Elterngeld: this is how you can claim parental benefits in Germany

Significant life changes can be equal parts exciting and daunting. Nowhere is this more true than with starting a family. As I soon learned it myself, it came with its own bureaucratic minefield, one of which was claiming Eltnergeld, parental benefits in Germany.

parental benefits in Germany

From the moment those two thin lines appear in front of me, the old routine went out the window, replaced by doctors’ appointments, nesting, researching local Kitas. Weekends at the bar become late nights browsing reviews for cribs and strollers. With so much to prepare, 9 months can fly by faster than you can say Lebensabschnittsgefährte. In this busy time, it’s only natural for your thoughts to turn to finances: How will I support my family with our increased expenses? How much time can I afford to take off work? Am I entitled to benefits from the government? 

The good news is that Germany offers a number of flexible Elterngeld packages so that new parents can support their families, however many hours they work. The bad news is that, as with everything in Germany, receiving parental benefits involves paperwork, waiting times and a comprehensive knowledge of your rights. 

When a little one’s on the way, the last thing anyone wants to think about is bureaucracy, so it helps to streamline this process as much as possible. This article will outline the various benefits packages available in Germany, and how you can claim them based on my own personal experience and additional research.

Am I entitled to claim parental benefits in Germany?

To be eligible for Elterngeld, parents must fulfil a specific set of criteria:

  • You must be currently residing in Germany and/or have a valid residency permit in the form of a Visa or Aufenthaltstitel if applicable.
  • Parents must work under 30 hours a week for the duration of their claim. 
  • Single parents earning over €250,000 and couples earning over €500,000 a year are not eligible for Elterngeld.

The rules vary slightly for self-employed parents, and this is also determined on a case-by-case basis. Permitting they do not work more than 30 hours a week, self-employed parents can apply for Elterngeld, however eligibility for Elternzeit is dependent on their work contract. If the mother is self-employed, her eligibility for Mutterschaftsgeld is decided by her health insurance.

How much can I expect to receive?

The amount of Elterngeld you receive is determined on a case-by-case basis, and is dependent on several factors, including the size of your family, your work schedule, and how much Elternzeit you claim. Employed parents can calculate how much they will receive based on net income for the 12 months prior to birth or prior to the start of maternity leave.

As reference, you can expect between 65% to 100% of your net income. However, it’s limited to a minimum of 300€ and a maximum of 1800€ per month in most cases.

For self-employed parents or couples with a mixed income, Elterngeld calculations are based on net profits from the previous fiscal year. That means that if your baby was born in 2020, your 2019 profits will be used as the basis for this calculation. However, exceptions may apply in certain circumstances, such as if the mother experienced a pregnancy-related illness or if the parents claimed Elterngeld during that previous year. There are several online services you can use to get a good idea of how much you’ll receive; we recommend this Elterngeld Rechner, which takes a wide variety of factors into account to calculate a reliable estimation.

What are the key terms that I need to know?

When applying for parental benefits in Germany, you’ll notice the same key terms cropping up again and again, so it’s wise to familiarise yourself with these concepts to give yourself a head start before starting the application process.

Elterngeld

Elterngeld in Germany is a form of governmental financial aid that aims to support new parents who are reducing their weekly working hours in order to raise their child(ren) at home. There are two different types of Elterngeld, which we’ll get into a little later, but essentially, all new parents working under 30 hours a week are entitled to claim Elterngeld for up to the first 14 months of their baby’s life.

Mutterschaftsgeld

Specifically designed to assist expecting mothers, Mutterschaftsgeld is a system provided by the mother’s employer and healthcare provider for up to 8 weeks, beginning 6 weeks prior to your due date up until 8 weeks after the birth. Unlike Elterngeld, Mutterschaftsgeld provides the mother with 100% of her usual salary. New mothers should note that it’s not possible to claim both Mutterschaftsgeld with Elterngeld simultaneously. Additionally, claiming Mutterschaftsgeld reduces your eligibility to Elterngeld to a maximum of 12 months.

