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TAXES

Reader question: How can I find a German tax advisor?

The German tax code is complex enough to confound native Germans and foreigners alike. Finding an expert to handle it for you has many advantages—but how do you find the right one?

A calculator next to a tax return form.
A calculator next to a tax return form. Many people can get money back from submitting a tax return. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Oliver Berg

Even in “normal” years, when you’re not having to work out the tax implications of ‘home office’ or the reduced working hours of Kurzarbeit, filing a tax return in Germany is daunting. Still, it often pays to do it and a good tax advisor – especially one who speaks English or your native language – can pay off. But how do you find that person and what should you be looking for?

Price is comparable, so look for other things

Tax advisory is a strictly regulated profession in Germany, to the point where tax consultants, or Steuerberater, have a fixed schedule of the rates they’re allowed to charge for certain services. Their rates are also capped depending on what your income is. A complicated case will still obviously be more expensive than an easier one, simply because it’ll take longer. If you make more money, you may also be charged more. But due to price regulations, one tax advisor isn’t able to charge significantly more or less than another for a similar case. So you’re free to let go of the stress of finding the best price and focus on finding the right tax advisor for the services you need.

“If they’re called a ‘Steuerberater’ and they have a stamp of accreditation, that person is qualified to do your tax return. Simple,” says Kathleen Parker, Managing Director of Red Tape Translation. “Now they may offer other services or forms of advice, like bookkeeping or legal advice. These are different and for those, they’re free to charge you what they like. But the price of doing and submitting your tax return is tightly regulated.”

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to save money on your taxes in Germany

Finding someone familiar with international cases

As with so many things in Germany, finding help in a language you speak well is a priority when looking for the right tax advisor. But beyond navigating the technical terminology, you may well need someone familiar with international cases. That’s especially true because German residents who receive income from abroad, whether they’re self-employed doing work for international clients, or they own investments abroad, will typically have to file a tax return declaring it for that year.

“Check the LinkedIn and Xing profiles of different tax consultants and have a look at where they may have studied or worked before. That should give you some idea about whether they speak either English or your native language, and if they are familiar with particular international topics,” says Dirk Maskow, an independent tax advisor based in Berlin and Düsseldorf. “If they’re bilingual, there’s a good chance they’ll have their website in both languages.”

Depending on the firm, the tax advisor may have a lawyer on staff or be in a partnership with one. If so, check their list of available services. Legal advice on international tax cases will often be more expensive than similar advice for domestic cases, so it should be easy to spot in the price list if the firm offers such a service. If they do, contact them and ask if they might be able to handle your specific case. Certain relocation apps and services, such as Ark One, RelocateMe, or Settly, may also work with specialised tax advisors who have the expertise for your individual case. Some websites, like Steuerberater Guru, will even help you compare advisors.

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

The trust factor

Once you’ve found someone with the credentials you need, what’s next before you sign on?

“It’s not surprising, but they best way to find the right tax advisor for you is often through the recommendation of a friend who is satisfied with the one they have,” says Maskow. “That’s because tax consulting has a lot to do with trust. That’s even truer if the language and country is new to you and you don’t always know what’s going on. Make sure you have an initial discussion – not just to see if the tax advisor is able and willing to deal with your case, but to make sure you have a good overall rapport.”

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about paying taxes in Germany

Vocabulary

Tax consultant or advisor – (der) Steuerberater/(die) Steuerberaterin

Tax – (die) Steuer

Tax return or tax declaration – (die) Einkommensteuererklärung

Client – (der) Mandant / (die) Mandantin

Income – (die) Einkünfte

Capital assets – (die) Kapitalvermögen

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READER QUESTIONS

Reader question: Will retirees benefit from Germany’s energy relief package?

Students, freelancers, benefits claimants and employees are all set to get a financial boost from the German government this year - but have they forgotten about pensioners?

Reader question: Will retirees benefit from Germany's energy relief package?

Record levels of inflation, spiralling energy prices and fears of shortages… the news has been getting worse and worse for consumers in recent months.

