German tax return

The chance to get your overpaid tax back! All Taxpayers who submitted a tax return voluntarily received:

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Advantages of using a tax software

Icon quick


On average, your tax return is ready for submission in 60 minutes.

Icon inexpensive


From 8 euros for a tax return. You can deduct the costs of software from your taxes next year.



Digital assistants guide you step-by-step through your tax return and help you to fill out everything correctly and without errors. A final error check is standard.

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Higher reimbursement

You actively receive information about deductible expenses. This often results in a significantly higher tax refund.

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Your details are automatically transferred into the official tax form and via the Elster interface to the relevant tax office.

Icon user-friendly


The programmes are simple and intuitive to use. Tax software is helpful and does not use technical vocabulary.

Icon Kein Elster

Without Elster

You do not need an Elster certificate to file your tax return. This means you do not have to register with Elster.

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Easy data transfer

Next year you can transfer your data with just 1 click. This saves you a lot of time.

Icon Filing the tax return is voluntary

Voluntary submission

Filing a tax return each year remains voluntary unless you are legally required to do so. There is no obligation to file tax returns in subsequent years.

Tax-Software & App comparison

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tax app
universal software
universal software


app & browser


from 39.99 euros

License for 1 submission

from 34.95 euros

License for 1 submission

from 39.99 euros

License for 5 submissions

from 34.99 euros

License for 1 submission

from 29.95 euros

License for 1 submission

from 33.80 euros

License for 1 submission


(clarity, guidance, comprehensibility)


(tax cases, tax tips, integrated tax calculator)

Special features
very fast, immediate payment of 50% of the tax refund
import of accounting from Lexoffice

check for correctness


(without second jobs)

Married couples

(joint tax return)

*for 59.95 euros

bedingt geeignet
Students + Trainees

bedingt geeignet


(state pension)

bedingt geeignet


(private pension)

bedingt geeignet

bedingt geeignet


(priv. installation)

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Video Previews of tax software

Play Video about Thumbnail Video Steuersoftware Taxfix


Taxfix is simple, fast and clear. It does less than its competitors, but does it really well. Ideal for singles.


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Play Video about Thumbnail Video Steuersoftware Steuerbot
Play Video about Thumbnail Video Steuersoftware Smartsteuer


For employees and freelancers, quick and complete tax filing. Import accounts & balance sheets from Lexoffice.


Fast through the tax return. The software is easy to understand and clearly designed.
Play Video about Thumbnail Video Steuersoftware Wundertax

Do I need to file a German tax return?

The Einkommensteuererklärung is the annual German tax return where individuals report their income, expenses, deductions, and credits to determine their tax liability. It plays a crucial role in calculating income tax owed or potential refunds, ensuring compliance with the German tax system and contributing to the country’s economy.

As an employee, you pay income tax every month. It is usually up to you to decide whether or not to file a tax return. Your income is paid and taxed directly by your employer. However, costs and expenses are unknown.

So if you don’t file a tax return, you won’t get a refund. Simple as that.

However, if nothing has changed during the year (marriage, tax class) and there is no significant part-time income or expenditure, filing is completely voluntary. If the tax authorities still want you to file a tax return, they will let you know. In this case, the tax office will ask you to do so separately by post.

A distinction is made between a mandatory assessment (Pflichtveranlagung) and an application assessment (Antragsveranlagung), which refers to a voluntary submission of the income tax return.

There are several reasons why taxpayers are required to file a tax return in Germany (mandatory assessment). These include:

It is important to note that these are not the only reasons why someone may be required to file a tax return in Germany, and it is advisable to consult a tax professional or the tax office to determine whether you are required to file a tax return.

If you are not in one of these situations, you can file your tax return voluntarily.

Good reasons to file a voluntary tax return

Voluntary tax returns can be worthwhile for many employees, as a tax refund can often be expected. In any case, it makes sense to check whether you have paid too much income tax during the year or whether your income-related expenses were higher than the flat rate of €1,200 (2023: €1,230) set by the tax office. Almost all the tax software we tested allows you to make all the entries and calculate your tax refund free of charge.

