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How to make the most of reward schemes on your German health insurance

Most people in Germany pay for health insurance, but did you know that many providers also have reward schemes that let you earn points for healthy living? Whether you’re a gym bunny or a couch potato, here's how to make the most of them.

Jogger in Dresden, Saxony
A man goes for a jog in Volkspark Großer Garten in Dresden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

I’ve got health insurance. What’s all this about rewards?

We’re glad you asked! Health insurance bonus or reward schemes are incentives designed to encourage people to take a more proactive approach to managing their health. 

Generally, people participating in the schemes can collect points for deductions in their healthcare payments or other rewards for doing things to improve their health and wellbeing. They’re available for most people with insurance, regardless of whether you’re employed, self-employed, a student or a pensioner. 

These schemes are entirely voluntary but can be a great way of saving a bit of money on your health insurance for things you might do anyway, like going to the gym or getting a dental check-up.

You won’t face penalties for not completing activities, so there’s no risk involved in participating. 

The idea is that by offering cash or other incentives for people to improve their lifestyle, insurance companies are far less likely to have to shell out money for treatment later on. Ever heard the phrase, “Prevention is better than cure?”. Well, that’s pretty much the motto of these bonus schemes. 

If you have statutory health insurance such as AOK, TK or one of the regional state providers, your insurance is bound by law to offer extras like bonus schemes, so it could be worth checking their website to see what you can find out. 

Private providers may also offer them as a way of enticing new customers and trying to keep their existing customers healthy. 

Maximum bonuses are generally around €300 for a single person and €600 for a family, so participating could be well worth your while.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The three new services covered by German health insurance

What kind of things count as ‘healthy living’? 

That partially depends on your insurance provider, but generally bonuses are given out for things like getting regular check-ups, going to the gym, visiting the dentist or taking a course on health and wellbeing.

Technische Krankenkasse (TK), for instance, offer 200 points for doing an early cancer screening such as a smear test, 200 points for a dental check-up and 400 points for getting a Covid vaccination. They also offer points for taking part in sports activities and events.

These points can be redeemed for money off your health insurance or issued as a ‘TK Health Dividend’ which can be used to pay for treatments or other healthy activities like courses on health and nutrition. You can find a full list of the activities covered and more about the bonus scheme here.

The other major state health insurance provider, AOK, runs a similar bonus scheme with points doled out for regular check-ups, dental treatment, having a gym membership and Covid-19 vaccination.

They also offer a bonus of 2,000 points (equivalent to €20) for socially conscious activities like donating blood. Find out more about the AOK scheme here

In the case of both TK and AOK, 100 points is equivalent to €1. 

Barmer, a public health insurance that caters to English speakers, also offers a bonus scheme with up to €100 available for things like regular check-ups, having a gym membership and maintaining a healthy BMI. 

Meanwhile, IKKBB, a regional insurance provider for the Berlin-Brandenburg areas, offers a €20 bonus for quitting smoking, €10 for having a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI), €75 for regular exercise and other incentives for check-ups and healthy living courses. 

Sounds great – where do I sign up? 

That all depends on your provider, but generally you’ll be able to sign up online in your health insurance’s customer portal, in person at a local branch or in their app. 

If you’re not with any of the providers listed above, you may able to find details of their rewards scheme and how to participate by Googling the name of your provider and the word “Bonusprogramm” (rewards or bonus programme) – or by visiting their website.

You’ll generally be expected to sign a disclaimer to say that you consent to your personal data being used for the purpose of collecting points or cashback. 

After you’ve signed up, you’ll need to prove you’ve taken part in activities by uploading relevant photos or collecting ‘stamps’ on your app or a paper booklet.

People at the gym

Two people run on treadmills at Campus Sports Club in Saarbrücken. Rewards are often earned by having a gym membership or attending classes. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Oliver Dietze

So for example, if you’ve just been to the hygienist, you may need to get them to confirm the activity in your in-app activity log or by placing a stamp in a booklet that you can then send to your health insurance provider. 

