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Is there anything (legal, non-obscure, serious, etc.) a private, personal, non-expert investor can or should be careful about to improve on the amount of taxes paid? I mean actual financial instruments (traded online and anonymously, i.e. not through a mandatory broker or company) or procedures. I also am, in the context of this question, not interested in Riester or similar plans, but straight traded instruments by private persons with otherwise "simple" finances.

This question is targeted at conservative/medium, long-term (>10 years) investments.

I am looking for one of these kinds of answers:

  • Either a firm "no, the investment tax system in Germany has been streamlined and everything is simply buy=>sell=>tax the difference - just grab any old ETF with minimal management overhead".
  • Or some few, well-known (just not to me) ways to ease the burden.
  • Or, if this is a deep and complicated topic, references to books or the like, which cover the current German tax system regarding private investments in a way that helps a private person with the usual decisions (what/when to buy/sell) with specific regard to "low-hanging fruits" in the tax department.

For example: if this were a U.S. based question, I'd assume the word "Vanguard" to pop up in one of the answers - if I understand correctly, that organization managed, by doing whatever clever construct, to be more efficient all-around for U.S. investors. I am of course not looking for investment recommendations, but a generic "things like this also exist in Germany" or "nothing of the kind is allowed by the German tax system" would be a valuable answer to me.

Other example: this U.K. based question mentions that some kind of dividends are currently taxed lower than others over there.

Other example: In the distant past, in Germany, one would hold an asset for a minimum number of years, and then go basically tax-free. This was changed, and nowadays, as far as I can tell, the time for which you are holding an asset plays no role at all regarding tax. Somebody not knowing about this rule back when it was still in place would have a pretty "duh" moment if selling too soon.

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The "Spekulationsfrist" (the minimum number of years to hold a asset for selling it tax free) is still in place for certain kinds of real estate (10 years) and certain tangible assets like gold, artwork, classic cars etc (1 year).

More details can be found here (in German): https://www.vlh.de/kaufen-investieren/geldanlage/spekulationsfrist-was-ist-das.html

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    Thank you, this is good to know for tangible assets; I am looking for advice regarding "traded online and anonymously", i.e. through stocks, funds and similar instruments. – AnoE Aug 19 '17 at 11:18
  • I see, well the only other one I know of is (physical) gold which can be traded online at some online brokers and also has a "Spekulationsfrist" of 1 year. – rrschmidt Aug 19 '17 at 12:25
  • Well, there are some tricks when you have a lot of money, but they're neither online nor anonymous. You can found a company, the company buys a plot of land and builds housing on it. Then instead of selling the housing, which would cost a huge amount of sales tax, you sell the company that owns the housing - which will cost a lot less tax because company sales are somewhat tax protected. – Sumyrda Nov 17 '17 at 10:06
  • @Sumyrda: I'm not sure it is as "easy" as that: if you sell the company that owns the land, no Grunderwerbssteuer ("land buying tax") is due as the owner of the land (that's the company*) doesn't change. But you'll have to pay income tax on the gain from the sale of the company. Whereas if you privately own the land, and keep it suffiently long, then the sale becomes tax free for you (the buyer has to pay Grunderwerbssteuer, though). A company buying and selling the property would have to tax like any other profit they have (the company flavor of income tax + commercial tax/Gerwerbesteuer). – cbeleites Jul 10 at 15:06
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Self-answer: it seems like there are no loopholes according to the question (i.e., legal, not dubious/high-risk, not high-effort etc.). Even the distinction between accumulating and non-accumulating funds has basically been removed... so any "saving" is more in the regime of picking the right bank/asset holder, avoiding secondary trading costs etc.

  • No tax-free municipal bonds? – RonJohn Jul 10 at 13:29
  • @RonJohn: any captial gains are subject to capital gains tax, for reinvesting types of funds they now even annually collect part of the unrealized gains. Exception are so called "old shares" held since before 2009, they are still subject to the old rules which means no income tax as their Spekulationsfrist is long over. – cbeleites Jul 10 at 14:17
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A few things come to my mind, but they are not affecting income tax.

  • If you buy precious metals, they are subject to sales tax (USt) like any other material thing you buy. But: legal tender is not subject to sales tax, and that is for any legal tender (not only €).

  • Also sales tax (but as a customer you won't notice it): if you buy, say, a Bratwurst to go vs. eating it in the restaurant, that's a difference of 7 % ("easily" prepared food to go = buying groceries) vs. 19 % USt (restaurant food).

  • If you include your social insurance fees in the "tax" category, for employees the base from which the fees are calculated is substantially lower than for purely self-employed/freelancers/business owners.

    Employees pay fees as a percentage of the "employee gross wage", which is ≈ 20 % lower than the "employer gross wage" which correponds to the base for the calculation of the fee for, say, a freelancer who is in the so-called obligatory volountary health insurance category. In addition, the freelancer has to pay health insurance fees on all types of income (including capital gains, rental, etc.) whereas for an employee these do not count as long as the employment is the main source of income.

    For freelancers who are obligatory members of the governmental pension scheme (rentenversicherungspflichtig), the same happens again for the pension cass contributions - but there they at least get more "points" in return, i.e. the pension they get is correspondingly higher.

    Thus, for small-scale business owners/freelancers, keeping a half-time employment contract can save substantial amounts of fees. Or, the other way round: having a little side business as employee may be quite attractive.
    These fees can be subtracted from taxable income but only to a certain extent which is in my experience rather easily reached.

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