Tax Class In Germany Explained [Easy 2021 English Guide]

You have moved to Germany, and sooner or later, you might be wondering what the deal with the tax class in Germany is? Let me start by saying that the tax class in Germany is only relevant to employees. Our friends from Expatica have an excellent guide on taxes for freelancers and self-employed in Germany. If you are an employee, keep reading, as we explain the different tax classes and their role in how much taxes you pay in Germany. 

What Are The Tax Classes In Germany?

There are six tax classes (Steuerklassen) in Germany:

German Tax ClassMarital Status
Tax Class 1You are single, widowed,
separated/divorced
Tax Class 2You are a single parent, living separately
Tax Class 3You are married (or widowed within the first year of the spouse’s death) with a significantly higher income than your partner in tax class 5
Tax Class 4You are married with both spouses earning similar income
Tax Class 5You are married with a significantly lower income than your partner in tax class 3
Tax Class 6The tax class for second and side jobs (regardless of marital status)

How To Know Your Tax Class In Germany?

After you registered in Germany (Anmeldung), you will receive your tax ID within the next six weeks. You need to give this tax ID to your employer. Additionally, the tax authorities (Finanzamt) assign you to your tax class primarily based on your marital status: single, single parent, or married. The tax authorities will inform your employer accordingly; however, it could take a few weeks. 

Only once your employer knows your tax ID and tax class, they can calculate the deductions of your salary correctly. Until then, you will get taxed with the highest tax rate in the German tax system. You will be able to see your tax class on your payslip indicated as SKl (Steuerklasse). 

Related Guide: German Payslip Explained

Example of German Payslip
Example of German Payslip

❗️ Important: There is a misconception out there that the tax class impacts how much tax you pay in Germany. That is wrong! Your income dictates how much taxes you need to pay! The tax class is a mere tool, to adjust how much taxes you pay per month.

What Is The Income Tax In Germany?

The tax class influences the amount of your monthly tax payments. Your total yearly tax deductions, however, depend on the total amount of your taxable income, like your yearly salary, or income from properties or investments. This is where the income tax system comes into play. The income tax gets deducted from your monthly salary by your employer. It is a progressive tax ranging from 14% to 42%.

Income up to 9.744 euros in 2021 is tax-free (Grundfreibetrag). Income more than 57.919 euros gets taxed with the highest income tax rate of 42%. The so-called rich tax (Reichensteuer) of 45% starts at an income of 274.613 euros. When calculating how much income tax, you need to pay, you need to differentiate between the marginal tax rate (14 – 42%) and the average tax rate, which is what you will actually pay.

Example Calculation Of Income Tax Rates In 2021 In Germany

Taxable Gross Income Marginal Income Tax RateAverage Income Tax RateRemaining Net Income
€10.00014,51%0,36%€9.964
€20.00026,16%11,33%€17.734
€30.00030,34%16,97%€24.909
€40.00034,52%20,83%€31.667
€50.00038,69%23,99%€38.006
€60.00042,00%26,77%€43.937

To calculate how much income tax, you are paying, you can use this German tax calculator. It will also show you, how much church tax, solidarity tax, and social security contributions (consisting of health insurance, unemployment insurance, long-term care insurance, and pension insurance) you will need to pay.

How To Reduce Your Tax In Germany?

The best way to reduce your tax in Germany is to file a tax declaration at the beginning of a new calendar year. Every tax resident in Germany has the right to file a tax return, and the average tax return in Germany is 1.027 euros. To learn how to submit a tax declaration, please read our related guide.

Related Guide: How To File A Tax Declaration In Germany 

In case you are paying church tax, and you are not really religious, you have the option to leave the church to stop paying taxes. This could easily save you 700-800 euros a year. Read our in-depth guide below to learn more about the church tax.

Related Guide: Church Tax in Germany

When Do You Have To Change Your Tax Class?

You have to change your tax class in Germany when your family circumstances change fundamentally. Divorce and marriage, when done in Germany, get communicated by the registry office automatically to the financial authorities. For other reasons, you have to report such changes to the tax office until the due date, which is November 30th. Your new tax class will then become effective the following month.

Reasons For A Change In Tax Class

  • Marriage → change to tax class IV
  • Separation/divorce → change to tax class I (if you don’t have children or children without full custody) or to tax class II (if you have children and sole custody)
  • Birth of a child and you will have sole custody → change to tax class II
  • Death of a spouse → change to tax class III in the first two years after the death, afterward change to tax class I or II

Tax Class Change After Marriage

In case you recently got married, congratulations! Your registration office will automatically forward your data change to the financial authorities in Germany. After a wedding, the Finanzamt will change both spouses’ tax class to tax class IV by default, regardless of whether one spouse is not earning any income or significantly less than the other. 

