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Tips to file a student tax return in Germany

International and German students in Germany work part-time and during the semester breaks. They pay income tax on an amount higher than 450€ per month. So, students can take this income tax back from the Tax Department (Finanzamt) each year. The German Tax Department doesn’t return this money voluntarily to these students. So, if they want to take taxed money back then it is a must for them to file a student tax return in Germany.

Voluntary tax return (Student Steuererklärung):

Students who earn 450 euros or less not pay any tax because 450 euros income is a tax-free income in Germany. Normally if a student earns 450 euros then he doesn’t require to file a tax return in Germany. The reason is very simple ‘pay tax and take money back’. But these students can file a voluntary tax return without paying any income tax. Why? I will explain this at the end.

Which additional things you can claim in a student tax return in Germany?

The noticeable thing for students who file a tax return is that they can claim some other things in a student tax return in Germany. They can declare and claim these things as study expenses. These things include:

  • Tuition fees
  • Any kind of special material used for experiments/surveys
  • Educational software
  • Electronic working materials e.g laptop, printer, mobile, etc.
  • Transportation costs for university and library (monthly tickets or semester ticket)
  • Costs of study trips and meals
  • City relocation costs that incur during internships e.g travel expenses, local transport costs, and rent, etc
  • Exam fees of language courses

It’s very difficult to take 100 percent money back for these things because the tax department usually gives back an average amount for these things. Therefore it can be a good decision to declare these things in a student tax return in Germany. At least you will get something in the end.

Why it’s important to file a voluntary tax return?

Generally, almost every student does these expenses during their studies (with or without a job). So it’s a good decision to file a tax return even if you didn’t pay any income tax. At least you will get some extra money for a party and travel.

Can I get my tuition fees back after declaring them in a student tax return in Germany?

Students cannot take tuition fees back but declaring tuition fees in a tax return can give them an advantage in the future. This advantage is a concession in income tax on first salaries that a student gets during a full-time job after completion of studies.

The right time to file a student tax return in Germany:

Students can file a tax return from 1st January till 31st May. For example, for the year 2018, you can file a tax return from the starting date of 1st January 2019 till 31st May 2019.

Required documents to file a student tax return in Germany:

  • Steuernummer (tax number)
  • Identifikationsnummer (resident permit number)
  • Lohnsteuerbescheinigung (salary tax information, only required for online third party software)
  • Bank account details
  • Study expenses receipts or invoices

How to file a student tax return in Germany?

You can file a tax return in Germany with two methods:

  1. Online: You can submit tax declaration form electronically with the official website (ELSTER) of the Finance Department or with privately available websites.
  2. By hand: You can submit the tax declaration form in the local tax office by hand. Tax declaration forms are available in the tax offices free of cost.

Both services (ELSTER and Tax declaration form) offered by the German tax department are only available in the German language.

The online tax declaration process with ELSTER is difficult for international students because it’s in the German language. But, submission of the tax declaration form in the tax office is very easy and free of cost.

1- Online procedure to file a tax return:

If you want to file a tax return with ELSTER then follow this process:

  • Go to ELSTER official website and create an account.
  • Verify your identity.
  • Fill in the online tax declaration form with your personal information and submit.
  • After a few weeks, you will get your money back in a bank account.

In case you want to file your tax return with any private website then visit their official website and follow their procedure. These websites are also offering tax declaration services in the English language. The most famous private websites to file a student tax return are:

  • wundertax
  • taxfix
  • steuergo

2- Procedure to a file tax return manually:

Follow this procedure to file a tax return manually in the local tax department:

  • Go to a local tax department that belongs to your residential area.
  • Get the right tax declaration form from the reception. Always get the right form because they have different forms for each year.
  • Fill in this form with your personal information and submit at reception.

Tips to file a student tax return:

The tax declaration form is divided into different parts and it’s difficult to understand it without the proper knowledge of the German language. The most difficult thing is where to write the study expenses. You have to write different information on different points.

If you can understand then properly write all the details in the form. If you cannot understand the whole form then only write your personal information with your tax ID, bank details. Sign the form and submit it at reception. Then the Finance department will automatically calculate an average amount of study costs and add it to your income tax amount. Most of the students file the tax returns like this and get tax amounts plus an average amount of study costs.

If you want to go into detail and claim all the study costs then better to use other online tax declaration websites as mentioned above. These websites offer tax declaration Forms in the English language and then automatically change them into the German language. They charge a fee for this service. You can easily claim your tuition fees, mobile and computer expenses on these websites.

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