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How long does it take to process a tax return in Germany?

How long does it take to process a tax return in Germany?

How long does it take to process a tax return in Germany?

So, you’ve submitted your annual German tax return, and now you’re waiting anxiously to hear back from the tax office. With most people in Germany receiving refunds of around 1.000 euros, there’s a lot at stake! But how long do you normally have to wait? And what factors can make a difference?

We take a look at what speeds up and slows down the processing time of tax returns in Germany - including location, supporting documentation and the mode of submission.

Waiting time for German tax assessments

The official guidelines state that it can take anything between two and six months to receive a response from the tax office in Germany. This will come in the form of a tax assessment (Steuerbescheid), informing you of whether you have over- or underpaid tax for that year. If you have overpaid, your refund will be deposited directly into your bank account. If you have underpaid, you will be given an extra four weeks to make a payment.

However, there’s a huge difference between waiting two months and waiting six months - especially when we’re talking about sums of money that often amount to thousands of euros. So, what can give you a more accurate estimation? According to figures pulled together by a tax advisor for German magazine Focus, several factors can significantly impact your waiting time: 

Location matters when it comes to German tax returns

If you live in Berlin, you’re in luck: in 2018, Germany’s capital city had the fastest processing time for tax returns - just 38 days on average. In Lower Saxony, on the other hand, things looked a little different, with an average waiting time of 63 days. Long waiting times were also common in the states of Schleswig-Holstein, Hesse and Thuringia. Altogether, people paying taxes in Germany had to wait a little longer for their assessments in 2018 compared with the year before.

Only a few federal states deliver consistently good results: last year, Berlin took first place, followed closely by Hamburg and Saarland. In these three states, the time between submitting the tax declaration and receiving the tax assessment was an average of 40 days. In most of the other federal states, the assessment took at least 50 days to arrive in the post, even with relatively uncomplicated cases.

Supporting documentation can create problems

Until recently, annual tax returns had to be accompanied by a shedload of additional paperwork. Nowadays, as part of a more simplified German tax system, the tax office no longer requires you to enclose supporting documents, as they can already access all the information they need electronically.

Conversely, however, this “simplified” evidence practice appears to have slowed down tax return processing times. In many cases, additional supporting evidence is required by the tax offices, meaning that they have to be requested at a later stage, thereby causing delays. If you are asked to provide supporting documentation, you can count on a longer processing time.

The quickest option - digital tax returns via ELSTER

The tax office has been requiring some taxpayers to submit their annual returns digitally for some time now. Despite this, many people still continue to submit their returns the traditional way, on paper.

However, if you want a speedy return, you really should get yourself signed up for ELSTER - the online tax office in Germany. Not only does it allow you to fill out your tax returns much faster, by automatically retrieving a lot of your personal information, but it will also likely mean that your return is processed faster as well.

Around 10 percent of digital income tax returns are processed by the tax office purely electronically - meaning that no tax official participates manually in the preparation of your tax assessment. All the information is checked and calculated automatically so that a Steuerbescheid can be issued in a flash!

Haven’t filed your German tax return yet?

If you still haven’t filed your tax return, you’ve got until July 31! If you use a tax advisor, the deadline is automatically extended to the end of February. Armed with this knowledge, you should now have an accurate idea of when to expect your tax assessment. Now you can start planning what to spend that tax refund on…

Abi

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Abi Carter

Abi studied History & German at the University of Manchester. She has since worked as a writer, editor and content marketeer, but still has a soft spot for museums, castles...

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