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Everything you need to know about your German tax return in 2022

There have been a huge number of changes to German tax law recently, which could see some taxpayers netting an even bigger rebate this year. Here are the key things you need to know about filing your tax return for 2021.

Tax return 2021
A worker does their German tax return at home. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/BCD Travel | BCD Travel Germany GmbH

Filling in a tax return is never a fun experience, but statistics from the German government show that it can definitely be worthwhile. In 2017, the average worker received a €1,051 rebate after submitting their tax return, according to the Federal Office of Statistics. Not only that, but 90 percent of workers got at least some money back from the tax office.

If you’re planning on filling in your tax return yourself this year without the help of a tax advisor – and you have to submit one because you’re a freelancer or self-employed – the deadline for doing so is October 31st, 2022.

Remember that if you’re filling in a tax return voluntarily you can generally do so up to four years after the year in question. But keep in mind that if you have been part of the Kurzarbeit reduced working hours scheme, then you will have to submit a tax return this year (more on this below).

Here’s what you need to know about the most important tax allowances and write-offs you may be entitled to.

Increased commuter allowance

Since January 1st, 2021, the so-called commuter allowance has been increased by five cents. The commuter allowance enables workers to write off expenses for every kilometre they have to travel to work, with the amount increasing in commutes of more than 20km one-way. 

For the first 20km, commuters can claim 30 cents in expenses, and from the 21st kilometre onwards, commuters can claim 35 cents per kilometre. So a person who travels 25km to work would be able to claim €7.75 in travel expenses for each working day. 

The amount taxpayers can claim for commutes over 20km is set to go up again this year in light of rising fuel costs. Workers will soon be able to claim 38 cents back on each kilometre over 20 that they travel to work, but this will only apply to the 2022 tax return, so the benefits won’t be felt until 2023. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What Germany’s relief package against rising prices means for you

Workers on Kurzarbeit must submit a tax return

The Kurzarbeit scheme, which allowed workers to receive similar pay for reduced hours during Covid, remains an important issue for many who now have to file their tax returns. The basic rule is that anyone who received more than €410 via the scheme in 2021 is obliged to file an income tax return this year. Incidentally, this applies to all of the so-called “wage replacement benefits”, i.e. also to sickness, maternity, parental, unemployment or insolvency benefits.

“Even those who are not very good at tax returns should take the compulsory assessment very seriously,” says Bernd Werner, chairman of Lohnsteuerhilfe für Arbeitnehmer, a tax advice agency based in Gladbeck.

This is because experts believe that the tax office is likely to review all cases and could ask people who have neglected the 2021 tax return to fill one in several months later. These unlucky people will then have to pay €25 per month in late fees and will possibly face interest on their tax repayments as well. 

Whether Kurzarbeit employees are due a tax rebate is subject to a number of factors. While the Kurzarbeit allowance itself isn’t subject to tax, it will be counted as income for the purposes of determining which tax rate is applicable.

READ ALSO: Why millions more German workers have to do a tax return this year

Tax relief for people with disabilities

On January 1st, 2021, the government hiked up the financial allowance granted to people with disabilities. The amounts – which had remained unchanged since 1975 – were doubled. Since last year, for the first time, people with a “degree of disability” (GdB) of 20 can claim a lump sum of €384, with the allowance increasing with each additional degree of disability. People with a degree of disability of 100, for example, can claim €2,800. For a full list of the relevant amount for each disability grade and for blind people, check out these helpful charts.

If you received the lump sum in 2020 or before that, you don’t have to do anything more this year as the tax authorities will automatically apply the increases. However, numerous glitches surfaced at the beginning of last year, so do double-check whether the tax authorities have granted the correct lump sum.

Walking frame with wheels

A walking frame with wheels stands outside the door of a GP’s office. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmuth

If you were first diagnosed with a disability in 2021, you’ll need to apply for the financial aid at your local tax office before you can receive the money.

It’s important to note that if medical expenses have been incurred due to the disability, they can still be deducted from the tax return. In addition, lump-sum travel allowances have been introduced for people with disabilities:

  • €900 is given to people with a GdB of at least 80 or with a GdB of at least 70 and severe mobility issues
  • €4,500 for people with a severely disabled person’s ID card or those who are classed as blind (Bl), deaf-blind (TBl) or helpless (H)

As of 2021, the legislator also raised the flat-rate care allowances significantly. Carers who work for free can now claim:

  • €600 for care level 2,
  • €1,100 for care level 3
  • €1,800 for care degree 4, 5 or helplessness (sign “H”).

