Stock trading in Germany – the overview you were looking for

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Hello there. Reading a guide about stock trading in Germany probably means you’ve been in this country long enough and/or you have reached a certain level of financial freedom.

This is exactly what happened to me. After some years of struggling, I reached a level of regular income and it was suddenly time to put my money to work. We should celebrate that fact alone together: we made it somehow!

With a bigger stack in the bank, I looked into buying stocks in Germany, and what it meant as a foreigner. These are the learnings I made along the way.

How to invest and start stock trading in Germany

Why should I start trading?

There are many different reasons why you can or should start investing or stock trading in Germany. You may want a more comprehensive retirement plan, or want to achieve a shorter-term financial goal, like buying a house (which is my case, as you can read later down this post). You may also simply want to increase your wealth. If you’ve ever looked at the interest rates offered by German banks on savings accounts, you’ll notice that they aren’t very large at all. With interest rates hovering at about 1%, your money will do nothing but stagnate over time and actually decrease in value.

This brings us to the next point about why people start stock trading in Germany – inflation. Inflation is a general rise in the price level of an economy over a period of time. In Germany, the inflation rate hovers at around 2.5%, meaning that if your bank is only offering a 1% interest rate, your money is losing 1.5% of its value every year. Investing offers a way of combating this decline in value, by investing your money in stocks, bonds, and other commodities that offer a much higher potential return.


Things to keep in mind before you start trading

With higher returns, comes more risks

Because banks make most of their profits by taking in deposits, loaning out that money at a higher interest rate, and then receiving high-interest returns on those loans, they have to keep interest rates on customer bank accounts low. On top of that, state-run institutions (currently) run very little risk of going bankrupt and losing all of their money, and so your investment (money in your savings account) is quite generally safe. That’s not the case with stocks and other investments. 

Stock trading in Germany is generally much riskier than keeping your money in a bank because you’re buying into the success of a company or other financial product in an unpredictable market. If the stock you invest in underperforms, you will lose value on that stock and get lower returns, or even lose your original investment. Likewise, if something like a recession (or a tweet by Elon Musk) affects the market, the value of your stocks can also decrease. These types of risk – called liquid risk and market risk respectively – are unavoidable and exist as a part of every trade you make and stock you buy. Understanding risk and having a risk management plan can help you identify, analyze and reduce risk in your trading decisions.

Have a plan & make use of the grace period

So before you start stock trading in Germany, it’s important to have some sort of trading plan, understanding of risk, awareness of the market you’re buying into, and some basic understanding of trading principles. 

Finally, you should be aware that you have a 2 weeks grace period during which you can cancel a contract. This you can do without motivating your decision. This can be useful if you regret your decision or now feel it doesn’t suit your goals anymore.

Long-term investments vs day trading

Not everybody trades the same way and many people use different investment strategies. These strategies can broadly be divided into long-term investments and day trading, with a spectrum of different approaches in between. It’s important to know which strategy you want to use before you start trading, as it will influence the broker you use, the type of fees you’re willing to accept, and the commodities you invest in.

  • Day trading involves buying or selling stocks or other financial assets over a short period, such as seconds, minutes, or hours. The idea is that you buy a stock when it’s a good price and then sell it quickly as the price rises. You’ve probably heard the old adage, “buy low, sell high.” – that’s the day trader’s gospel. Trading in this way is extremely risky as stocks can fluctuate wildly in short periods of time, but they can also yield great rewards. Fees and commissions matter more to day traders, as they typically conduct many smaller trades per day.
  • Longer-term investing involves buying an asset and holding it for months, years or decades. Long-term trading is typically done on the stock market and involves buying stocks or ETFs (more on these below). The idea behind it is that instead of trying to time the market like a day trader, you periodically buy stocks and let them mature as the market grows. Long-term trading is a good strategy if you’re planning your retirement or a goal far in the future, as it allows for a slow, steady accumulation of capital, with much less risk than day trading. Another old trading saying that applies here is – “Better time in the market, then as opposed to timing the market.”
Credits: Photo by Morgan Housel on Unsplash

Common trading products and commodities

There are a number of different financial products and commodities in which you can invest when stock trading in Germany. The following list details some basic, beginner options which should be enough to get you started as a new trader:

Individual stocks

You probably already know: stocks represent shares of a company. When you buy company stock, you’re essentially buying a small percentage, or share, of the company. If you buy stocks in Germany with BMW or Apple, for example, you then own a share of the company. As the company grows, the value of your stocks grows and you will periodically receive a share of the company’s profit, which are called dividends. 