Elternzeit

In most cases, new parents can take up to 24 months of parental leave, known in Germany as Elternzeit. During this time, parents can only work a maximum of 30 hours per week, allowing them to spend more time with their family. These 24 months can be shared between parents, and can also be divided into 3 separate periods up until the child reaches their ninth birthday. The notice period for Elternzeit changes over time. For the first 3 years of the child’s life, parents need only register for Elternzeit 7 weeks in advance; between the ages of 3 and 9, parents must apply 13 weeks in advance. In urgent circumstances, employers have the right to refuse the third period of parental leave if it is requested after the third year of the child’s life.

What’s the difference between Elterngeld Basis and Elterngeld Plus?

Now that we have an overview of the core concepts, it’s time to get into the nitty gritty. Let’s start with Elterngeld. The German government offers two distinct forms of Elterngeld: Elterngeld Basis and Elterngeld Plus. These benefit schemes can also be combined and shared between two parents for maximum flexibility. Here’s everything that you need to know at a glance.

Elterngeld Basis

Parents can claim Elterngeld Basis any time from the birth of their child up to 14 months after their child’s birth. In a two-parent household, each parent can claim anywhere between 2 months and 12 months of Elterngeld Basis, adding up to a maximum of 14 months altogether. For example, parents can claim up to 7 months of Elterngeld Basis each, or one parent could claim 2 months while the other takes 12. Single parents are entitled to claim Elterngeld Basis for up to 14 months.

The amount of money you are entitled to is dependent on your income prior to the birth of their child and how many hours you work per week after the birth. But if you’re not planning to work at all while claiming Elterngeld Basis, you can usually expect to receive roughly two-thirds of your average net income prior to your child’s birth, starting at €300 and capped at €1800.

Elterngeld Plus: spreading benefits over a longer time for greater flexibility

Elterngeld Plus is a longer-term subsidiary income, which is ideally suited to parents who return to work for up to 30 hours a week within the first year of their child’s life. This enables parents to spread their benefit payments over a longer period, providing extra flexibility. In short, you are receiving half the amount per month, but twice as long (same for bonuses). This would be ideal for parents working part-time for example.

The idea is to provide a smoother transition back into the working world or enabling parents to work part-time in the first months.

Couples are eligible to receive Elterngeld Plus for up to 28 months after their child’s birth, sharing a minimum of 4 months and a maximum of 24 months per parent. Again, single parents can claim this benefit for the full 28 months.

Once again, Elterngeld Plus is calculated based on your net income in the preceding year. For those who choose not to work, this will usually come out at roughly one-third of your average monthly income, or a minimum of €150 and a maximum of €900 per month.

You can mix and match both

It’s helpful to know that you can combine Elterngeld Basis and Elterngeld Plus in any way that fits your lifestyle. Under this system, 2 months of Elterngeld Plus is equivalent to 1 month of Elterngeld Basis. If you do choose this route, bear in mind that parents cannot claim more than the equivalent of 14 months of Elterngeld Basis. Please also note that claiming Mutterschaftsgeld overrides up to 2 months of Elterngeld Basis, reducing the overall eligibility to a maximum of 12 months.

Parental benefits Germany examples
Here are 2 examples of setups – parental benefits in Germany

Other bonuses and benefits

Geschwisterbonus: Families with another child under the age of three – or two more children under the age of six – are entitled to a “sibling bonus” of an additional 10% on top of their Elterngeld, or an extra €75, whichever is greater.

Mehrlingszuschlag: Parents expecting multiple children i.e. twins or triplets, are entitled to claim an extra €300 per child. 

Partnerschaftsbonus: Couples are entitled to claim an extra 4 months of Elterngeld Plus if they simultaneously reduce their working hours for a minimum of 4 consecutive months.


How I do I apply for Elterngeld in Germany?

Since you can only apply for Elterngeld after the birth of your child, there’s a few things you can do in advance to ensure the application process goes as smoothly as possible. If possible, it’s wise to put a bit of money to one side during the pregnancy as the application process can take several weeks to finalise. The authorities can then pay up to 3 months of Elterngeld allowance retrospectively from the date of application.

You can download Elterngeld application forms and fill them out in advance. This is a relatively simple form that requires details about your family status, citizenship, and health insurance, as well as proof of income from each parent. Please note that each Bundesland provide different forms for the application. You can find the ones relevant for you on this page. Alternatively, you can also fill out the application form online if you head to ElternDigital, where you can also access a wide range of services and helpful tips. This portal is valid for the whole of Germany.

