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I am going to give my income tax return (Einkommensteuererklärung) in Germany for the first time. I don't want to pay that crazy money for a tax consultant just to tell me whether I have filled it in correctly or not and pay over 200 € for that 10 minutes.

I don't speak very well German but can understand when reading quite good. I have an Elsteronline account and I have started filling in the form already. I was quite surprised when I found out that there is only very little mandatory fields (mostly only name and address).

I want to ask these questions:

  • are there some tricky fields (lines) that after filling in my taxes will be counted higher?
  • are there some tricky fields (lines) that after filling in my taxes could be counted lower?
  • are there some flat-rates (Pauschals) that I could get advantage from?
  • is it better to give a tax return together with my wife (who was only a girlfriend in 2013 living with me in one household) or to give it separately?
    • when separately, do I have to fill her information in my tax return or can I just pretend there is nobody else in my apartment?
  • is there any guide in English that could be of help with filling in the tax return form?
  • Based on personal experience as an expat in Germany, the tax consultant pays off very well. i) it never was 10 minutes, ii) there are also "Lohnsteuervereine" which serve well and are cheaper than "regular" companies (for our family I never paid more than 140.- EUR) and iii) the biggest benefit is that they "cover" you in any interactions with Finanzamt. That means that whenever Finanzamt says "NO", and they will if they can - and they always can - it's not you who will handle the communication and letters, but the tax advisor will. Ca 150 EUR well spent if you get several hundreds back. – walkmanyi May 14 '14 at 9:36
  • @walkmanyi OK, thank You, I will look into these organisations... Do I understand it right that You have to pay those 140 EUR each year? I'm not sure whether I'll need their help every year... So far I need it right now and after explaining how the things go here in DE I think I should be able to make the tax return next year by myself... – shadyyx May 14 '14 at 11:06
  • the fee was a percentage of income on the tax report, so it varied over years, but yes, the idea was kind of a "subscription", however, there was no penalty and issues with cancelling the scheme. I personally gave a try to the Elster thingy, only to find out I can't complete the job in a solid way due to complexity of whatever exceptions, etc. Notice, German tax law regarding "physical persons" is much more involved than Czech law - I know both well from personal experience :-). In DE you get tax deductions on things you wouldn't dream about in CZ. Ergo, an adviser pays off. – walkmanyi May 14 '14 at 15:25
  • @walkmanyi I know very well what are You talking about since I was self employed in CZ for last 4 years. There the tax return form was very easy (especially when using flat-rate expenses) and I was always doing this for myself only. Here I think I could also finish it by myself but then I would most probably miss some expenses that could turn on my side by lowering the income tax... – shadyyx May 14 '14 at 15:39
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You don't have to hire a tax consultant, there is a number of companies who sell software (installable or web-based) that helps you do it by asking for all relevant data interview-style. These typically cost between 15 and 25 EUR. I'm not sure whether any of them are available in English, but if you can read German well, you should be OK.

taxback.com is in English, but to be honest it looks a bit dodgy to me.

Now for your questions:

are there some tricky fields (lines) that after filling in my taxes will be counted higher?

This is rare, at least for employees you nearly always get something back.

are there some tricky fields (lines) that after filling in my taxes could be counted lower?

Not in general. Marriage is mentioned below, and otherwise it's all about individual deductibles. Ah, one important factor: if you have investment income and have not filed a Freistellungsauftrag with your bank, you can get some of the taxes by filling out the "Anlage KAP" form with data you got in the Jahressteuerbescheinigung from your bank.

are there some flat-rates (Pauschals) that I could get advantage from?

Absolutely. As an employee, the biggest factor is the Werbungskostenpauschale of (I think currently) 1000 EUR for general work-related expenses, which will be accepted without proof. If your expenses are higher than that and you file individual expenses, there are flat rates for work-related moving and for commuting distance.

is it better to give a tax return together with my wife (who was only a girlfriend in 2013 living with me in one household) or to give it separately?

It's not possible to do a joint tax filing for the time before your marriage. What you should consider is to apply for a different tax class from now on, if one of you earns significantly more than the other.

when separately, do I have to fill her information in my tax return or can I just pretend there is nobody else in my apartment?

As far as taxes are concerned, unmarried roommates are treated completely separately with one exception: only one of you can deduct service charges included in your rent. You have to get a Nebenkostenabrechnung from your landlord, and service charges, i.e. janitor, gardener, etc. should be marked separately. But this may not be worth bothering with, usually it results in a tax return of maybe 15 EUR.

is there any guide in English that could be of help with filling in the tax return form?

I couldn't find anything that looked really useful in a short search.

  • And once again, Michael, thank You for Your nice answers! The reason I am asking about my wife that was only a girlfriend is that in the form You have Ehepartner/Lebenspartner part and I understand the Lebenspartner as a girl/boy-friend living in the same household. Or does this mean an officially registered partnership? Since we have married only this year, we will switch the classes to 3/5 once we notice the Burgeramt (we have married abroad). Werbungskosten - if I understand You clearly if I do not fill in any entry it will be counted as if I were entered expenses of 1.000 EUR? – shadyyx May 13 '14 at 13:42
  • @shadyyx: yes, in the context of taxes, Lebenspartner means "registered (homosexual) partner". As for the Werbungskostenpauschale, yes it's deducted automatically (haven't tried it, but read it in several places). Oh, and a lovely piece of beaurocratic humor: expenses for tax advisors and tax software are tax-deductible as well... – Michael Borgwardt May 13 '14 at 13:50
  • Oh, really, sure, now I remember I have heard about it (expenses on tax consultants) :-D OK, thank You once more!!! – shadyyx May 13 '14 at 15:16
  • You don't mention Pendlerpauschale. Was that perhaps abandoned since I left the country few years ago? – walkmanyi May 14 '14 at 15:28
  • @walkmanyi: No, I just translated it (flat rates for... commuting distance). – Michael Borgwardt May 14 '14 at 15:29
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Some advice from my side: - You can get your tax up to 4 years back, - The prices of tax advisory in Munich (for basic tax declaration) vary from 36 € up to 170 € - Depends how much your earn. Here you can calculate the the price for yourself: http://getdoido.com/tax_declaration

If you want to know more how to do the tax declaration by yourself then check my last blog post where I described step-by-step how to make a tax declaration by yourself in Germany :)

  • Thanks for the hint. I checked your blog and it seems that you didn't fill in the Anlage N where you actually write the brutto income, paid insurances (social and health) and other payments you had to or willed to pay. At Finanzamt they have told me to fill this attachment as well... Luckily I've found a beginner tax consultant who prepared the declaration for 2013 for me (for free) so I think I can do it on my own now for 2014. – shadyyx Jan 16 '15 at 15:10
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If you just need to fill out the basic forms. this post is really helpful and translates them to english as well as telling you which forms to fill out. http://www.toytowngermany.com/wiki/ELSTER . it really helped me out the last couple years. this year is of course tricky as i did some consulting back in the US and have to figure out the AUS form vs N AUS or what the deal is. hope it helps

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Go to a good bookstore and find a book about saving on income tax. Unlike other countries, where filling in your tax returns usually means you have to pay extra money, in Germany filling in your tax return usually means that you will be paid money, and the more tax deductible items you can fill in, the more money you will get back.

At the very least, ask some German colleagues about the most typical tax deductible items. They love getting taxes back.

  • This answer is as general as it only could be and thus also that very useless. I asked here to get answer(s), not to get hints to ask further ;-) A link to Amazon's detail page of such book or a list of deductibles would be much more helpful and would make this answer much better... – shadyyx Jan 19 '15 at 11:37

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