Public broadcasting fees
In the past, if you tried to get out of paying your GEZ public broadcast licence fees, you had to worry about collectors showing up at your door. Anyone with a TV, radio, or computer was obliged to register and pay up – and the more devices you had, the higher your fees. But a growing number of people were content to simply dodge or deceive the enforcers, leaving the GEZ with dwindling revenues. Now nearly everyone is going to be forced to shell out for Germany's public broadcasters. Each household will be made to pay a flat monthly contribution of €17.98 – TV or no TV, and regardless of the number of people living there. Those who are unemployed or seriously ill can receive exemptions or apply to pay a reduced sum.
Doctor's office co-pay
Perhaps even more unpopular than TV fees have been the €10 patients have to plunk down to see a doctor in Germany. Introduced in 2004, the quarterly fee – known as the Praxisgebühr – was meant to reduce unnecessary trips to medical specialists. Instead, it has increased overhead for clinics and surgeries. The German government finally agreed in November to axe the co-payment after months of wrangling between Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and their junior partners the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP).
In exchange for winning the concession on the Praxisgebühr, the FDP agreed to back a new benefit for parents who care for their young children at home, starting in August 2013. Dubbed Betreuungsgeld, the €100 a month per child not in day care is hated by just about everyone except the CSU, the Bavarian sister party to Merkel’s Christian Democrats. Besides the added disincentive for women to go back to work, the benefit is considered highly detrimental to the language skills of kids from immigrant families.
Wage tax cards
Germany has been preparing to make the switch to an electronic version of the wage tax card for a while now. After multiple delays, the system is finally going digital – meaning employees will no longer have to hang onto a flimsy piece of coloured paper containing important information, such as their income tax class and child deductions. For employers, it means tapping into a centralized database to calculate employees' tax burden for a given pay period. And for everyone, that should mean less paperwork. Although things were supposed to be in place by January, employers will have the whole year to adjust to the digital system.
Tax breaks for electric cars
From 2013, people who choose an electric vehicle will be freed from car taxes (Kfz-Steuer) for ten instead of five years. The tax break is also valid for fuel cell-powered vehicles.
Domestic train services and budget airlines will face new competition from long-distance coaches in the coming year. After months of negotiations, the German government agreed to allow private bus companies to compete with state-subsidized public transport. But their stops must be at least 50 kilometres apart.
Energy efficiency renovations
A new scheme will offer up to €5,000 to help offset the cost of building renovations for energy efficiency. The federal government will pony up €300 million for the measures.
The post office will raise the price for a normal letter in Germany from €0.55 to €0.58. The hike is the first in 15 years.