The following groups of people have good reasons to voluntarily file a tax return and save taxes:

Maximizing tax deductions in Germany

As a taxpayer in Germany, you may be able to claim a tax refund under certain circumstances. This may be the case if you have paid more income tax than necessary because you were in the wrong tax bracket or for other reasons. You may also be able to claim a tax refund for work-related expenses such as travel costs, professional training or work equipment that have not been reimbursed by your employer.

However, it is important to note that not all work-related expenses are tax deductible.

Understanding the tax deductions and allowances available under German tax law provides taxpayers with significant financial benefits, allowing you to optimise your financial situation and increase your chances of receiving a substantial tax refund. The German tax system offers numerous ways to maximise deductions and minimise tax liability, from claiming work-related expenses to social security and pension deductions, special expenses, extraordinary expenses and child allowances.

To optimise your tax deductions in Germany, you should familiarise yourself with the specific requirements and limits for each category. Alternatively, you may wish to consult a tax advisor or accountant to identify additional deductions. Keeping abreast of the latest tax changes and regulations, regularly checking official sources and proactively adjusting your tax strategies will also help you make informed decisions and confidently optimise your tax situation.

The most important deductions and allowances in Germany are:

Work-related expenses (Werbungskosten)

The ability to claim work-related expenses as deductions in Germany provides taxpayers with an opportunity to optimize their tax liability and potentially receive a larger tax refund.

Deductible expenses go beyond travel costs, professional training, and work equipment. Other eligible work-related expenses may include costs for uniforms, job-related subscriptions or memberships, professional development courses, and expenses related to maintaining a home office.

By properly documenting and reporting these expenses, you can reduce your taxable income, potentially leading to a larger tax refund.

Social security and retirement deductions (Vorsorgeaufwendungen)

Contributing to social security programs in Germany is not only mandatory for employees and the self-employed but also provides tax advantages. These contributions encompass health insurance, long-term care insurance, pension insurance, and unemployment insurance, and they are tax-deductible, effectively reducing your taxable income.

Moreover, voluntary contributions to pension schemes, referred to as ‘Vorsorgeaufwendungen,’ offer additional tax benefits and enable you to bolster your state pension.

It’s important to note that certain voluntary insurances, such as private health insurance premiums and disability insurance, may also be eligible for tax deductions as part of your social security and retirement deductions, providing further opportunities to reduce your taxable income and optimize your tax situation.

Special expenses (Sonderausgaben)

Special expenses (Sonderausgaben) in German tax law encompass a wide range of costs incurred for personal use that can reduce the amount of tax you are required to pay. These expenses can be claimed on your tax return only for the tax year in which they occurred. Within the category of special expenses, there are two subcategories: Provident expenses (Vorsorgeaufwendungen) and other special expenses.

Provident expenses include costs associated with retirement provisions, health insurance premiums, and various other insurances. These expenses are vital for securing your future financial well-being and can be claimed as tax deductions. On the other hand, the other special expenses category covers a diverse range of deductible costs, including alimony payments, church tax, childcare expenses, vocational training costs, tuition fees, and donations. By properly documenting and reporting these expenses, you can reduce your taxable income and potentially increase your tax refund.

It’s worth noting that there is a general lump sum of 36 euros for singles and 72 euros for married couples filing a joint tax return, which is automatically considered by the tax office. To claim expenses exceeding the lump sum, it is important to indicate them individually on your tax return and provide supporting documents as proof. This ensures that you maximize your eligible deductions and fully benefit from the special expenses category. 

Exceptional expenses (außergewöhnliche Belastungen)

Certain exceptional expenses in Germany may qualify for tax deductions if they significantly impact your financial capacity and meet specific criteria.

While medical costs and expenses related to disabilities are commonly eligible, there are other non-discretionary expenses that can also be considered. This includes expenses related to caring for dependents, such as the costs of child or eldercare, as well as expenses resulting from legal obligations, such as court-ordered payments.