Investment funds

Investment funds are collective investments by multiple investors which are pooled together and handled by a fund manager. The fund manager, who is usually an experienced trader, makes decisions on behalf of all the investors of the fund. Contributing to an investment fund allows for greater investment opportunities, access to more experienced and knowledgeable investment management, and lower fees. Different types of investment funds include mutual funds, money market funds, and hedge funds. 

ETFs

An exchange-traded fund, or ETF, is a type of security that tracks an index (see the glossary below for a more comprehensive definition) or other asset but can be sold just like a regular stock. ETFs allow you to invest in a group of companies or products and are generally less risky than individual stocks. The most well-known ETF in Germany, for example, is called the iShares MSCI Germany ETF EWG, which tracks an index called MSCI Germany. When you invest in this ETF, you’re investing in the top companies in Germany. If those companies collectively see a net gain in their value, you will see an increase in the value of your ETF.

The benefits of ETFs are that they are generally low-risk and provide solid, somewhat predictable returns. Investing in ETFs is suitable for those with long-term investment strategies, such as planning for retirement.


How do I buy stocks in Germany?

Now that you’re aware of the different financial products available, the next logical question might be: how do I invest in Germany? Let’s take a look at the various options available:

Trading/Broker apps

If you were paying attention to the Gamestop controversy, then you might have heard about trading and broker apps like Robinhood. These apps are very popular, and allow anyone to begin trading almost immediately with no prior knowledge of investing or minimum investment amount. They can also be used on any device.

The list of best trading apps in Germany include:

Pros and cons:

Just as anything in life, there are positives and negatives to using trading apps to conduct stock trading in Germany. Advantages include:

  • Eliminating the inclusion of a physical broker (and the fees that go with it)
  • Freedom to trade from wherever you are
  • Instant access to markets all over the world
  • Trading with real-time prices
  • Fast and simple depositing and withdrawing of funds
  • Comprehensive control of all trades
  • Ability to invest in multiple different options and financial products

However, there are also some downsides which you should be aware of:

  • Requires some technical knowledge to get started
  • Completely reliant on trading systems, which can go down periodically
  • Ease of use and trading without access to a broker can result in massive losses when inexperienced.
  • Being completely reliant on the internet to trade

Fees

Digital brokers and trading apps all have different fees and pricing structures. They are however usually among the cheapest options to start trading. Before you sign up, you should compare the options available to find out which has the lowest fees for the type of trading you want to do. If you’re investing for the long term and only plan to make deposits monthly, this likely won’t affect you too much. But if you’re planning on day-trading and making multiple trades per day, fees can quickly add up. Typical fees include:

  • Commission when placing an order or buying stock
  • Broker order fees
  • Stock exchange fees

Financial advisors and brokers

If you’re a first-time trader and now just learning how to trade in Germany, then getting advice and trading through a financial advisor or broker is definitely worth considering. Their expertise and knowledge can be leveraged to maximize your investment according to your investment goals. German brokers also understand German regulations and can provide you with the correct annual statements which are useful when filing your tax returns.

Good financial advisors for foreigners include:

  • Beacon American Advisors
  • Black Swan Capital
  • S&S Pension Consultancy
  • HORBACH Expats 
  • Blacktower Financial Management
  • Fundsback

Pros and cons

Pros of using a financial advisor for trading include:

  • Saving you massive amounts of time when it comes to planning out your fiscal life and choosing investments
  • Having access to expert, professional advice with plans tailored specifically to your individual situation

Cons of using a financial advisor for trading include:

  • Paying fairly large sums of money for services and financial planning (some financial managers charge percentages of your portfolio value, for example)
  • Trusting your money to a third party. If the financial advisor makes poor decisions you will suffer financially for it.

Fees

Brokers and financial advisors have different fees depending on the transaction. 

The most common fees for German broker accounts are account maintenance fees, fees per trade order, and a deposit fee as a percentage of your funds.