Changes to child benefit

In an important change for families, child benefit and child allowances were increased in 2021. 

The monthly child benefit for last year is: 

  • €219 each for the first and second child
  • €225 for the third child
  • €250 each for the fourth child and above. 

At the same time, the child allowance has also increased. This is now €8,388 for each child if the parents are assessed together.

The tax office calculates which is more advantageous for the taxpayer – child benefit or child allowance – with the “Günstigerprüfung”.

In addition, there was a one-time Kinderbonus of €150 for each child in 2021 due to the Covid pandemic. In 2022, an additional Kinderbonus of €100 per child is to follow, but this won’t apply until 2023. 

Children and families at a playground in Berlin.

Children and families at a playground in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Dorothée Barth

Relief for single parents

An increased amount of tax relief for single parents with one child of €4,008 also applied in 2021. This had been raised because of Covid, but the government has decided to keep the higher amount on a permanent basis. For each additional child, the relief increases by €240, as before.

Simplified proof of donations

Due to the catastrophic flooding in July 2021, some federal states – including Saxony, Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia – have decided to simplify the proof of donations, which are also a tax write-off. The prerequisite is that donors transferred money to one of the donation accounts that was eligible for tax relief.

Generally, states have increased the maximum amount of donations for which the simplified proof of donation (e.g. the remittance slip) is accepted. Now, you can use simplified proof for donations of up to €300.

Home office allowance

With so many people continuing to work from home throughout the pandemic, the home-office allowance of €5 per day will also apply to the 2021 tax return.

“The home office allowance sounded good on paper,” says Werner. “However, it didn’t pay off for many home workers who could certainly have used the money.”

That’s because the deductible amount is based on the number of days an employee works from home and is capped at €600. However, since the tax office already assumes expenses of around €1,000 per employee, workers will have to have at least €400 in other expenses to benefit from it. This may not be too hard to find, however – especially if you bought equipment like a printer or laptop to use for work last year, or paid for training related to your profession. 

A man works from home in Berlin.

A man works from home in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

Home office workers should also be aware that they cannot claim a commuter allowance on home office days.

According to Lohnsteuerhilfe für Arbeitnehmer, another way to get tax relief from working from home is to have a dedicated working room in the flat. This allows you to deduct part of your rent and expenses for furniture and equipment from your return. However, the conditions for this are very strict: you must be able to prove your flat is big enough to support a separate office and that this room is solely used for work purposes. 


Income-related expenses

As we mentioned above, even people working at their kitchen table or in the living room (or, dare we say it, in bed) can write off income-related expenses in their tax return.

These include, for example, purchases such as a PC or a printer, a camera for video conferences, but also furniture such as an office chair or desk. There are a few things to be aware of, however: purchases such as a PC must be at least partly used for work and only the amount used for work can be deducted from the tax return. That means, for example, that a €2,000 laptop that is used for work 50 percent of the time equates to a €1,000 deduction in your tax return. 

Equipment costs of up to €800 (excluding VAT) can be deducted immediately, while more expensive purchases must be “depreciated” over several years. For example, a pricey work phone costing €1,000 could equate to four lots of €250 deductions over four years. Computers and software are exceptions: since 2021, these can be written off immediately regardless of what they cost.

Another important thing to note is that working from home allows you to deduct slightly more for your phone and internet service. Currently, a flat-rate of 20 percent of your monthly internet and phone costs can be treated as income-related expenses.

READ ALSO: The tax terms that every expat in Germany needs to know

Tips for pensioners

If a pension was paid for the first time in 2021, 81 percent of the pension is counted as taxable income. Even a monthly pension of €1,250 may mean that tax has to be paid. Furthermore, the tax authorities ask pensioners who have not yet submitted a tax return to fill in backdated ones stretching back several years. In individual cases, this may even result in back-payments of several thousand euros as well as considerable late fees, according to Lohnsteuerhilfe für Arbeitnehmer.

Seek advice and double-check your return

As a final word of advice, Lohnsteuerhilfe für Arbeitnehmer suggests speaking to a tax support association and being extra thorough when reviewing income and potential expenses. 

