A taxing time

If you listen carefully, you can probably hear a vague wailing sound coming from the general direction of Germany; a sort of pained whine, interspersed with sobs of horror and confusion. It happens around this time every year. It’s the sound of new-to-Deutschland freelancers trying to figure out how, in the name of all that’s holy, they’re going to do their taxes by the 31st of May.

The funny thing about all of this is that I actually thought I was prepared. I’d kept every receipt, every invoice, every pay slip, and even compiled them into neat spreadsheet documents, which I’d not only saved, but also printed out, paper clipped, labelled, slid into plastic pockets and put into specific folders. (Just in case there was any doubt that I’m turning into a German.)

The even funnier thing about all of this is that Germany has actually tried to simplify the process by allowing you to do your taxes online. Yes, the Germans have created a lovely system, the rather ironically titled, “elsteronline.de”, “Elster” meaning “magpie” – you know, the birds that love to steal your shiny things. I keep telling you Germans have a sense of humour…

Reliably informed by Sheila, the Half-Naked Aussie, that all we had to do was go to the Finanzamt and get a PIN number, I was confident that this was going to be a walk in the park. Of course, the idea that you had to go to an office to get a PIN to use in an online system seemed to defy logic, but well, this is Germany so…

We chose a time, met up, and then spent around twenty minutes trying to find a replacement bus for a train service that was actually running. You might think that this makes us total numpties, but with the underground trains in seemingly permanent disarray, and the overground trains on strike more often than your average German ends a sentence with “oder…”, it was a pretty easy mistake to make.

Now they're on strike indefinitely... (image from tagesspiegel.de)
Now they’re on strike indefinitely… (image from tagesspiegel.de)

We eventually got to the Finanzamt where we explained to the confused German lady what we wanted. After around thirty seconds, she handed us leaflets and told us to go online and register. She didn’t add “like normal people” but I believe it was implied. I asked her if it was easy and she assured me that it was. And off we went; the whole procedure had taken under five minutes.

The fairy tale castle where the Finanzamt people live
The fairy tale castle where the Finanzamt people live

Eager to find out just how “easy” it was, I sat down that afternoon and tried to register. Following the step-by-step instructions (in German) in the leaflet, I was amazed to find that it actually was easy. I received a password by email, confirmed that I had received it, and Step One was complete. On to Step Two… oh no, wait, this is where the German part kicks in. Now that you’ve completed Step One, you have to wait a week to receive a second password – by post. Sigh.

One week later, I received a rather flimsy paper envelope with the words “paperless and secure” emblazoned on it. Ha. The people in the Finanzamt must be chuckling all the way to the bank.

Proof positive that Germans are funny
Proof positive that Germans are funny

I logged on to elster again and, without even looking at the leaflet this time, completed Step Two. I was then able to download a security key in .pdf form, which enabled me to access the system. About to pour myself a glass of wine to celebrate my ingenuity, I first decided to have a quick look at what lay ahead. This was the moment my brain exploded.

WHAT?!
WHAT?!

So, I used the “translate” button at the top of the screen:

WHAT?!
WHAT?!

Now, the thing is that, in Germany, you can earn over €8,000 without paying any tax. As I only moved here in September, by the end of the tax year, I was nowhere near this figure. Therefore, I’m not actually sure I have to file a tax report at all. However, this being Germany, I don’t want this to come back and bite me in the “amt” at some point in the future. There’s probably a fine for “not filling in forms that you didn’t actually have to fill in but because you didn’t fill them in now you have to pay” or similar.

So my current plan is to just fill in as many boxes as I can. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. I figure if the Finanzamt people come knocking at my door at some point in the future, I’ll just email them the number to a P.O. Box and then tell them that in a week’s time they’ll receive a document in the post. That document will be this online blog post in secure paper form detailing the reasons why I failed miserably to cope with their “simple” online system.

When in Germany and all that…

Advertisements

69 thoughts on “A taxing time”

