How to change tax class in Germany

Ah taxes… Don’t we just all love it?

Probably one of the most boring topics to deal with but also one of the most essential ones, especially in Germany. There are many factors impacting on your income tax rate; few of them are more important than your tax class.

In this post, we will go over what it all means and if you think it’s relevant to your situation, how to change your tax class in Germany.

How to change tax class in Germany

Tax classes in Germany: TL;DR

In nutshell; your tax class in Germany is more or less defined by your marital status. Depending on this, you will be put in different categories by the Finanzamt. This will help your employer apply the correct tax rate on your payslip, hence the name “Lohnsteuerklasse”. This impacts how much wage tax (“Lohnsteuerabzug”), solidarity contribution (“Solidaritätszuschlag”) and Church tax (“Kirchensteuer”) will be taken from your gross salary.

In other words, your net salary is directly related to your tax class in Germany.

As you might have already guessed it; this is only relevant to employees. Self-employed are paying income tax through other means.

Quick overview

There are 6 categories overall.

Tax classMarital status
Steuerklasse 0You are not a German resident.
Steuerklasse 1You are single, widow(er), separated/divorced
Steuerklasse 2You are a single parent
Steuerklasse 3You are married with a higher income (than your partner in Steuerklasse 5)
Steuerklasse 4You are married with both equivalent income
Steuerklasse 5You are married with a lower income (than your partner in Steuerklasse 3)
Steuerklasse 6The class used for additional jobs (Nebenjob or Zweitjob)

Attention married people: you can save money

As you can see, married people can belong to different classes and optimize differently. By default, the Finanzamt will put both partners in tax class 4, when you first register your marriage or marry in Germany. However, for a lot of households, this is often not the best solution. Why, you ask?

It’s quite simple really: the German tax system knows that the higher-earner is often bearing more of the costs in the household. The idea here is to allow for a tax rebate when one of the partners earns significantly less than the other. As a result, moving from tax class 4 to tax class 3/5 might increase the net salary for the higher earner.

When is it worth to change classes in that case?

The higher-earner in the household has to earn a good deal more for this to make sense. They should earn at least 60% of the total household income.

How to change tax classes in Germany

The process to change tax class in Germany is fairly simple:

  1. Get a hold of the form “Antrag auf Steuerklassenwechsel bei Ehegatten” (Request for tax class change for married people). You can fill it online on the official finance ministry website this way When you have filled both pages in, you can download it as a PDF. Alternatively, you can download an empty PDF file here.
  2. Print-it and sign it (both partners)
  3. Send it to your Finanzamt

Important notes

  • The tax class change will happen on the month following the request submission. So that’s when you can see a difference in your net salary.
  • As mentioned at the end of the second page in the document; if both partners are employees and you have been through a tax class change in Germany, it is mandatory to submit a tax statement (Steuererklärung; more info this way) after the end of the year (e.g: do one in 2019 for the year 2018, if you changed in 2018)
You or your Steuerberater will appreciate the change !

FAQ

How many times can i change tax classes in Germany ?

In most cases, this is only possible once a year. However, it is possible to do this more often in the following cases:

  • When your partner is not an employee anymore (becoming a freelancer, retirement, parental leave, unemployment).
  • When your partner is an employee again
  • When one of the partners passes away
  • In case of divorce or separation

What events can be cause of a tax class change?

Very logically, life events that were just previously listed can be cause for change of tax class in Germany; marriage, divorce, death of partner, unemployment, retirement, parental leave, becoming a freelancer.

Can the tax benefit apply retroactively if i change tax classes?

Provided you make the application before 30/11 of that year, you can benefit from that tax cut for the months prior too.

Is worth it for me and my partner to make a change?

You can use this very easy to use simulator. Enter both your gross salaries in it, together with your postal code. You will be able to see if it’s worth to make a tax class change in Germany, and who should be on tax class 3.

I just got divorced/separated, what do i do now to change class?

You would use this form to signify the Finanzamt that you are now separated from your partner. The adjustment will be then made automatically after they process this document.

My partner is living abroad, can i still change tax class?

For a tax class change to be possible, both partners need to be “unbeschränkt einkommensteuerpflichtig“, which means to be subject to an unrestricted income taxation. In practical terms, this is made possible only when the partner is also a German resident. However, an exception to this rule is possible if you and your partner fulfill the following requirements (source):

  • You have EU or Swiss citizenship.
  • Your partner has residence in another EU country (+ Switzerland).
  • At least 90% of the total income is subject to German income tax. The same applies if the income not subject to German income tax does not exceed 18 336€ in a calendar year.

