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How to File a Tax Return as a Student in Germany

Considering filing a tax return while at university? Find out why it’s worth doing and what you’ll need to bear in mind.

6 min read

Your degree’s coming to an end and you’re wondering whether you should file a tax return? The answer is, well, it depends. Read more about whether it’s worth doing a tax return as a student, and what you should always bear in mind.

Do I need to file a tax return as a student?

From the stress of exams to late nights out with friends, you probably have a lot to think about when you’re in school. So why bother filing a tax return? As it turns out, submitting a tax return when you’re a student can be worth your while. 

When is it worth filing a tax return?

Many students don’t have much in the way of living costs, and yet, day-to-day expenses can certainly add up. Depending on where you go to school, you might pay university fees or rent for your room. Then there’s books, photocopies, equipment, your laptop, software, study trips, semesters abroad, personal liability insurance, account management fees, or interest on your student loan

But did you know that you might be able to offset these costs at tax time? That’s right—even if you don’t earn income of your own. Because your expenses are carried over as a loss, your expenses are “temporarily stored” and can be offset when you enter the working world and owe taxes. For this reason, it sometimes makes sense to submit a tax return while you’re a student, even if you’re not earning any income.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind: Primarily whether you’re doing your first or second degree. Your expenses may be similar, but the tax office sees them differently.

  • First degree: In this case, your costs are classified as special expenses and capped at €6,000 a year. These expenses aren’t carried over, which means you can’t use them to offset your taxes in your first year of employment. So, if you’re not going to be doing another degree after your training or Bachelor’s, and you only have a few relevant expenses, it’s probably not worth filing a tax return.
  • Second degree: Already completed your training or Bachelor’s degree and you’re moving on to an advanced degree? In this case, your expenses for your second degree are considered professional expenses and are carried over as a loss. The benefit here is that you can offset a lump sum of up to €1,230 as professional expenses for 2023, with no need to submit receipts. Plus, there’s no expense limit.

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Offsetting health insurance premiums as a student

Even if you’re a student, you need to have health insurance. Unlike employees, though, your health insurance contributions aren’t deducted directly from your gross salary. Instead, they come straight from your student account. You can offset these contributions against your taxes, too. However, this only applies to statutory health insurance, and only if you’ve taken out this insurance yourself. If you’re covered by one or both of your parents’ health insurance, you can’t offset these contributions. If you’re privately insured, you can only offset the costs proportionately.

In which cases should I file a tax return as a student?

Students aren’t usually obligated to submit a tax return. However, if you work alongside your studies, you may need to do so, and could get money back from the tax office.

Tax returns for working students

For 2023, the tax-free allowance for annual income is €10,908, and in 2024 it’s €11,604. If you’re a working student earning €538 a month, your annual salary will fall below this allowance, meaning you won’t need to pay any taxes. However, if your annual salary exceeds the allowance, you’ll have to pay both social security and income tax. If that’s the case, you can claim your student expenses as professional expenses for tax purposes.

Bear in mind that your earnings count towards your annual taxable income. If you have multiple jobs or work freelance alongside your student job, you need to pay taxes on the total amount you’ve earned.

Tax returns for students in dual degree programs

Doing a dual degree or dual training course? Then you’re considered a trainee and you can also claim back your expenses. Student rooms, training fees, specialty books—you can offset all these expenses as part of the loss carried forward to your first year of work. So, in this case, it’s definitely worth submitting a tax return.

How exactly do I submit a tax return as a student? 

You can use the official Elster portal to complete your tax return. In the portal, select the “Einkommensteuererklärung unbeschränkte Steuerpflicht (ESt 1 A)” form and attach Annex N for your professional expenses. Make sure you have the relevant receipts and info so you can input it. Doing your student tax return on Elster is free, but it can be a lengthy process. It’s easier to use mobile apps like Taxfix. These apps offer a clear explanation of which items are relevant for your taxes, or even ask simple questions to work them out. And, as an N26 customer, you can enjoy a discount on this service, too.

It’s important that you keep your receipts for ten years, even if your professional expenses are under €1,230. This will protect you in the (rather unlikely) case of an audit.

What are the deadlines? 

If you’re a student, you’ll need to submit your tax return at the same time as employees do. That means you have until September 2, 2024 to file your return for 2023. If you want to apply for previous years, you’ve got more flexibility, with a deadline of December 31, 2024 for returns dating back to 2020. You can find more information in our article about tax return deadlines.

Can I offset study costs retroactively?

You can submit your tax return retroactively if you’ve never done a tax return before. You’ve got until December 31, 2024 to submit returns for 2020, 2021 and 2022. This is particularly handy if you’ve already got a job and want to submit your tax return retroactively as a student.

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Your money at N26

Taxes can be stressful, but the earlier you get familiar with the system, the better. And the same goes for saving money! Even if you’re on a student budget, you may still want to consider setting money aside. If you need a helping hand, try N26 Spaces, customizable sub-accounts built for all your savings goals. Just create a space for each unique goal and start saving. 

Want to save faster? You can activate Round-ups and have every card payment rounded up to the nearest euro – the difference will be transferred to a space of your choosing. Plus, as soon as you’ve started your first job, you can use our Income Sorter to automatically set aside a portion of your salary. And if you want to grow your savings, open an Instant Savings Account and earn up to 2.6% interest p.a. So why wait? Open your 100% mobile bank account in minutes right from your phone.

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