Additionally, costs associated with natural disasters or extraordinary circumstances, such as property damage or emergency relocation expenses, may also be eligible for deductions.

Deductible amounts for exceptional expenses vary based on your income and family circumstances, allowing you to potentially reduce your tax liability even further. By properly documenting and reporting these exceptional expenses, including those related to dependents and legal obligations, you can optimize your tax situation and increase your chances of receiving a higher tax refund.

Child allowances (Kindergeld)

Families with children can benefit from child allowances, which provide valuable financial support. Child allowances help to alleviate the financial burden of raising children and contribute to their well-being.

Starting January 1, 2023, the child benefit increases to €250 per child, regardless of the number of children in the family. This increase in child benefit aims to provide enhanced support to families and ensure a better quality of life for children.

In addition to the child benefit increase, the child allowance rised incrementally by €160 to reach €8,548 retroactively from January 1, 2022. Further increments are expected, with an increase of €404 on January 1, 2023, raising the allowance to €8,952, and an additional increase of €360 on January 1, 2024, raising it further to €9,312. These adjustments aim to address the rising costs of raising children and help families better manage their financial responsibilities.

It’s important to note that the maximum tax deduction for maintenance payments, based on the basic allowance, will also increase. This deduction recognizes the financial support provided by parents to their children and ensures fairness in tax treatment for maintenance payments.

By taking advantage of child allowances and the corresponding tax deductions, families can receive essential financial assistance and reduce their tax liability. These measures provide support to families and contribute to the overall well-being and development of children in Germany.

Completing the German tax return

What is my tax class?

Your tax class in Germany depends on your marital status and affects your tax return. There are six tax classes:

  • Class 1 for single, widowed, divorced or long-term separated people;
  • Class 2 for single parents;
  • Class 3 for married individuals with a higher income than their Class 5 partner;
  • Class 4 for married couples with the same income;
  • Class 5 for married individuals with a lower income than their Class 3 partner;
  • Class 6 for those with a second job or tax deduction without proper employee information.

Married couples with unequal salaries can save on their tax bill by choosing tax classes 3 and 5. To change your tax class, obtain a tax class change form from your local tax office.

Details and forms needed for German tax declaration

In Germany, individuals are usually required to provide certain documents when filing their taxes. These include your tax identification number (Steuernummer / SteuerID), the details of your local tax office (Finanzamt), the IBAN of your German bank account, your income tax statement (Lohnsteuerbescheinigung) and receipts or proof of payments for tax deductions.

In addition, everyone must complete a general tax form known as a ‘Mantelbogen’ or ‘Hauptvordruck’. The Mantelbogen is the initial form for filing a tax return in Germany.

Depending on your sources of income and individual circumstances, you may also need to complete and submit additional tax forms, known as Anlagen, in addition to the Mantelbogen. These forms vary and cover different aspects of taxation, such as reporting rental income (Anlage V), investment income (Anlage KAP), income from self-employment (Anlage N) and more. These additional forms allow taxpayers to report various types of income, expenses, deductions and credits that are not covered by the main form.

3 ways to file a tax declaration in Germany

You have several options for submitting your tax return to the tax office (Finanzamt). The most interesting for you, specially if you don’t speak German are:

  • prepare your own tax return using a tax software
  • have your tax return prepared by a tax advisor
  • have your income tax return prepared by an income tax assistance association.

Option 1 - Use a tax return software

Tax software is available as:

  • CD for your PC or laptop with a CD/DVD drive (the data is stored locally on your computer)
  • software to download to your computer (data is stored locally)
  • an online version that runs in a browser (data is stored in the cloud)
  • an app for mobile phones and tablets (your data is also stored in the cloud)

If you want to use your tax refund for your next holiday or Christmas presents, you can do your own tax return. You will quickly realise that filling in the forms without the necessary knowledge is tedious and cumbersome. My Elster portal does not provide any help in filling in the forms and the technical vocabulary is not comprehensible to everyone.

