A guide to changing tax classes in Germany

A guide to changing tax classes in Germany

by Sandra Köktaş

Updated November 7, 2022

Need to change your tax class in Germany? There is no better way to ruin your day than to try and figure out anything tax related on your own. Especially, when it has to do with taxes in Germany. The system is rigid and a there’s a lot to consider to get it right. This is also true for changing tax classes. But what looks like a headache can give you significantly more money to spend each month. Luckily, the topic of tax classes and how to change them can be broken down into three easy steps. We will walk you through each of them and help you decide if the change is worth your time.

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Tax classes in Germany

First things first. The tax class in Germany will not impact the amount of tax you pay. This depends mainly on your income. It will, however, determine how much tax you have to pay each month. In other words, your tax class impacts how much is deducted per month. The overall tax you pay over a year stays the same.

The tax classes are an integral part of the German tax system and are designed to alleviate the monthly tax burden on household income. Shortly put, the more of the household spending depends on your income, the less tax will be deducted from it. If you are in the right tax class, that is. 

What tax classes are there in Germany?

Actually, there are seven, not six tax classes, starting with 0. As this will not apply to most of you interested in changing their tax class, we will only mention it here.

  • Tax class 0 is assigned to people who are not German residents.
  • Tax class I is for singles. This includes widowed and divorced people as well as those living in civil partnerships. Married persons not in classes II, III or IV can also be in class I. If you are an unmarried expat in Germany or your spouse lives back home, the tax authorities will assign you class 1 on arrival in Germany by default.
  • Tax class II is for single parents living separately.
  • Tax class III is for married people whose spouse is classified under tax class V or recently deceased.
  • Tax class IV will be assigned to both spouses. This class is actually meant for spouses earning more or less the same. But if you arrive in Germany with your spouse or, if you marry in Germany, you will be assigned class IV by default.
  • Tax class V is for those married to a spouse with tax class III.
  • Tax class VI is assigned to persons on multiple wages from more than one employer.

How do I know my tax class?

You will find your tax class on your payslip in the left upper corner of the personal information, indicated as SKI. There you will find a number ranging from 1 to 6, or, as the tax class is given in Roman numbers, I to VI. Only if you are employed, though. Taxes for freelancers and self-employed in Germany are a different story. How do you obtain a tax class? After registration in Germany, the Finanzamt (tax office) will assign you a tax ID and a tax class. The first will be valid during your stay in Germany (not to be confused with the tax number which is issued by the local tax authorities and changes when you move to another district). The latter depends on your marital status. Let’s see the options. 

Steps to change my tax class in Germany

The hiccups happen where the tax class automatically assigned to you doesn’t reflect your situation. So, if you are married but move to Germany without your spouse, you will be assigned tax class I. While the singles in this class are financially responsible only for themselves, you probably still have to contribute to the life of your spouse and maybe children back home with the money you earn in Germany. The monthly tax deductions in class I will be a disadvantage in this case. Luckily, if your spouse is an EU citizen and lives in the EU, German authorities will recognize the marriage and you can change your tax class to III if your wife doesn’t work or earns significantly less than you. The same is true if you are both assigned tax class IV. So how do I change my tax class in Germany?

Changing tax classes in Germany is surprisingly quick and easy.

1. Fill out the tax class change form

If you want to change to the tax class combination III/V, you will need to fill out the Antrag auf Steuerklassenwechsel bei Ehengatten. You can do this online or print an empty PDF and fill it out. Unfortunately, the form is not available in English. Basically, the following lines are relevant, if you want to switch to classes III and V for you and your spouse:

  • Line 1 Steuernummer. This is your individual tax number that you can find on your tax declaration. Not to be confused with the tax ID. If you haven’t filed a tax declaration yet, leave the field empty.
  • Line 2 An das Finanzamt. Name of your city or the relevant tax office.
  • Line 3 Bei Wohnsitzwechsel: Bisheriges Finanzamt. If you have moved, fill in the name of the previous relevant tax office.
  • Lines 4 to 10 Antragstellende Person. These lines deal with the person filing the change: line 5 Identifikationsnummer (tax ID; see payslip), lines 6-9 personal details and address, line 10 verheiratet seit (married since), verwitwet seit (widowed since), geschieden seit (divorced since), dauernd getrennt lebend seit (permanently separated since)
  • Line 11-15 other spouse: line 11 Identifikationsnummer (tax ID of the other spouse), lines 12-15 personal details and address of the other spouse
  • Line 17 Bisherige Steuerklassenkombination (previous tax classes of the spouses)
  • Line 18 Wir beantragen die Steuerklassenkombination (we request the tax class combination (partner filing the request/other spouse)
  • Line 19. If you tick this box, the change will be effective retroactively since the day of the wedding.
  • Line 43. Signature of both spouses, the one filing the request first.

Alternatively, you can fill out the form via your ELSTER account. ELSTER is an online tax office system designed by the Federal Central Tax Office to make tax-related procedures easier and faster. You have to open an account first. The program is not available in English.

2. Send the form to the tax office (Finanzamt)

If you send in the form before the end of the month, the tax office will inform your employer of the changes within the first five days of the next month and the change will be seen on your next payslip. 

3. Wait for the next paycheck

If you send in the form before the end of the month, the tax office will inform your employer of the changes within the first five days of the next month and the change will be seen on your next payslip.

When to change my tax class in Germany?

Changing tax classes in Germany is straightforward. For most expats, it becomes an issue when they marry or if they are married, but move to Germany alone. Other reasons to request a tax class change are separation, divorce, the birth of a child with full custody or a change in employment or income. In these cases, the spouse filing the request will sign the form alone. The death of one spouse will automatically be reflected in a change of tax class. Tax classes can be changed several times even during one year according to changing circumstances.

How to change tax classes in Germany?

All in all, it is not only a question of how do I change my tax class in Germany, but also of should I change my tax class in Germany. For most people, the answer to this is a clear yes. The change from tax class I or IV/IV to the combination of III/V will leave you more money to spend each month. For fun activities, that help you improve your German, maybe.

Learn languages at your pace

Sandra lives in Istanbul, together with her kids, cat and dog. As a historian she thrives exploring this ancient city with her two- and four-legged loved ones. Together, they also love to go on adventures through all of Turkey and its neighboring countries. The perfect opportunity to put all the language learning into practice. If she’s not on the road, Sandra is busy putting her experiences into writing as a freelance copywriter for the travel industry and everything related to language, culture and family. Her particular interest lies in providing information on animal welfare with her website contentrundumstier.de.

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