READ ALSO: 12 ways to improve your life in Germany without even trying

In the case of AOK, you can opt to synchronise the Bonus App with a fitness tracker like FitBit and enter data on your sports activities that way.

Other activities, such as check-ups, may also be tracked automatically by your insurance provider if you are enrolled in the scheme. 

Contact your insurance or consult their website to find out more about the kind of evidence they require for the bonus scheme. 

Does this affect my taxes in any way? 

It may do – but it all depends on how much you ‘earn’ in bonuses.

Generally, taxpayers can declare their health insurance contributions – whether statutory or private – as special expenses in their tax return. This reduces the taxable income and, with it, the amount of tax you have to pay.

However, if you receive, say, €200 off your insurance bill, you need to make sure this is calculated in the tax bill – which basically means you’ll have fewer expenses to write off.

There is some good news for taxpayers, however. According to a recent report by Handelsblatt, the first €150 in bonuses earned does not need to be accounted for in your tax return.

In order to simplify things for taxpayers, up to €150 is classified as benefits from the statutory health insurance fund and therefore shouldn’t be deducted from expenses, the Ministry of Finance confirmed.

Above this amount, only the ‘surplus’ is counted – so in the case of a €200 bonus, only €50 would be deducted from the total amount you’ve spent on health insurance that year. 

What else do I need to know?

According to the German Consumer Rights Centre (VZ), the devil tends to be in the detail with these bonus programmes – so make sure you know all of the relevant terms and conditions.

Generally, health insurance providers will try and entice you with incredible looking bonuses of €300 or more, but be aware that this is the maximum you can earn – not the standard payout. Unless you’re an absolute superhuman when it comes to health (or have a lot of time on your hands), the real bonus is likely to be a fair bit less.

You may also notice that not all of the activities required to collect points are free of charge, so these may only worth doing if you’re keen to do them for the health benefits rather than the financial gain. Others, like online health courses, may be subsidised or offered for free by your insurance – so be sure to read up on what’s on offer.

If you’re signing up with a partner or family members who are covered on your insurance, it’s worth reading up on the rules. Some programmes will allow you to pool points with your family members or transfer them to another person on your insurance, but generally this doesn’t work in all directions.

Child Covid jab

A five year old boy receives a Covid vaccination in Frankenthal, Rhineland-Palatinate. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

For example, parents may be able to share points with their children but not the other way around. Equally, you may find that a partner who’s included on the insurance is offered a slightly less generous rewards scheme than the person paying into the pot. That means that you may want to think twice before sharing your points or consider transferring them to the person with the best bonuses, if possible.

READ ALSO: How much does it cost to bring up a child in Germany?

Another thing to consider are deadlines for gathering and/or submitting points. Some insurers such as TK specify that you have to gather a minimum number of points in order to receive a reward, so be sure to do this in the allotted time to prevent points being wasted.

Often, bonus schemes run for a year and points are finalised by March 31st, so if you join a new health insurance in January you may have to rush to get your activities in in order to save that year. Others may link the deadline to your registration date, giving you 12 or 13 months from when you sign up to collect points and earn rewards. 

Check with your health insurance provider for any deadlines and T&Cs, and be aware that your points will be invalidated if you switch providers before redeeming them. 

Vocabulary

Bonus/rewards programme – (das) Bonusprogramm

collect points – Punkte sammeln 

special (tax) expenses – (die) Sonderausgaben 

check-up – (der) Gesundheitscheck 

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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MONEY

Wohngeld: How people in Germany can get help with rising living costs

Many households in Germany could be eligible for increased financial support with their rents and bills from next year. We break down who should apply and how much help they could receive.

Wohngeld: How people in Germany can get help with rising living costs

The cost of living is rising across the board, and nowhere is this being felt more than in the home. For over a year, gas and electricity bills have been soaring and people on low incomes have been left wondering how to make ends meet.