Many people are therefore quickly overwhelmed. Tax novices can therefore use modern tax software to prepare their own tax returns much more quickly and easily. You can use any tax software that supports ELSTER. In the case of those tested, they all do.

The range is wide and varied and everyone can now find a suitable software solution that not only saves time but also money.

Disadvantage: Of course, this software is not free. In terms of price, they all range from €15 to €50 (depending on the features and how you use them), but within a short period of time they can provide an attractive hourly wage for your “work”.


Option 2 - Use a tax consultant (Steuerberater)

A Steuerberater is a tax consultant or tax advisor in Germany. They are professionals with extensive knowledge of tax law and regulations and are qualified to provide advice and assistance on tax-related matters. A tax consultant can help individuals, businesses, and self-employed persons with tax planning, preparing and filing tax returns, dealing with tax offices, and representing clients in tax disputes.

Advantage: For many people, filing their taxes is a huge inconvenience. The professional help of a tax professional is often the obvious choice.

Comprehensive tax advice considers your individual circumstances. After all, a tax advisor knows the tax law and can reduce your tax burden even in complicated cases. Not only will you benefit from their expertise, but they will also communicate with the tax authorities if necessary. In addition, the accountant is liable for mistakes if you suffer loss because of incorrect advice.

Disadvantage: The cost of professional advice can exceed the amount of a tax refund. It is therefore not financially worthwhile for ordinary employees without additional income or complicated tax cases.

Option 3 - Through a Wage Tax Assistance Association (Lohnsteuerhilfeverein)

A Lohnsteuerhilfeverein is a non-profit tax assistance association in Germany that provides support and advice to taxpayers, particularly employees, with their income tax returns and tax-related matters. It is an affordable alternative to hiring a tax consultant (Steuerberater) for employees seeking help with their income tax returns and tax-related matters in Germany.

Advantage: Income Tax Assistance Associations are a cheaper alternative to tax consultants. They will also take care of filling in and submitting your tax return.

However, this solution is only suitable if you:

  • only receive income from employment (wages, salary).
  • Receive other income from regular payments or maintenance.
  • You do not receive any income from agriculture, forestry, trade or self-employment.
  • You receive income from renting and leasing or capital assets up to the income limit of 18,000 euros for single persons or 36,000 euros for married couples filing jointly.

: You need to be a member of the Association of Income Tax Advisors. This involves an annual fee that depends on your income. Depending on the association, the fee is between 50 and 400 euros a year. The association will interview you to see if you qualify for membership. The full range of services is only available once you have joined the association.

If you don’t want to do your own tax return, you can get professional help from a tax assistance organisation or a tax adviser. In this way, you will also benefit from an extension of the tax return deadline and have more time to complete your tax return.

Unfortunately, you will have to wait for your tax return to be prepared before you actually receive a refund.

Deadlines for the tax return in Germany

In Germany, the deadlines for tax returns vary depending on whether they are mandatory or voluntary. Here is a breakdown of the deadlines for mandatory and voluntary tax returns:

  1. Mandatory Tax Returns:
    For individuals who are required to file a tax return, the deadline is generally Juli 31st of the year following the end of the tax year. For example, if the tax year ends on December 31, 2022, the tax return would be due by July 31, 2023. However, it is possible to request an extension by submitting a formal request.

  2. Voluntary Tax Returns:
    Individuals who are not obligated to file a tax return but choose to do so voluntarily have a longer timeframe. They can submit their voluntary tax returns within four years after the end of the tax year. For example, if the tax year ends on December 31, 2022, the voluntary tax return can be submitted until December 31, 2026.

Furthermore, individuals can indeed seek guidance from tax advisors or tax associations to ensure their tax returns are prepared accurately and comprehensively. Seeking professional advice can help optimize tax benefits and ensure compliance with the tax laws. When advised, individuals may be granted an extended deadline for submitting their tax returns, allowing them more time to fulfill their tax obligations.