The account maintenance fee is usually a flat fee per month, however, most providers do not charge this anymore. Some brokers may also waive this fee if you trade a minimum number of times per month 

The fee per order is the most important aspect of your broker account. It is the fee that is charged every time you buy shares or ETFs. Some providers offer a flat fee per order, anywhere between 1€ and 25€, while others take a percentage of your order volume.

Trading stocks in Germany with traditional banks

Many German banks offer trading accounts and allow you to trade stocks, options, and other financial products. A few of the banks that offer trading services include:

Pros and cons

Pros of investing with traditional banks include:

  • You can easily (and in most cases instantly) move money from your current account to your trading account and begin buying stocks
  • Many banks offer insurance for funds in their brokerage accounts

Cons of investing with traditional banks include:

  • They don’t offer access to the same massive variety of stocks and ETFs as traditional and digital brokers
  • Banks charge higher fees than digital brokers as they act as the middle man between you and market transactions
  • They’re unlikely to offer the same returns that brokers can

Fees

The fees charged by banks largely depend on the bank in question. Different banks charge different fees depending on the transaction and service. Vivid, for example, charges no commission on trades (only currency exchange fees) whereas ING charges a yearly 0.82% – 1.13% fee of your account value. 


buying stocks in Germany game
That’s you, after reading this guide hopefully.

What to pay attention to regarding taxes

How much

If you’re going to learn how to invest in Germany, then it’s a good idea to learn about the taxation that go with it. It’s no secret that Germany has a relatively high tax rate, and this applies to trading and investments as well. You should know the following.

  • Since 2009, Germany introduced by law (Einkommensteuergesetz – 32d), a 25% investment tax which encompasses all capital gains and income from investments made after that date – Abgeltungssteuer or Kapitaletragsteuer. On top of this initial tax rate, Solidaritätzuschlag (+5%), which brings the total tax rate to 26,375%
  • The Kirchensteuer (+8/9%) might apply too, if you pay German Church tax.
  • However, you can benefit from a tax allowance of 801 euros per year (1602 for couples). After that threshold, all capital gains – that is, the profits made after you sell your shares or investments – are subject to a 26,375% investment tax. This means that after cashing in all of the stocks you bought and risked for, the Finanzamt automatically gets a quarter of the profits.
  • If you hold investments from foreign sources that is not taxed in Germany, you might also have to pay an extra 15% tax (Quellensteuer). In some cases, this can be refunded to you though.

How to declare it

If you choose to work with a financial institution located in Germany, a lot of the paperwork is already taken care of for you. Your bank or broker will communicate the information to the Finanzamt directly, or will provide you with a document for your tax declaration – A Jahressteuerbescheid. It contains the information for the year to enter and where to enter it.

If you do need to declare your investments or capital gains during your tax return, this would be done via the form Anlage KAP. This form covers all income made from capital assets, including investments.

If you are in between countries at the moment, just moved in Germany, you might also need to pay attention bilateral tax agreements with your home country in order to avoid double taxation when buying stocks in Germany.

Special note for funds

If you decide to invest in an equity fund, you need to be aware of possible ways to determine how dividends are taxed.

Broadly speaking, you can go for

  • Funds that accumulate the earned dividends to reinvest it into the funds directly. In this case, the dividends are not taxed directly. The Finanzamt will rather tax you based on how much your investment grew that year, also called “fictive profit”.
  • Funds that pay out the earned dividends on a regular basis. In this case, if the “fictive profit” exceeds the taxable value of the distributed dividends, you also end up paying tax, beyond that threshold.

If you are interesting to dive into this in details, you can do so via this source in German, or this source in English.

This is an important thing to know when picking a financial service provider buy stocks in Germany.


Restrictions to trading based on your citizenship

Most people won’t have to worry about restrictions on stock trading in Germany regardless of their citizenship. Being registered in Germany as a local resident is the only prerequisite. If you are a US citizen, however, things can get complicated. US citizens are allowed to invest in stocks, bonds, funds, and other financial products as long as they or the platform they are using submits the necessary income reports to the IRS. Since the penalties for errors when doing this can be quite severe, many German brokers don’t offer this service. 

You might also have fill-in to an extra form as well to confirm that you are indeed a resident in Germany and provide extra information because of bilateral agreements Germany has with some countries. For example, I had to fill in the form W-8BEN because of the bilateral agreement Germany has with the US as part of FACTA, and I’m no US citizen.