While there is support available for people in this situation, it seems that many households in Germany aren’t aware that they could be eligible to apply for Wohngeld, or housing allowance, to help them with their expenses. What’s more, the amount of money people can get is set to rise at the start of next year.

Here’s what you need to know.

What exactly is Wohngeld?

Wohngeld, or housing allowance, is a form of financial aid for low-income households in Germany. It’s intended to help with the general costs associated with housing, such as monthly rents and utility bills.

Even people who own their own homes are able to get support with their mortgage repayments and building management costs (known as Hausgeld). However, they do have to fulfil certain criteria, like earning under a certain amount per month.

Unlike long-term unemployment benefit, which also includes a stipend for rent and bills, Wohngeld is intended for people who don’t rely on any other form of state support. That could include single parents or people with minimum wage jobs who spend a large proportion of their income on rent.

It means that people on jobseekers’ allowance and students with state loans and grants aren’t able to apply for Wohngeld. 

READ ALSO:

How much money can people receive?

That depends on a range of factors such as where you live, how high your rent is and how much money you earn this month. However, one thing that’s clear is that Wohngeld is likely to rise significantly at the start of next year.

On Wednesday, cabinet ministers voted through proposals from Housing Minister Klara Geywitz (SPD) to hike the monthly allowance by around €190 on average. That means that instead of receiving €177 per month, the average household on Wohngeld will receive around €370 per month starting in January. 

It’s worth noting that Geywitz’s reforms still need to clear a vote in the Bundestag, but with the governing coalition of the SPD, Greens and FDP behind the move, it’s likely that they will. 

The Housing Ministry has also put together an online tool that can calculate the amount of Wohngeld each household is entitled to. At the moment, this still calculates the allowance based on the current rates – but it will be updated if the reforms are passed by parliament. 

Who’s eligible for Wohngeld?

That depends on a complex calculation based on factors such as income, the number of people in a household, the size and location of the property and how high monthly housing expenses are. There’s no straightforward income threshold that people can refer to, which could explain why thousands of households who could potentially get Wohngeld never apply for it.

The best way to check if you’re currently eligible is to use the government’s Wohngeld calculator tool. But as we mentioned above, this is still based on the current criteria and monthly rates. 

As well as hiking the monthly allowance, Geywitz also wants to expand the criteria so more households are eligible for Wohngeld.

At the moment, around 600,000 households in Germany receive Wohngeld. This could increase by 1.4 million to two million under Geywitz’s plans. From next year, people earning minimum wage and people on low pensions are set to be among those who are able to apply. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: When should I turn on my heating in Germany this year?

Sound good – where do I sign up?

In general, the states and municipalities are responsible for handling Wohngeld applications. That means you should apply at the local Wohngeldamt (housing allowance office), Wohnungsamt (housing office) or Bürgeramt (citizens’ office) in your district or city. 

If you’re unsure where to go, searching for ‘Wohngeld beantragen’ (apply for housing allowance) and the name of your city or area should pull up some search results that can guide you further. 

Apartment blocks in Berlin Marzahn.

Apartment blocks in Berlin Marzahn. Photo: picture alliance / Matthias Balk/dpa | Matthias Balk

Alongside an application form, you’ll likely have to submit a tenancy agreement, ID, information on your residence rights and proof of any income or state support you already receive. Other members of your household may also have to submit similar financial information. 

You should also be registered at the address you’re applying for Wohngeld for. 

READ ALSO: Germany to spend €200 billion to cap soaring energy costs

Are there any other changes to Wohngeld I should know about?

Anyone already on Wohngeld, or who receives it between September and December this year, is also entitled to a special heating allowance to help with winter energy costs. This is also set to be given to students and trainees receiving a BAföG loan or grant.

For students and trainees, the heating allowance is set at €345 per person. Meanwhile, the amount given to Wohngeld recipients will vary on the size of the household.

Single-person households will receive €415, two-person households will get €540 and there will be an additional €100 per person for larger households. 

This is likely to paid out in January. 

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