Deadline for filing a mandatory tax return

If you are required to file a tax return, you usually have until the end of July of the following year to do so. You must therefore submit your tax return for the previous year by 31 July at the latest. You have more time if you prepare your tax return with the help of a professional. In this case, the deadline is extended to the end of February of the year after next. However, since the Corona pandemic, other deadlines apply. The exact deadline depends on the tax year. From the 2024 assessment period, the normal deadlines will apply again.

For the 2022 tax year, the tax return must be submitted to the tax office by 2 October 2023. The deadline is 30 September 2023. As this is a Saturday, the deadline is postponed to Monday 2 October 2023. If the tax return is filed with the help of a tax advisor or an income tax assistance association, the deadline is extended to 31 July 2024.

For the 2023 tax year, the tax return must be submitted to the tax office on 2 September 2024. The deadline is 31 August 2024, which is also a Saturday. The deadline is therefore postponed to Monday 2 September 2024. If the tax return is submitted with the help of a tax advisor or an income tax assistance association, the deadline is 2 June 2025 (31 May is a Saturday).

From the 2024 assessment period, the normal deadlines will apply again for those who file their own tax returns. The regular deadline is therefore 31 July 2025. For taxpayers who are advised, the regular tax deadlines will not apply again until the 2025 tax year.

Are you doing your own tax return for the 2022 tax year? Then you have until 02nd October 2023!

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Deadline for filing a voluntary tax return

If you want to file a voluntary tax return, you can do so retroactively for up to 4 years! The deadline is always 31 December of the current tax year + 4 years.

Still want to file your 2019 tax return? Then you have until the end of 2023!

Students and trainees can even claim a so-called loss carry forward for the costs of their education for 7 years retrospectively. This adds up to a lot!

So in 2023 you could file a total of 4 tax returns retroactively (for 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022).

So what are you waiting for?

If you file your tax return voluntarily... ...this deadline applies:
for tax year 2019
for tax year 2020
for tax year 2021
for tax year 2022

How long does it take to get my tax refund in Germany?

Generally, taxpayers can expect to receive their refund within eight weeks after the tax assessment notice (Steuerbescheid) has been issued by the tax office (Finanzamt).

Tax return after leaving Germany

When leaving the country, whether it’s to relocate or return home, it’s important to take care of your tax obligations, including filing an exit tax return. This final tax return, also known as the ‘exit tax return’, ensures that all tax matters are settled and any necessary adjustments are made before departure. It includes reporting all income earned during the tax year, claiming deductions and credits, and complying with tax regulations.

To begin the process, individuals should inform their local tax office of their departure plans in advance, allowing sufficient time to gather the necessary documents and complete the required paperwork. It is advisable to seek the advice of an accountant experienced in international tax matters to ensure accurate reporting, maximise allowable deductions and minimise the tax liability associated with the final tax return.

Double taxation, the potential obligation to pay taxes in both Germany and the new country of residence or home country, should be addressed. Germany has tax treaties with many countries to prevent or reduce double taxation through provisions such as tax credits or exemptions. Understanding the specific provisions of the applicable tax treaty and consulting with a tax professional is essential to managing potential double taxation situations.

Timely filing of final tax returns is crucial to avoid penalties or complications. While the deadline varies depending on individual circumstances and applicable tax laws, it’s advisable to complete the return as soon as possible after departure. Individuals should check the guidelines provided by the tax authorities or consult a tax advisor to determine their specific deadline.

The tax office usually takes 8-12 weeks to process the documents and issue any tax refunds due. By fulfilling tax responsibilities through the final tax return, individuals can leave Germany with peace of mind, knowing that their tax affairs have been properly addressed.

Important Tax Return Terms and Definitions

When it comes to tax returns, understanding key terms and definitions is essential to navigating the German tax system.

This overview introduces important concepts relating to tax returns in Germany. It covers basic elements such as the basic tax-free allowance (Grundfreibetrag), the main tax form used to report income, deductions and credits (Mantelbogen) and additional forms used to report specific types of income or expenses (Anlagen).

These terms form the basis of the German tax filing process and are crucial to effectively managing one’s tax liability.

