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Many of us worked from home in 2020. But did you know that, if you made the switch to the “home office”, you might be entitled to extra benefits on your tax return? Taxfix, the tax expert-led app, explains all. Plus, submit your return by October 31, 2021 to save 50 percent on the cost of filing - voucher code below!
Throughout 2020, millions of employees in Germany worked from home. Some of us had the luxury of a separate study or workplace, but for many people, the switch simply meant working from your couch or kitchen table.
This new working situation has raised a lot of questions - particularly regarding benefits, allowances, tax returns and deductions. Here’s a guide to some of the most frequently-asked questions.
You may have heard that Germany lets you deduct the costs of running a home office if you work from home. However, if you have been working at a desk in your living room, bedroom or guest room, you are unlikely to benefit from this. This is because the tax office is very strict about what constitutes a “study” as opposed to a “home office”.
Whereas a “home office” implies you are working from somewhere in your home, a “study” is used for work and work only. To qualify as a tax-deductible expense, your study must be a separate room that is directly connected to your private living space (i.e. in the same flat or in the same single-family house).
It must also be used for work at least 90 percent of the time. Sending the odd private email is okay, but if the room is set up to receive guests or pursue hobbies (for instance if it contains a bed or an exercise bike) it no longer meets the requirements.
If the study does meet the requirements, you can claim a portion of your rent, as well as water, heating and electricity bills (proportional to the size of the room in comparison to the rest of your apartment), and even furnishing or renovation costs, as allowable expenses.
If the study is only used for certain tasks, and you cannot use a different workplace, you can claim up to 1.250 euros per year as allowance tax-free expenses. If the room is the centre of your professional activity, however, you can deduct the costs incurred as income-related expenses (as an employee) or business expenses (as a self-employed person or tradesperson) up to an unlimited amount.
If you do not have a separate room to work from, that does not mean you’ll be left empty-handed.
If you have to work from your kitchen table or a corner of your living room, you can still qualify for a different benefit, known as the home office lump sum. The German federal government introduced this in 2020 to help compensate employees for the higher electricity, heating and internet bills they may have encountered due to working from home.
If eligible, you can claim up to 5 euros per day that you work from home, for a maximum of 120 days (a total of 600 euros). However, the 5-euro flat rate only applies to days on which you work exclusively from home.
If you worked from home or were put on short-time work (Kurzarbeit), you cannot claim for the commute to your workplace on these days. For the days you went to work, you can still claim the commuter allowance.
If there were days on which you worked both from home and went to the office, you cannot claim both the commuter allowance and the home office lump sum.
This is because both the home office lump sum and the commuter allowance are included in the work-related expenses lump sum.
In any given year, the tax office automatically deducts the flat rate of 1.000 euros of work-related expenses from each employee’s taxable income. Since this lump sum is already included in your monthly wage tax calculation, you will not feel much benefit from either of the above schemes unless your work-related expenses exceed this lump sum of 1.000 euros.
If you did not travel to work as often in 2020 as you did the year before, because of the pandemic, you can also expect this to affect your tax refund.
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