Retention periods for tax documentation (Aufbewahrungsfrist Steuererklärung)

Private individuals versus tradespeople (Gewerbetreibende)

Basically, you need to make the distinction between a private individual and a trader. In general terms, individuals are exempt from sticking to a retention period (Aufbewahrungsfrist). However, retention periods do apply particularly to the self-employed and to business people. Furthermore,these can be vastly different according to different cases.

Please also be aware that private individuals still need to exercise caution when it comes to keeping documentation. Even if no official retention period applies to you, it is advisable not to dispose of certain documents immediately.

What exactly do you need to keep?

It is not at all uncommon for the tax office (Finanzamt) to ask for evidence when it comes to taking care of your relatives. Even if you have applied for parental allowance (Elterngeld) or BAföG, the relevant supporting documentary evidence needs to be retained and submitted too.

In any case, there are certain retention periods (Aufbewahrungsfrist) that individuals need to respect. For example, invoices relating to services provided by craftsman (Handwerkerleistungen). These need to be archived for a period of two years. It is especially important that homeowners take account of this requirement. If the service provided by the craftsman is subject to any warranty obligation, the relevant invoice or invoices must even be kept for a period of five years.

Furthermore, receipts for equipment that has been purchased should always be kept for a period of two years in order to be able to make any warranty claims.

What is the position regarding bank statements?

When it comes to keeping bank statements there are no fixed rules as such. However, it is advisable to archive your bank statements for at least a period of four years. During this period, it may be the case that the tax office (Finanzamt) makes a request to see proof of certain details such as advertising expenses (Werbungskosten), any special expenses (Sonderausgaben) or exceptional charges (außergewöhnliche Belastungen). The same applies to any rental payments or maintenance payments (Unterhaltszahlungen) that have been made.

If you no longer have any of your bank statements to hand, you can easily obtain these by asking your bank. Simply request these online or go into your branch. Finally, you need to keep your bank statements going back as far as six years.

Documents that should never end up being thrown away in the waste bin

Everyone has documents that should never be lost or thrown away in the bin. Of course, there are no fixed retention periods (Aufbewahrungsfrist) for these and you should keep them indefinitely.

Some of the most important documents you should keep for life are:

  • Birth certificates
  • Marriage certificates
  • ID documents or ID accessories (badges, passes)
  • Passports
  • Death certificates
  • References
  • Training certificates

Also, certain documents that might be relevant to your pension should never end up being thrown away in the waste bin.

These are:

  • Employment contracts
  • Social insurance documents
  • Payslips
  • Evidence of periods of unemployment
  • Evidence of any incapacity for work
  • Educational qualifications
  • De-registration certificates

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