Grundfreibetrag (Basic Tax-Free Allowance)

The basic allowance is the minimum amount of income that an individual can earn in Germany without being subject to income tax. It acts as a tax-free allowance for each taxpayer, ensuring that they have a certain threshold of income that is exempt from tax.

Mantelbogen (Main Tax Form)

The Mantelbogen is the primary tax form used in Germany to report all sources of income, deductions and credits. It serves as a comprehensive document in which taxpayers provide details of their financial activities throughout the tax year.

Anlagen (Additional Tax Forms)

Annexes are supplementary tax forms used to report specific types of income or expenses not covered by the main tax form. These forms allow taxpayers to provide detailed information about various sources of income, such as rental income, investment income or charitable donations, as well as relevant deductions associated with these categories of income.

Arbeitnehmer-Pauschbetrag (Employee Lump Sum)

The employee lump sum refers to a standard deduction available to employees for their work-related expenses. This deduction covers various work-related expenses, such as work-related travel, uniforms and tools. Taxpayers can claim this deduction without providing detailed receipts or proof of individual expenses.

Werbungskosten (Work-Related Expenses)

Work related expenses are expenses incurred for the purpose of earning income, which can be deducted from taxable income. These expenses typically arise from job-related activities such as business education, training or business travel. Taxpayers must provide supporting documentation or receipts to claim these deductions.

Sonderausgaben (Special Expenses)

Special expenses are deductible expenses that do not fall under the categories of work-related expenses or medical expenses. These expenses can include donations to political parties, religious organisations or certain social causes. Taxpayers can claim deductions for special expenses to reduce their taxable income.

Außergewöhnliche Belastungen (Extraordinary Expenses)

Exceptional expenses are extraordinary expenses that can be deducted from taxable income if they are necessitated by exceptional circumstances. This can include significant medical expenses, costs associated with caring for disabled family members, or expenses resulting from natural disasters. Taxpayers must provide documentation and evidence to support these exceptional circumstances.

Vorsorgeaufwendungen (Pensions and social security contributions)

These are contributions made by individuals to social security and health insurance programmes. These contributions are deductible from taxable income, thereby reducing the taxpayer’s tax liability.

Zusammenveranlagung (Joint taxation)

Joint taxation allows married couples to file their tax returns together. By combining their income and deductions, they can potentially reduce their overall tax liability. This filing option allows for joint assessment of taxes for couples who meet certain criteria.

Entfernungspauschale (Commuting allowance)

The commuting allowance is the standard deduction available for work-related commuting expenses. It allows taxpayers to deduct a certain amount from their taxable income based on the distance travelled for work purposes. The deduction helps offset the costs associated with the daily commute to and from work.

FAQ - Frequently asked questions about filing your tax return in Germany

A distinction is made between a compulsory tax return and a voluntary tax return.

As the name suggests, a compulsory assessment means that you are legally obliged to file a tax return. This is the case if one of the following applies:

  • You worked for more than one employer during the year in question.
  • You earned more than 410 euros in addition to your employment/training/retirement.
  • You received wage replacement benefits of more than 410 euros.
  • You are in income tax class 6.
  • You are married and in income tax classes 3 and 5.
  • You were divorced or widowed and have remarried this year.


If none of these cases applies to you, you can file your tax return by “application”, i.e. voluntarily. In this case, you can only win. If you are threatened with an additional payment, you do not have to file your tax return at all, or you can even withdraw it at the tax office.

Yes, it is possible. You can take up to four years to file a voluntary tax return. You can file a voluntary tax return for 2019 until 31 December 2023 at the latest. The tax return for 2021 would therefore not be due until December 2025. But earlier is better.

If you as an employee have more than one job or are self-employed on a part-time basis, the answer is short – then you have to file a tax return!

As a normal employee with no other income you do not have to file a tax return at all.

Even though it is financially worthwhile for almost every employee to file a tax return, employees are not actually obliged to do so. Filing a tax return is voluntary, but can often be worthwhile.