Going digital or not, the application requires several other documents, so it’s helpful to assemble these prior to the birth to ensure your Elterngeld payments aren’t delayed. Those are:

  • Your Elterngeld application form 
  • A copy of your ID card or passport.
  • Your Meldebescheinigung and if applicable, your residency permit
  • The original copy of your child’s birth certificate. You were probably provided an extra copy for that purpose.
  • Proof of income for the 12 months prior to maternity leave or prior to the birth of the child. Employed parents may submit their payslips, bank statements, and/or work contracts as proof of income, while self-employed parents should submit their income tax assessment from the previous fiscal year. In theory, that’s enough, but more on that later.
  • Where applicable, confirmation of Mutterschaftsgeld benefits paid by the mother’s health insurance provider
  • Confirmation of any Mutterschaftsgeld paid by the mother’s employer
  • Evidence of any previous claims to maternity benefits
  • Elternzeit confirmation signed by the parents’ employers
  • If you plan to work during your parental leave, confirmation of your working hours and expected income. Employed parents receive this from their employer, while self-employed parents must provide their own declaration.

Once your child has been born, head down to your local Elterngeldstelle. The sooner you do this, the sooner your Elterngeld payments can begin. Provided you’ve submitted all the documents correctly, you shouldn’t have to wait more than 3 months. I personally had to wait 2 months.

A personal note on my application: so many documents!

At the time of the application, i was employed and freelancing on the side, my wife is a freelancer too. Even though official requirements were mentioning to submit proof of income for the past year, that was not enough! The Elterngeldstelle required that we submitted an estimate of what we will earn in the months to come as well, while receiving Elterngeld. You can’t imagine how much more complicated this got.

My wife’s income and mine vary a lot as freelancer and we had to prove it with a lot of different documents, because we have a lot of different clients. In addition to that, I had to send each of the payslips I received at work for the past 12 months!

In total, we sent 60+ documents/sheets of paper to the Elterngeldstelle. Yes, 6-0, 60!

I pity the worker who had to process our case. This is by far the most non-nonsensical the German administration got in my time in Germany. And to think that the Finanzamt already has all this information, why can’t they talk to one another? (Ah yes, the good ol’ Datenschutz obsession).

An accurate depiction of how much documentation we sent for our application.

FAQ

I have been unemployed, can i still claim Elterngeld in Germany?

Unemployed parents are eligible to apply for Elterngeld if they worked at any time during the 12 months prior to the birth of their child. The amount received in benefits is then dependent on the parent’s net income during this period. Recipients of Arbeitslosengeld can simultaneously claim up to €300 of Elterngeld. Alternatively, they can pause Arbeitslosengeld payments all together for the duration of while receiving Elterngeld. In some cases, Arbeitslosengeld II payments will be credited towards Elterngeld benefits in order to ensure the recipient gets the full amount of benefits to which they are entitled. This means that unemployment benefits could decrease in order to claim Elterngeld in its entirety.

How do I find out which Elterngeldstelle I should send my application to?

Even though the parental benefits in Germany are provided at state level, with state funds, application is managed locally. If you don’t know which office to go to, you can find a comprehensive list here.

How do I find the forms I need to apply for parental benefits in Germany?

Each Bundesland have their own forms, you can find the one relevant to you here.

Can i still claim Elterngeld in Germany if I work or live abroad?

It’s complicated. You could also be eligible for parental benefits in Germany if you live and work abroad with a German contract. You can also benefit from it if you live in the EU or Switzerland and work in Germany. More detailed info in this leaflet.

Are British citizens entitled to the same rights as EU citizens?

British parents-to-be living in Berlin need to sit tight for now, since at the time of writing, no agreement has been made about the rights of British citizens after the transition period, ending 31st December 2020. If you are a British citizen in Germany expecting a child after this date, please contact your local Elterngeldstelle for further information. 

I hope this broad guide helped you on your way to claiming parental benefits in Germany. Feel free to ask questions and improve on it as well. Good luck! 🙂

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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