What happens with your portfolio when/if you move out of Germany

Only a very a few of us will stay in Germany forever. The vast majority still wants to start investing in Germany because it might be years until they move out. Leaving your money to do nothing is out of the question. You should never leave it to rest because you are not sure to stay.

Now, there are different possibilities offered to you when moving out of Germany. The key of the game is not to sell off-course, to avoid unnecessary taxation & exit costs:

  1. You keep your accounts located in Germany, provided your broker accepts to work with clients located outside of Germany. In this scenario, you can to keep feeding your trading account from abroad. This is easily done within the you with an IBAN transfer. With a foreign account/currency, using Wise is a good option but there are still costs associated with it. This option will occur more bureaucracy because you will need to declare this with your new local tax office and to avoid paying your taxes in Germany AND in your local country, you will probably need to apply for a tax relief system with your yearly tax declaration. Full guide on how to avoid double taxation here.
  2. Your close all your accounts and transfer your portfolio with a local broker. In German, the keyword would be “Depotübertrag“. This transfer is easy & free between German providers, but it’s another story across borders. There might be limitation to what products can be transferred, there might be costs on your German broker AND your new local broker. A more costly solution but it will be less headaches as all your income sources will be located in your new country. Automatic information exchange will make it much easier to do your taxes every year.

It’s difficult to draft a “one-fits-all” solution to this problem because there are many parameters involved: type of portfolio, costs associated with it, new place of residence, local tax laws, etc. It’s probably best to consult with professional about this when in doubt.

Glossary of trading terms in German and English

Those are the terms that will come up a lot if you want to buy stocks in Germany via a German broker.

  • Stock (Aktie): a type of investment that represents a percentage of ownership in a company. 
  • Share (Aktie): a unit used to measure small equal parts of a company’s capital.
  • Bond (Bond): a bond is loan from an investor to a borrower. Entities that take out bonds are generally companies or governments. 
  • Exchange traded fund (Börsengehandelter Fonds): An exchange traded fund – or ETF – is a group of securities that can be traded on an exchange in the same way as a stock.
  • Index (Index): an index is a method to track the performance of a group of assets using a standardized methodology. It will typically measure the performance of a group of securities with the intention of replicating a certain area of the market.
  • Exchange (Börse): A platform, system or location whree stocks, bonds, securities or other financial products are bought and sold.
  • Security (Wertpapier): a security is a type of financial instrument that holds some type of monetary value.
  • Option (Option): an option is a contract giving the buyer the right to buy or sell an asset at a specific price on or before a certain date.
  • Futures (Termingeschäfte): futures are derivative financial contracts that commit the buyer to purchase an asset or the seller to sell an asset at a set date and set in the future.
  • Derivative (Derivate): a derivative is a contract between two or more parties with a value that corresponds to an agreed-upon financial asset, product, or index.
  • Equity funds (Aktienfonds): an equity fund is a mutual fund that invests the majority (at least 51%) of its value in stocks or shares.
  • Balanced funds (Mischfonds): a balance fund invests at least 25% of its value in stocks and shares.
  • Money market funds (Geldmarktfonds): a type of low-risk mutual fund that invests in very liquid, short-term debt instruments such as cash and near-term debt.
  • Brokerage account (Depot or Wertpapierdepot): an account run by a brokerage firm with money deposited by an investor. The firm then places trades on behalf of the investor and makes a percentage of the profits.
  • Account maintenance fee (Depotführungsgebühr): the fee charged by a broker to keep an investor’s account open.
  • Fee per trade (Orderprovision, Orderentgelt or Wertpapierkaufsgebühr): the fee charged by a broker every time you make a trade.

Additional resources and trading communities to consider

If you’d like to learn more about stock trading in Germany or how to invest in Germany, the internet is full of free groups, forums, and communities where you learn more and discuss the intricacies of German trading. 