At the start the year, the government announced it would be stepping in with numerous measures to help people pay their bills during these difficult months. But as more details of the measures emerged, there appeared to be one major omission: financial support for pensioners.

To find out whether pensioners will benefit from the relief packages, it’s worth taking a look at each of the measures in turn. In most cases, pensions have sadly been left out of the equation, but there are a few things that may help cushion their rising living costs.

READ ALSO:

€9 ticket and fuel tax cut 

We’ll start with the good news: the €9 monthly travel ticket and cut in energy tax on fuel are both designed to benefit everyone, including pensioners.

Unfortunately, the fuel tax cut doesn’t appear to have dampened prices at the pump very much. However, pensioners can enjoy cheap public transport throughout June, July and August with the €9 ticket. 

Überlingen Am Bodensee

Passengers exit a regional train in Baden-Württemberg at Überlingen am Bodensee. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Felix Kästle

This is obviously great news for retirees who live in cities and parts of the country with good transport networks – but less good news for those who use their car to get around. 

The government’s third mobility measure – an increase in the commuter allowance to 38 cents per kilometre – is also unlikely to benefit the vast majority of pensioners. This measure allows workers who commute long distances to offset some of these costs in their tax returns. 

READ ALSO: Nine of the best day trips from Munich with the €9 ticket

€300 allowance for taxpayers

This flagship energy relief measure – a one-off payment for taxpayers – is another bit of support that pensioners may miss out on. 

The one exception would be pensioners who still work a part-time job to prop up their income.

Even if you’re only working a couple of hours a week, you’ll be entitled to a €300 bonus come September. It’s worth mentioning that this is taxable – but if you don’t earn enough to pay tax, the entirety of the €300 is yours to keep.

However, there may be a way that pensioners can get hold of the money even if they don’t have a regular job. As CDU finance expert Antje Tillmann explains: “It is enough, for example, that a pensioner looks after his grandson for one hour once in 2022 and receives €12 minimum wage from his children in return as part of a mini-job or from self-employment.

“Subsequently, he declares this income in the tax return and gets the energy price lump sum paid out in May 2023.”

READ ALSO: Who gets Germany’s €300 allowance – and when?

One-time heating allowance

As part of its first energy relief package, the government announced that recipients of housing benefit would be eligible for a one-time payment to help with their heating costs.

This is set at €270 for a one-person household and €350 for a two-person household, plus €70 for each additional family member. 

Pensioners who received housing benefit at any time between October 2021 and March 2022 should be eligible for this allowance, as well as people who currently receiving it. 

Pensioner counting money

A German pensioner counts cash in the kitchen. Pensioners who receive social support from the state could be eligible for one-off payouts. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

One-time allowance for benefits recipients

Pensioners who receive Grundsicherung (basic allowance) should be eligible for a one-time lump sum of €200, which will also be paid out to Hartz IV recipients.

Other allowances, such as the €100 Kinderbonus and €100 for people receiving Arbeitslosengeld I, are sadly unlikely to apply to pensioners. 

Scrapping of the EEG levy

The Renewable Energy Act (EEG) levy, which adds about 3.7 cents per kilowatt hour onto consumers’ energy bills, is set to be scrapped on July 1st.

This should benefit anyone with an electricity contract, including pensioners.

Tax relief measures

The government is raising the tax-free allowance for 2022 to €10,347 and raising the value of automatically deductible expenses to €1,200 per year.

Neither of these measures will benefit pensioners who don’t pay tax. 

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: What Germany’s budget means for you

To sum up: Which measures can pensioners benefit from?

  • €9 ticket (for public transport users)
  • Fuel tax cut (for drivers)
  • Scrapping of EEG levy 

Pensioners claiming welfare could also benefit from:

  • €270 allowance for housing benefit recipients, and
  • €200 allowance for Grundsicherung recipients

Pensioners do seem to be getting a slightly raw deal in comparison to those in employment. However, there are some general measures they may benefit from, and those who are already getting help from the state should also receive a small income boost. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Germany’s plans to ditch sanctions for the unemployed

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