  1. Yeah, tax stuff is a killer. I just keep each slip of paper and claim for everything. And I have to say that it’s still so complicated that I used to use a tax consultant too. Funny that, ‘cos I would organise everything into files and paperclips, with numbers and everything AND still pay him to file the lot in. It was a verein (an association) so it was a fee of like €90.00 or something. I had to sack him though ‘cos when I moved to Prenzlauerberg, he forgot to file my stuff in and I still haven’t got around to it…..!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, dear. You’re probably that you should go ahead and file and just hope it works out in your favor. Could your former roommates help you? At least with translation. What you suspect is German sense of humor makes me feel rather uneasy 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a blast reading this 🙂 + best of luck! Have to do the same, but I wonder – if one has not made any money why we would still be send forms… Here in BE they are paper only and sent by post. My postman must have specially strong feelings about taxing agency – envelope was put in the mailbox with such energy that it is ripped 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I applaud you! I’ve never bothered with taxes though I’ve lived in the Netherlands for like 10 years..I always get a native-speaker slash financial guru to do my taxes for me..and it’s brilliant because I always get money back..:-)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow, you sound much more prepared to not file taxes than I am to file them! It’s on my list of things to do on Monday… I thought I’d do it quietly while BV was at work, but I forgot that it’s a holiday so he’ll be here to witness all the wailing and gnashing of teeth while I hunt around the house for every bloody train ticket I stashed away from the last year. Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh. Procrastination for the win!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh man… I am so, so, so, so happy that I am ‘corporate’ and thus my employer has to take care of ALL the tax-related issues. But when my mom was a private entrepreneur in Russia, the whole tax filing headache related to that makes the German way seem like a walk in one of Berlin’s 2500 parks [PS – I call BS on that, my rebuttal to be posted on H&A].

    Liked by 1 person

  7. tax my ass! While in LT you can file your taxes online and you even receive a pre-filled tax form which you only had to re-check and fill in some info if you’re eligible for some tax reductions etc. it’s still a pain in my ass. While the text IS in Lithuanian I still struggle to understand what a heck is this or that supposed to mean. In the end i often just go for the ‘validate’ data option, cross my fingers and hope that i get some refund and won’t have to pay

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ha, that does sound simpler! I doubt there’s that option in Germany 😉 I heard today that you’re supposed to get a new tax number every time you move district in Berlin which would just be absolute madness. Pretending I didn’t hear it 🙂

      Like

    1. It would indeed 🙂 In the end, she just gave us a leaflet explaining what to do – not the PIN. Once you get online, you do everything from there – but I didn’t know what the system was called to begin with – or even that there was one until about a week before 🙂

      Like

  8. Why do governments have to make paying taxes so complicated? The paperwork, the second guessing, the confusing language. It seems like it should be a straight forward process.

    Do you have to file to tell them that you don’t have to file? What happens if you just don’t do it? (It was scary just writing that question!)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ha ha, I know, right!? I don’t know if they’d come after me or not. I don’t owe them anything so… but I’m not sure I want to take my chances with it! And you’re right – if they want our money so badly, why can’t they make it easier for us to give it to them!?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We have to do them in Italy AND the USA…yes…we don’t live in USA, but you have to file them anyway. 😦 Big drag. and yes, I agree…if they want our money so badly, why don’t they make it easy for us to hand it over?!?!?!!?

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh, I’ve got to declare my taxes by 1 June for the first time, and while I probably won’t have the same problems as you with passwords –you can log onto the appropriate online service with your internet-bank credentials (this is one of the times you can say ‘it’s Latvia, after all’ and mean something good)– I look at the plastic bag with all the ‘deductible’ 2014 receipts stuffed into it, and I despair.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. So essentially your school paid your accountant for you, I wish my agency did that, too. Although I’d still have to report deductible purchases and expenses, so it wouldn’t be too much of a relief. 🙂

        Ironically, I don’t mind actually paying the money I’m due, it’s the bloody bureaucracy that you have to deal with – I really hope an electronic tax return will be enough, without any visits to the revenue service.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. It kind of like already is here – many things, at least, but this realisation is of little help when you have a decades-long fear and hate of bureaucracy to stand up against. There is always a slip to sign, a paper to seal, or a long line to waste time in. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

  10. Hahaha! that is brilliant Linda – a paperless envelope. Too funny. That is a beautiful building that the tax people hide in though. No doubt paid for by your tax dollars. ha! Funny post Linda – good luck!

    As an aside, Linda, i have a 3 part guest post over on a new blog – all three parts are published now and it starts at https://julienoblog.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/melanie-part-1/ I would be honored if you dropped by for a read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have A LOT of catch-up reading to do but I’ll definitely get there! And it definitely wasn’t paid for by my tax dollars as I haven’t figured out how to pay them yet 😉

      Like

  11. Elster stands for Elektronische Steuer something or other. I suspect they added words until they could spell magpie. I’m dreading doing my taxes next year! I think a professional may need to be consulted.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha ha, love the idea that they did that especially to make ‘Elster’! So German 🙂 I’d hand it all over to a professional in a heartbeat if I could afford it! Figure it doesn’t matter that much this year though… 😉

      Like

  12. This sounds both hilarious and incredibly frustrating, and worth of at least one bottle of wine. And if you don’t have to file…At least you have your very neat, very organized, very GERMAN records of your earnings 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

          1. 11 days with those forms might FEEL like 11 years! Hats off to you, I might have to have a drink after reading those forms myself!

            Nooo definitely not deleted, and definitely still public…jdr0p.wordpress.com

            Liked by 1 person

Let me know what you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s