Hope this little guide helped. Don’t hesitate to leave a comment if anything is unclear.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4  

394 Comments

  • Reply Matthew 28/02/2019 at 16:29

    I have a situation where I will be working in Germany but, for a time, my entirely dependent family will have to stay behind in another EU country. I found some interesting information about being able to apply for unlimited taxable status even whilst abroad from http://www.steuerklassen.com . Do you have any idea about this? Maybe not, but I thought I’d ask. An excerpt is below:

    Es ist auch möglich, auf Antrag unbeschränkt steuerpflichtig zu werden – selbst wenn man nicht im Inland seinen Wohnsitz führen sollte. Bedingung hierfür ist, dass zumindest 90 Prozent der eigenen Einkünfte der deutschen Einkommensteuer unterliegen. Alternativ dürfen sich auch die ausländischen Einkünfte unter dem Grundfreibetrag von 9.168 Euro bewegen.

    Allerdings gilt es zu berücksichtigen, dass bei unbeschränkt Steuerpflichtigen das gesamte Welteinkommen zur Einkommensteuer herangezogen wird – also auch die ausländischen Einkünfte. Sinn macht dies also beispielsweise für Ausländer, die in ihrer Heimat höher als im deutschen Inland besteuert werden würden.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 02/03/2019 at 19:58

      Hey Matthew. I know of it but i have honestly never been confronted with the case of someone doing it. It’s really a rare and specific situation. But basically the idea is that you want your partner to be taxable here to benefit from a 3/5 combination right?

      • Reply Matthew 05/03/2019 at 16:48

        That’s the idea, yes, since the expectation is that once I get work settled and have time to hunt for a flat (with some sense of not having to rush) she and the kids (whom I support financially) can join me. Every euro counts until then, since I’ll be paying for two homes for a while! If I understand correctly, our country has a tax treaty with Germany, so I suspect that so long as she remains under the threshold allowed she shouldn’t be double-taxed, though I don’t think she’ll be able to work in the meantime.

  • Reply SJ Vincent 28/02/2019 at 13:03

    Hello Bastien,
    I have a different scenario. I am an Indian and I have been living in Germany since Jan 2018 and my wife (Not working) joined me from June 2018 onward. My tax class was 1 from Jan to July and From July We changed the tax class (3 for me and 5 for my wife). Now the question is, In which class should i file taxes?.. Thanks

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 02/03/2019 at 19:54

      Hey Stanley. If you are talking about the Steuererklärung, it won’t be needed in it. The Finanzamt knows already. You are now in a 3/5 combination for them.

  • Reply Edmond Allajbej 28/02/2019 at 11:47

    Hi
    I am a NATO Officer (from Albanaia) working at AIRCOM Ramstein AB in Germany. Together with me is my wife and two kids (8th Grade and 10 Grade). Two month ago my wife began a job at a German company where she is paying tax class I . Each member of my family has residency permit for three years(the time of my working term here). She is not entitled to the child allowance even though she is paying a lot money as class I. Can she be treated to tax class III?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 02/03/2019 at 19:53

      Hey Edmond. Tax classes and child allowance are not directly connected. If you are married/in a partnership, then she certainly can. The real question is: Does it makes sense at all?

  • Reply chiew 23/02/2019 at 22:40

    Thanks for the very informative blog. It helps a lot, really.

    Question, I am working in Germany as a Nurse and my spouse is still in the Philippines. Which “Steuerklasse” would I belong? in Steuerklasse 1 or Steuerklasse 3?
    Will appreciate a response. Thank yoi

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 24/02/2019 at 09:48

      Hey Chiew. For a tax class change to be possible, both partners need to be “unbeschränkt einkommensteuerpflichtig”, which means to be subject to an unrestricted income taxation. In practical terms, this is made possible only when the partner is also a German resident. So in your case, Steuerklasse 1 is correct.

  • Reply Aris 22/02/2019 at 18:12

    Hi there,
    i am about to work for a new german company. The company offers me accommodation, however that would be a hotel room in the begining. Till i rent an apartment, is it possible to acquire a tax id? Furthermore, they told me that if i don’t have a rented place to live i can go with tax category six that has much more withholding taxes than tax category one. I will be waiting for your prompt reply, thank you in advance!

  • Reply Teresa Araujo 19/02/2019 at 15:27

    Hi, I have a question…
    First there was a mistake in the finances with the classes… They changed my husband to 1, they had him as single. After I solve the problem they changed him to 3 and me 5 which is good by us.
    My question is what do I do to get my money back from the finances??? Do I need to fill anything now or they will send with the money from the steuererklärung??? Thanks

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 24/02/2019 at 09:16

      Hey Teresa.

  • Reply Ola 18/02/2019 at 17:08

    Hi Greg,

    Thanks for this update. It really helped but i do have a question…
    I am divorced with my ex wife but I have two children with her and they all stay in Finland while I move to Germany since last year august (I am currently holding blue card), however I still pay Child support in Finland and I visit my children every other weekend in a month (I spend at least €450 on each trip and I pay €340 month excluding what i buy for them).
    I am on cat. 1 tax and I am wondering if I could change my category since I have kids and i spend quite a lot to see them and pay..

    Looking forward to hearing from you.

