Read Tax Notice Correctly (Steuerbescheid richtig lesen)

When the letter from the tax office is finally in the mailbox, for many the big guesswork begins. What does the provisional notice (Vorläufigkeitsvermerk) mean and where on earth is my refund amount?

Structure of the tax assessment (Aufbau des Steuerbescheids)

Upon receipt of the letter, the taxes are set. The basic structure of a tax assessment is always the same. First of all, the letter provides information on whether it is a provisional (vorläufig) or final (endgültig) tax assessment.

Further on, the tax liability (Steuerschuld) of the citizen is listed. This is determined by the tax office.

Below that are personal details written down. It is important to check that the correct bank details have been given so that a possible return payment can be transferred to the correct account.

The last section, the "Explanatory Notes" (Erläuterungen), explains how the tax office came to its decision. Here, the taxpayer finds - in a fairly understandable explanation - which expenditures or lump sums (Pauschalen) were not recognised and why. In addition, an instruction on legal remedies (Rechtsbehelfsbelehrung) is given here, which informs when and how an objection (Einspruch) can be filed against the tax assessment (Steuerbescheid).

Provisional Note (Vorläufigkeitsvermerk)

Under the item "Determination" (Festsetzung) you will find out whether it is a provisional (vorläufig) or final (endgültig) tax assessment (Steuerbescheid). This plays a role especially if there is still an open court case regarding a point and so far no valid judgement has been made.

Fixing Table (Festsetzungstabelle)

Then follows the fixing table. This is divided into income tax (Einkommensteuer), solidarity surcharge (Solidaritätszuschlag) and church tax (Kirchensteuer), if the latter was paid. The first column contains the tax liability (Steuerschuld). That's the amount the taxpayer has to pay to the tax office (Finanzamt). The second column contains the amount that has already been paid. This then results in the value to be repaid or transferred.

Tax Bases (Besteuerungsgrundlagen)

On the second and third pages, respectively, are the taxation principles and explanations. On this page, the tax office explains how it came to its conclusions.

Taxable bases include:

  • Income (salary, parental allowance etc.)
  • Income from renting or leasing
  • Interest
  • Dividends
  • Investment Income (Kapitalerträge)

This income will be charged with:

  • Advertising Costs (Werbungskosten)
  • Additional Expenses (Sonderausgaben)
  • Extraordinary Loads (ausßergewöhnliche Belastungen)
  • Allowances (Freibeträge)
  • Lump Sums (Pauschbeträge)

Explanation (Erläuterungen)

If certain information has not been acknowledged, the explanations may explain how the case officer arrived at his decision. The tax office therefore informs why information could not be taken into account. Anyone who finds errors here or has a different opinion may appeal. Anyone who is unsure and does not fully understand certain facts, also has the opportunity to contact the tax office and ask. They are obliged to provide information.

Tax notices can be incredibly difficult to understand if you don't have a wealth of financial knowledge at your disposal. Fortunately, there is plenty of help available online and the tax office will be happy to answer any questions that you might have about your tax notice. By contacting the tax office directly you will be able to appeal any information that you are not happy with, too.

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