“It’s also worth seeking good advice from an income tax assistance association,” says Werner. “Furthermore, we advise everyone to check their tax assessments carefully, because many tax assessments are incorrect. This is shown every year by the number of rejected returns listed by the Federal Ministry of Finance.”

READ ALSO: Five simple steps to getting your German tax refund

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For members


EXPLAINED: 10 ways to save money on your groceries in Germany

With inflation at its highest level in 70 years, consumers in Germany are really feeling the pinch, particularly in the supermarket. Here are some simple tips on how you can save money on your grocery shopping.

EXPLAINED: 10 ways to save money on your groceries in Germany

1. Buy seasonal products

Fruit and vegetables are less expensive when they are in season in Germany, as they don’t have to be kept in cold storage which – thanks to high energy prices – incurs high costs which are passed onto the customer. So going for produce that is naturally abundant at the time of year can really pay off. 

At the moment, vegetables such as kale, squashes, leaks and cabbages are currently in season, but you can refer to an online Saisonkalendar (season calendar), such as this one, to keep an eye on which fruits and veggies are in season at different times of the year.

Regional organic vegetables on sale in Brandenburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Bernd Settnik

2. Go easy on butter 

The price of butter in Germany has increased by over 40 percent in the last year – in some cases, a 250-gram packet of butter now costs €3. 

READ ALSO: Energy crisis: Which everyday German products are increasing the most in price?

As a substitute for butter in cooking, go for vegetable oils such as olive oil, linseed or soybean oil or certain types of margarine and, for spreadable treats, consider alternatives such as quark or cheese spreads. 

3. Have a meal plan and a shopping list

One golden rule for saving money in the supermarket – wherever you live – is to plan your meals and write down the ingredients in a list. Having a shopping list often helps avoid expensive spontaneous purchases and helps you to really only buy the things you will definitely use.

A woman writes a shopping list. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

4. Buy less meat

The prices of meat products, such as sausages and fish have also risen by 19.3 percent since last October. As a result, German consumer advocate groups advise shoppers to replace some of their meat products with plant-based foods, pulses or legumes instead, such as lentils, peas, beans, chickpeas, and soybeans.

READ ALSO: Thousands protest in Berlin over price rises

5. Visit markets

Consumer advice groups also advise shoppers in Germany to visit their local fruit and vegetable markets, as fresh produce can often go for a lot cheaper than in the supermarkets.

6. Compare prices by weight 

Another good tip for buying groceries on the cheap is to compare prices by weight, not simply by the retail price on display. In addition to the retail price, you will usually see how much 100 grams of each product costs and you should use this number as a basis for comparison.

A customer stands at the scales for fruit and vegetables in the Eisenstein village store in Bavaria. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Armin Weigel

For example, if you want to buy Parmesan cheese and there are two different varieties marked at €4 and €6, the €4 package may seem cheaper. But if you then look at the price by weight, you may find that the €6 Parmesan comes to €1 per 100 grams, while the €4 package comes to €2 per 100 grams.

7. Use apps to find deals 

The price for the same product can sometimes vary greatly between supermarkets in Germany, so it can pay to shop around.

But, if you don’t have time to go from store to store hunting down the cheapest products, there are several apps – including Smhaggle, Marktguru and KaufDA – available which you can use to find and compare deals in local supermarkets. 

Another great app for those looking to make serious savings on their foodstuffs is Too Good to Go – an app which connects people to local restaurants, bakeries and food shops which are looking to get rid of surplus food. 

8. Get an advantage card

With an advantage card such as the Payback Card or DeutschlandCard, you can collect points every time you shop in a variety of stores, and then ultimately transform these points into monetary discounts. 

A customer uses their Payback app at the supermarket checkout. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/PAYBACK GmbH | PAYBACK GmbH

These cards are free to get and just require registration. Using them regularly, along with extra point-collecting coupons, can amount to quite a savings. 

9. Check out the bottom shelf

The bottom shelves in German supermarkets are often where you will find the most economically-priced products, including the supermarkets’ own-brand products. If you reach for the private labels “Rewe”, “Ja”, “Gut & Günstig”, “Edeka”, “Penny”, “Grandessa” or “Maribel”, you can get almost the identical product as the branded variety for half the price. 

10. Shopping just before closing time

If you shop just before closing time, you can often find great deals in German supermarkets – especially at the vegetable, fruit, meat and yoghurt counters. 

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s inflation relief measures to support people in cost of living crisis