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I am an expat working in Germany since a couple of years and now would like to submit my first tax refund (Steuererklärung).

I have tried some websites but none of them has resulted as I expected (always resulted around 200€). As I was informed from some of my expat friends here, they got much more (average: 2.000€) but all of them are married which is a change in the Steuerklasse. As a single, my Steuerklasse is 1 which makes me paying the highest tax, as far as I know.

My main question; Does Steuerklasse have a massive effect on what you get back? I know that the married couples claim together, this can double the price somehow. Even after multiplying my result with 2, it is still too low.

An additional question; Would you recommend me to go for a Lohnsteuerhilfe? Would that affect my result as a newbie in this topic? I am asking this because the questions the web applications ask are quite basic (or they seem to me so) which I've answered precisely.

One more question could be; Does claiming your refund 1 year later (e.g. claiming now for 2019) decrease the amount?

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  • Last question first: will claiming now for 2019) decrease the amount?: No. For Steuerklasse 1 and a regular monthly income (same amount), the return is minimal. For married couples, both which work and may have different classes are more likly to have an irregular monthly income and the return is often higher. The final yearly earning is harder to project (on a monthly basis) exactly for married couples and can cause the higher return. For a single person the projected yearly earning (on a monthly basis) will be more exact. – Mark Johnson Feb 13 at 7:40
  • Note: Due to privacy, this question will destroy itself after a certain time. That's not how this site works, if you are uncomfortable with your question being archived, post elsewhere. If you feel something is too specific to your personal situation, rephrase it. Once you get a good answer, you won't be allowed to delete the question (I think you can still do it now). – Relaxed Feb 13 at 11:55
  • I don't know the current rules in Germany but why would you expect to get money back? In a reasonable PAYE system, people who are single and work a single job should pay approximately the right amount of taxes. You only get money if your income changed a lot over the year, you qualify for additional exemptions or tax credits (charity donations, mortgage, etc.) or you provide information your employer could not take into account at the time (being married can indeed make a bit difference). – Relaxed Feb 13 at 11:59
  • @Relaxed thanks for the info and the answer, the question won't be destroyed. – cumbaba Feb 14 at 11:22
  • @MarkJohnson I now understand more what I should be expecting, thanks. – cumbaba Feb 14 at 11:27
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Your tax class will often make a significant difference to your tax return, but only because you overpaid through the year.

The principle is that your employer withholds enough tax so that you cannot underpay, and you get your money back in your tax return. If you are single and make €5,000 every month your employer can and will withhold the exact amount and nothing is returned.

If you are a couple, one making €5,000 and one making €3,000 then the two employers don’t know about each other. So they withhold the right amount for two singles. But a couple making €8,000 a month pays less tax than two singles, so they overpay through the year and may get a lot of money back.

As a single, you will get lots of money back if your monthly salary changed a lot, or if you can make tax deductions. Usual tax deductions: Any cost you have to do your job, for example travelling to work. Childcare expenses and alimony. Many donations to charities. And many other things.

PS. Married couples have a choice: They can tell both employees either that they make about the same amount, or one tells their employer that they make much more money than the other, and the other tells their employer that they make much less than the other. If you did this correctly, then you will overpay a lot less through the year. If you pick the wrong one, you overpay a lot more - you can get an awful lot of money back in your tax return that way, but only because you paid too much.

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  • Thanks for this answer, now I see what circumstances people can be in from the employer side. I don't think my friends know that they can inform their employers about the difference of wages they have, so they got more. This makes sense. – cumbaba Feb 14 at 11:34
  • You either say that one is class 3 and one class 5, or both class 4. Both class 4 is cheaper if your salaries are close, 3+5 is cheaper if one makes a lot more or the other doesn’t make any money at all. But in your tax return it will all be fixed. – gnasher729 Feb 14 at 19:27
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I am not a tax accountant, so take any numbers in my post with a grain of salt. All the below assumes all your income is from regular fulltime employment only.