In case you would like to switch to tax classes III and V, you will have to request the change via a form. We explain to you below how that works. The change to tax class III and V as a married couple only makes sense if one spouse is earning at least 60% of the total household income. Since 2020, married couples can change tax classes multiple times per year; a change was only possible once in the past.

Related Guide: Getting Married In Germany – The Ultimate Guide For Expats

German Tax Class Calculator

For a quick estimation of whether you should consider a tax class change to 3 and 5, you can use this German tax class calculator. It is in German but pretty self-explanatory. You have to enter both spouses’ gross salaries and tick the box, whether you have children.

❗️Word of advice: This calculator is just a rough estimate. You can only get a qualified answer from a certified tax consultant. Through the below form you can consult with expert tax advisors through the platform yourXpert. The following website will be in German, however, you can translate the page by using Chrome as a browser, then do a right-click and select ‘translate to English’. You can fill the form and ask your question in English. yourXpert will forward your inquiry to English-speaking consultants only.

yourXpert: Need tax advice in Germany?

By choosing the right combination of tax classes, you can decide whether you would rather pay more tax each month and then get a higher tax refund with your annual tax return.

Or whether you pay less tax each month instead and thus have a slightly higher monthly net income available. In return, you will only receive a small tax return or maybe even pay some underpaid taxes back to the Finanzamt after you have submitted your tax declaration.

❗️ Important: At the end of the day, you won’t make any profits or losses when changing tax classes, as the amount of income tax remains identical. The tax class has no impact on the amount of income taxes you have to pay. Instead, the tax class only impacts the monthly distribution of your income tax payable. 

How To Change Your Tax Class?

Changing your tax class in Germany as a married couple is fairly easy and only involves one bureaucratic document.

  1. Fill out the tax class change request for married people (Antrag auf Steuerklassenwechsel bei Ehegatten) and save it as a pdf.
  2. Print it and sign it – both spouses have to sign it.
  3. Send it to your Finanzamt.

Once you change to tax classes III and V, you are automatically obligated to file a joint tax declaration at the end of the year.

How To Fill Out The Antrag Auf Steuerklassenwechsel Bei Ehegatten

Line 1: Steuernummer – your individual tax number assigned by your local tax office to catalog your documents faster. If you have filed a tax declaration before, you can find it on your last tax assessment (Steuerbescheid). Otherwise, leave it empty.

Line 2: An das Finanzamt – the name of your city or relevant tax office.
Line 3: Bei Wohnsitzwechsel: bisheriges Finanzamt – in case you moved, name your previous tax office.
Lines 4-10: Antragstellende Person – the partner filing the request.
Line 5: Identifikationsnummer (IdNr.)Tax ID (the one of the partner filing the request), you can find it on your last payslip.
Lines 6-9: Personal details and address of the spouse filing the request.
Line 10: Verheiratet/Verpartnert seit – married since
 Verwitwet seit – widowed since
 Geschieden seit – divorced since
Dauernd getrennt lebend seit – permanently separated since
Line 11: Identifikationsnummer (IdNr.) – Tax ID of the other spouse
Lines 12-15: Personal details and address of the other spouse.
Line 17: Bisherige Steuerklassenkombination – previous tax classes, check the box to the left of “IV/IV”
Line 18: Wir beantragen die Steuerklassenkombination – we request the tax class combination (partner filing the request / other spouse), check the box to the left of “III/V” or “V/III” depending on which spouse has the higher income.
Line 19: Tick the box, if you want the tax class change to be effective retroactively since the day of the wedding.

To get to page 2, click on the 2 in the top menu.

Source: Bundesfinanzministerium

Leave part C blank. 
Line 43: Both spouses have to sign; the partner filing the request signs first.

Conclusion

Your marital status determines tax classes in Germany. The only time you can choose your tax class is after getting married. Both spouses’ income determines whether a tax class change makes sense to receive a temporary tax advantage on your monthly income. Remember, though, that the amount of income tax per year remains identical.  

Disclaimer: Neither myself as the author of this article, nor Simple Germany as a business, are qualified to provide tax advice under German law. We cannot provide specialist tax services beyond any of the general tips contained herein. For tax advice, we strongly recommend you consult a professional tax consultant.