Tax Declaration: Tips for Students
Here is what you need to know regarding filing your taxes in Germany as a student. Let’s rock it!
Does dealing with German bureaucracy give you the heebie-jeebies? If you are reading this article, chances are, you are a foreign student in Berlin who already experienced their first culture shock with the bureaucracy involved in relocating to Germany for your studies. It’s tax declaration season now, and I am here to help you beat the beast of German paperwork, the tax form!
I took part in the workshop “Grundwissen zur Steuererklärung” (“Tax Declaration Basics”), organized and held by studierendenWERK BERLIN on April 4, 2019. Daniela Wiesner, a tax consultant and the event’s invited speaker, provided her audience with helpful and practical tips that specifically catered to their student status as taxpayer.
In a nutshell, here are my key takeaways from the workshop:
#1: It literally pays to submit a tax declaration as a student.
For students, who actually paid taxes (even a small amount), it is recommended to file a tax form. Please note: For transparency reasons, freelancers are expected to file their taxes regardless of their income levels.
#2: You still have plenty of time!
If you have the tendency to submit paperwork at the last-minute and then oscillate between self-pity and self-loathing (like I do), I have good news for you! The Finanzamt has extended the official deadline for the 2018 tax declaration until 31 July, 2019. Plus, students can file their taxes retroactively for up to 7 years.
#3: These are the 2018 tax declaration basics to keep in mind:
The “Grundfreibetrag” (“minimum exempted income”) is 9,000 Euros. Anyone who has earned less than this amount for the year 2018 is exempt from paying taxes, but, as explained above, they can still benefit from filing a tax return. As a general rule, you are expected to submit three forms with your tax declaration:
- “Mantelbogen” (“cover sheet”), which includes your personal details (name, identification and tax numbers, address, bank details). Pay special attention to the “Religionsschlüssel” field that asks you to select your religious affiliation: by selecting Roman Catholic or Evangelical, you will be required to pay a contribution to the respective Church! To be exempt from the Church tax, select “VD”.
- “Vorsorgeaufwand” (“pension expenses”), where you can enter the amounts you have paid into your health insurance and pension scheme throughout the year. As German law requires all residents of Germany, regardless of employment status (or lack of employment), to be insured, these sums need to be documented in this special sheet, separately from work-related expenses.
- Depending on whether you are a regular employee or a freelancer, you will need to submit either a filled-out “Anlage N” or “Anlage EÜR”, respectively. “Anlage N” is the form for non-freelancing work, whereas “Anlage EÜR” refers to the surplus revenue invoice that freelancers are expected to file. In both forms, you can enter your work-related expenses. If you happen to be both a freelancer and an employee, you will need to fill out both forms and allocate the respective incomes and work expenses accordingly.
#4: What counts as work-related expense?
Work-related expenses include:
- tuition fees (if applicable)
- your Semesterticket (or, alternatively, your travel expenses for each time you travel to your workplace)
- electronic apparatuses, such as laptops, smartphones, and printers
- relevant books and journals, as well as journal subscriptions
- expenses for printouts, copies, and scans
- internet and phone costs
- paid courses for further training
- costs for exchange semesters and field trips (accommodation, travel expenses, catering)
Basically, unless reimbursed by your boss, any expense that relates to your work or to improving your chances in the job market is deductible as a work-related expense. In cases where a work expense is used for other purposes as well, such as internet and phone flatrate, you will need to calculate the percentage of its use exclusively for work, and deduct accordingly.
#6: As a rule of thumb, you can still try deducting that new desk.
In my experience, trying to deduct less obviously work-related expenses from your taxes never hurt anyone (as long as they indeed relate to your work, of course). It is possible that the Finanzamt will reject the claim that your new desk qualifies as a work expense, as it can be used for more purposes that are not directly related to your job (hello Hausarbeiten). But this is the worst-case scenario, whereas, if your claim is sustained, you end up with further tax deduction.
#7: Still, you do not have to fill out every single field in a form.
As you will be filling out your forms, you will come across numerous fields with scary, complex names in German officialese. If these fields do not ring a bell, it is because they most likely do not apply to you. In fact, the majority of fields in a tax form do not pertain to your student status, so feel free to ignore them and move on, guilt-free.
#7: Remember, you are not alone.
As a migrant student myself who has been filing her taxes on her own for years, I know first-hand how you must feel. German bureaucracy may look intimidating, all the more so if you are not German. However, what I realized as one of the few foreign participants in the workshop, is that my German counterparts felt as intimidated. Remember, the complexity of filing a tax return created a market for the profession of the tax consultant to emerge! But it does get easier every time, and the more of an expert you become, the more enjoyable it gets!
Keep calm, and happy tax-filing!
#Good to Know