    Regards

  • Reply Delya 17/02/2019 at 20:58

    Hi. I registered myself last week to Bürgeramt and I have to wait around 4 weeks to get my tax ID. Being after mid of my first month here, I will automatically be billed in tax class 6. After getting my tax ID and give it to my employer, I have to fill a form to local finanzamt for changing the tax class from 6 to 1 . Do you know where I can find online this form? I got lost in their site. Thanks in advance!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 19/02/2019 at 10:43

      Hey Delya. Double check on that: I think that sort of adjustment is happening automatically once you have a tax ID.

  • Reply Serena 16/02/2019 at 11:06

    Hi Bastien,
    Thanks for keeping up with all the question that we expat are having! This website is a bless!
    I am about to get married with my partner and I would like to know how should my partner deal (he is german) with the tax issue. I am working for an international organization in Germany and thus I am Steuerfrei. My future husband is employed by a german company. My brutto salary is also the netto one. If I would take this into consideration, my boyfriend is earning way more than me. I haven’t found any case in literature that would describe it. Do you have any info with this regard? I would really appreciate if someone could solve the rebus of the Steuerklass affiliation if one of the partner is internationally recruited and the other is a normal tax payer in Germany ?

    Thanks everyone whom might reply!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 19/02/2019 at 10:41

      Hey Serena. Very interesting question. I think you’d be best asking your HR department, they surely must have some experience with this. Sorry i can’t help.

  • Reply Shiv M 14/02/2019 at 21:50

    Hi, Really appreciate your effort in putting the information together and reverting to each query.

    In my Case:
    I am a Blue Card holder (Category 1: Single) and will be getting married in Feb’19. My wife (to-be) stays in Lithuania (and will stay until Jun’20) for pursuing her PhD. My income is higher than hers (scholarship + salary for research). Does that make us eligible for Tax Class 3/5?

    Can I, in any way, benefit from change of tax class?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 15/02/2019 at 11:50

      Hey Shiv. There is no eligibility question here (apart from being married/in a partnership). You can decide whatever you want, depending on what’s best for your case. As mentioned in the post, use the simulator i linked to to find out if does for you.

  • Reply Marko 10/02/2019 at 20:52

    Hello Bastien,
    I really appreciate your effort writing such a useful and complex article! I’m working in Germany for almost half a year with
    Blue card and tax class I. I’ve recently got married, my wife is now living with me in Germany, she is registered in the city,
    waiting for the issuance of her Blue card (it may take one month). Can I change my class category now (by filling and sending
    form above) or it’s necessary to wait for my wife receiving Blue card, tax ID etc?
    Many thanks in advance!
    Marko

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 12/02/2019 at 09:56

      Hey Marko. That’s an excellent question. I think it’s enough if she is registered here.

  • Reply Parth 06/02/2019 at 17:02

    Hi there,

    Firstly, thank you for this write up.
    Your notes mention how to change the tax class for married people (ie. from I to IV), but how to do that the other way round?
    I was married and hence had a tax class IV. Now I got divorced, and thereby need to change my tax class to I. How do I do that?

    Thanks

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 08/02/2019 at 12:08

      Hey Parth. You would use this form to signify the Finanzamt that you are now separated from your partner. The adjustment will be then made automatically after they receive this document.

  • Reply Thomas 04/02/2019 at 09:43

    Hello Bastien,
    Thank you for the information! I have a question though. Up until now (2 years) my wife and I had the Steuerklasse 4/4 . We didn’t know that we could change the class until last week. We went to the Finanzamt and changed it for 3/5 last Friday and the lady there told us the change will apply from March on. Now my question is: Is it possible to get the money from the previous 2 years?
    Is there any form we need to fill in? And if so, do you have any link to access it? We would really appreciate it!

    Thanks for your help!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 08/02/2019 at 11:38

      Hey Thomas, as mentioned in the post

      “Provided you make the application before 30/11 of that year, you can benefit from that tax cut for the months prior too.”

      So it would only apply for Jan and Feb 2019 i believe.

  • Reply Nadia 26/01/2019 at 19:26

    Hi Bastian,

    I’m under unemployment benefit and the Agentur fur arbeit change my category from 4 to 1. Do you think this is correct? Is normal that the agency change your category like that?

    Cause I’m still married. And actually, my husband wants to change his category.

    Thanks!
    Nadia

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 26/01/2019 at 20:49

      Hey Nadia. I had never heard of this but it is apparently possible (Source). However, class 1 seems like a mistake as you are not single.

  • Reply rahul 25/01/2019 at 11:17

    hi , I entered Germany on 7th December but i registered for my address on 7th January in the registration office , my owner has confirmed my stay from December 7th but what i heard from my colleagues that I will be charged on tax class 6 that is emergency class during period 7th December to 7th January , Is there any way i can change my tax class from 6 to 1 during this period

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 26/01/2019 at 20:37

      Hey Rahul. No, a change is not retro-active.

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