to find out if you're due a tax refund? Taxfix is available via their website and their app, which can be downloaded from both Google Play and the Apple App Store. Try it out today to see how much money you could get back.
For members


EXPLAINED: How to boost your career chances in Germany

Often seen as one of the world’s most productive economies, Germany is a magnet for international workers. But once you’ve got a job in Germany, how do you keep moving upwards? Sarah Magill lays out some tips and useful German words.

Two women and a man walk side by side in Frankfurt am Main.
Two women and a man walk side by side in Frankfurt am Main. Photo: picture alliance / Arne Dedert/dpa | Arne Dedert

Upgrade your language skills

There’s no getting around it – if you want to advance your professional career in Germany, you need to speak the language.

As a general rule, the B1 or B2 level of the Common European Framework of Reference is required to get a job in most German speaking companies. In some professions, the German language is legally required: doctors and teachers, for example, are obliged to have a particularly high language level.

In many other professions, it is up to the employer to decide what level of German language skill is required.

Of course, many people come to work for international companies in the big German cities where English is the spoken language and manage to get by with little to no German.

But if you’re serious about moving upwards in Germany,  you’ll need to broaden your network and skills, for which speaking the language is a must.

READ ALSO:  Do you need to speak German to get a job in Germany?

Do your qualifications need to be recognised?

In Germany, Ausbildung (training) is everything. On many career paths, you won’t be able to progress beyond a certain point unless you have a specific qualification.

Copies of foreign certificates in an office of the “Law and Fair Play” department of the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Ulrich Perrey

Depending on the job you are doing, it may be necessary to have your qualifications officially recognised.

In Germany, there are so-called regulated professions whose admission or practice is bound by legal and administrative regulations to certain professional qualifications. These include, for example, doctors, psychotherapists, nurses, lawyers, teachers and engineers. For these regulated professions, official recognition of your qualification is a must.

This means that the competent professional body will check whether your foreign qualification is equivalent to the corresponding German qualification or whether there are significant differences that you can compensate for by obtaining a further qualification or taking an exam. 

Get on board with German business culture

Different countries have different customs and the German workplace is no exception. While in other cultures the personal relationship may play an important role in a business context, in the German working world the focus is absolutely on the matter at hand.

Generally, personal and professional life are kept very much separate, so don’t start off your new job by showing your boss photos of your kids.

READ ALSO: Working in Germany: The three tricks to impress managers

Another thing to get used to quickly is the direct style of communication. Germans tend to communicate very directly and explicitly – including criticism – so learn to take things on the chin and convert criticism into improvement.

Consistency and reliability are also seen as especially important traits in the German world of work. There are usually binding rules and structures in place to foster certainty in dealings with each other.

And of course, as with every other aspect of German life, a high standard of punctuality is expected in the German workplace. You won’t get far with your career in Germany if you turn up late to meetings – even by two minutes.

The home page of the online professional network LinkedIn is seen on a computer monitor. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Jens Büttner

Networking and self-promotion

As in most other countries, networking and self-promotion is very important in Germany. Don’t kid yourself that being good is enough – you need to put put yourself in the spotlight sometimes, and be seen too.

A lot of professional networking now goes on online, so make sure that you are present on sites such as LinkedIn and the German equivalent XING, with up-to-date career information and a professional photo. Keep your network updated on these sites by adding people you encounter in business circles. 

READ ALSO: How to reach out to German employers on LinkedIn or Xing

Be friendly 

Although you should strive to keep your personal and private life separate, being polite and friendly with your colleagues and external contacts goes a very long way in Germany. 

It can be simple as starting every email with a nice, personal introduction and exit, remembering your colleagues’ birthdays, having lunch with your team or getting an occasional round of sweet treats in from the local bakery. 

Also stick to the polite Sie form of German, at least until you get the green light to use du. Although with senior colleagues, you may always use the Sie form.

Useful vocabulary

Karriereleiter erklimmen = to climb the career ladder

Die Abschätzung = appraisal 

Der Aufstieg = promotion

For friendly emails

Ich möchte Sie fragen, ob…

I’d like to ask you if…

Würden Sie mir freundlicherweise … zusenden…

Would you be so kind as to send me…

Ich wäre Ihnen sehr dankbar, wenn Sie … könnten..

I would be very grateful, if you could…

Vielen Dank im Voraus

Many thanks in advance 

Ich würde mich freuen, bald von Ihnen zu hören.

I’d be happy to hear from you soon 

READ ALSO: 21 phrases to help you get on in a German office