  • /r/europeanpersonalfinance – The largest European-centric personal finance subreddit, /r/europeanpersonalfinance is a discussion forum for advice on personal finance in EU countries, Germany included. With almost 70,000 active members, there’s a lot of opportunity for healthy financial discussion between a large and varied audience.
  • /r/europeanpersonalfinance discord channel – If text isn’t enough for you, you connect with other finance-minded Europeans on the subreddit’s official Discord channel. Just follow this link. 
  • /r/firegermany – Financial Independence, Retire Early, or FIRE, is a movement with the goal of gaining financial independence and retiring early. /r/firegermany is a subreddit dedicated to the German branch of this movement and includes discussions on various topics including stock trading in Germany, capital gains tax, investments, bonds, crypto, and more.
  • /r/finanzen – For discussions on everything finance-related in Germany, /r/finanzen should be your first stop… if you speak German. While the subreddit contains a wealth of knowledge and discussions about a large number of topics, you need a decent grasp of the German language to get much value out of it.
  • Futures.io – Another good investing forum for German speakers is the German subform of Futures.io. The forum contains a lot of useful advice and information relating to German trading and practical tips on how to invest in Germany.

General words of advice to keep in mind when stock trading in Germany

  1. If it looks too complicated or contains too many different products, pass on the investment. No need to buy stocks in Germany if you don’t understand what you buy.
  2. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If something promises ridiculously high returns, it’s probably a scam and should be avoided.
  3. Always have a trading plan that details your entry, exit, and money management strategy for every purchase.
  4. Use technology, such as charting platforms, to your advantage.
  5. If you’re making multiple trades often, it’s important to protect your initial investment. It’s not unlikely that you will lose money and make unfavourable trades, but protecting your initial investment means not taking any unnecessary risks that could potentially lose that capital.
  6. Don’t put all of your eggs in one bask. Diversify your portfolio across many different shares, financial products and ETFs so that your risk is equally spread.
  7. Try to be as emotionless as possible when stock trading in Germany. It’s very easy to get excited by a stock on the rise, only to invest all of your money and watch it disappear as the market suddenly changes.
  8. Always use a stop loss to minimize losses.
  9. There are no guarantees when trading.
  10. If you’re unsure of a particular trade or financial strategy, it’s always best to consult an independent financial advisor.

My current experience investing in Germany

This is how my FIRE plan looks like at the moment, crossing fingers ;), done with this calculator

I have 2 long-term goals in sight:

  • Putting money aside to buy a big house in Berlin someday. That means enough to pay for estate agent fees & all other fees related to property transfer. It also means enough to get enough conditions for a loan with the bank. With current prices going through the roof right now, we are probably looking at a 600-800K€ investment (in 5-10 years) time. We are therefore looking at an initial target of 140-220K€ (20-30% of total purchase price). That is… a lot of money.
  • Putting money aside for retirement. That is self explanatory. I don’t have yet a precise plan on this one because a lot of parameters are changing in my life at the moment. Not sure if I’m going to stay a freelancer for that long, not sure if I will stay in Germany, etc… I know I just need to put money away that’s all.

Nothing too exotic here and both are arguably connected. I have therefore looked into conservative options for the long game. I opted for a strategy that minimized risks for part of my portfolio, with low maintenance & low costs when stock trading in Germany. I want a big chunk of my savings to be in “set & forget mode” with a safe but relatively high returns for the work I put in.

ETFs

This is why for now, I’ve turned to robo-advisors, which automatically drives a well-balanced portfolio of funds & bonds through ETFs. I’ve decided to go with a moderate risk strategy using Growney. You can read a post about robo advisors in Germany here.

Crypto

I have also bought some crypto for fun a while back but it’s too volatile and too risky for my profile. I have just kept some XRP tokens for the fun of it, secretly hoping it somehow shoots back up to Bitcoin-like heights. As it currently stands, I still have made a healthy 40% profit on it. Feel free to comment why I was mad to buy Ripples in the first place. I might possibly agree. 🙂

Stocks

I have not been so big on buying stocks in Germany. I’ve honestly not been able to think about a strategy with this yet. It’s require a lot of research & planning. I can’t execute on it yet. I probably will pick a portfolio of typical hall mark companies like Intel or IBM in the technology industry. Beyond this however, I don’t really know. It’s also hard to pick companies that don’t destroy this world too much as well


I hope this overview on how to buy stocks in Germany was useful. Don’t hesitate to ask questions in the comments section. I answer each of them personally.

Bastien

Disclaimer: this blog post and associated content are intended for informational and educational purposes around how to invest in Germany, and do not replace the advice of a financial advisor. Any stock trading and investing come with financial risk, and this risk should be understood before you spend a single euro on stocks or financial products. It is very important to do your own analysis before making any investment based on your own personal circumstances. 

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4