Tax bracket (Steuerklasse) does not affect how much taxes you pay. Only at what time you pay them.

For example, if you have Steuerklasse 1 you pay the maximum up front. If you don't have any reductions, that's the default, you need to do nothing, your tax declaration is considered "done", since you already gave them the maximum amount. Lets say you marry and your wife stays home with the kids, then you'd need to pay less taxes overall. If you keep Steuerklasse 1, you still pay the same amount every month up front, but you get some money back when you make your tax declaration, because you can deduct something when you have dependents making less money than you do.

Since marriage (or other relevant circumstances) are rarely spontaneous, it seems a bad investment to just give too much money away each month only to recuperate it an the end of the year. It would be smarter to just give that amount of money that you actually owe. So if you already know that you will have to pay less than the maximum (because you are still married and plan to be for the whole year) you can get a different Steuerklasse where you pay less every month.

But in the end, Steuerklasse only says how much you pay every month. The amount you owe in the end does not change. If you paid too much over 12 months, you will get money back, if you paid too little over 12 months, you will have to pay the remaining sum then.

If you are Steuerklasse 1, a tax declaration is optional. They already have your money. If you claimed any other Steuerklasse (and paid less than the maximum) you have to make a tax declaration, to provide proof that you indeed didn't have to pay the maximum.

Assuming your tax declaration is optional, you can make tax declarations up to 4 years back. The amount you get back does not change with the years, apart from not having the money in your bank, there is no special drawback for doing it late.

Does Steuerklasse have a massive effect on what you get back?

In a way. If you pick the wrong one, and overpay all year long, you get more money back than a person that did not overpay. But the money you get back is money that was drawn from your account and that you did not need to pay in the first place. So who got how much back from a tax declaration is rarely a good measurement. It was theirs to begin with. It does not say anything about how much taxes a person actually paid.

Since no tax declaration of couples, maybe even with kids, is uncomplicated, it's nearly impossible to get exactly the correct tax bracket. There is only around 5, compared to untold combinations of factors that lead to tax deductions. Since you have to always overpay, couples tend to get more money back from tax declarations than singles, who are probably pretty close to the default. But again: that was their money to begin with, they overpaid and they get it back now.

Would you recommend me to go for a Lohnsteuerhilfe? Would that affect my result as a newbie in this topic?

Yes. Any kind of tax accountant is fine. They will feel seriously bored doing a single's taxes, but so what. They get paid for it. They will be able to give you ideas what you can deduct. For example anything for a job (commute costs etc). Anything you used to get a job (traveling to/from interviews, maybe special preparations, photos you had taken for your CV etc). The point is, they will ask you whether you have done this because they know it's deductible, while you'd probably never think of it and not deduct it. They probably need one hour of time, for something you'd do a worse job and need 4+, so that's probably money well spent. At least do it once, so you see what you'd need to do. If you decide to do it yourself next time, at least you can compare results.

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    As far as I see, marriage is an underlying reason to overpay, not main, because there is only a set of Steuerklasse which can't be customized for specific situations. This customization is done at the end of the year with the Äklerung. I wouldn't care if the consultants get bored. I will definitely go for one about this after the answers here. I think I still need to learn this topic in detail. So, your plan about comparing the results fits quite well to me. I am appreciated for your answer. – cumbaba Feb 14 at 11:45
  • Neither marriage nor Steuerklasse affects an amount of taxes one should pay. Each person has roughly 8k Euro tax-free in Germany. If you are married, and do declaration together, you have 8+8=16k tax-free per year together for two people. If both partners have approximately same salary, being in a marriage does not help them with taxes at all. Steuerklasse is only important for rough estimation of taxes during the year. If one submits a tax declaration, Steuerklasse is not taken into account there at all. – Andrey Sapegin Feb 14 at 12:34
  • A married couple with identical income pays exactly the same as two singles. The further the incomes are apart, the more you safe. You pay exactly the same as two singles with the average income each. – gnasher729 Feb 14 at 19:29

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