10 Facts about German Church Tax

10 things you should know about the Kirchensteuer

Last update: May 2021
Church Tax Germany

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Here are the ten things you should know about the so-called church tax:

A church tax (in German: Kirchensteuer) is a tax imposed on members of some religious 
congregations in Germany.

The system has been in place since the 19th century. 

The church tax is historically rooted in the pre-Christian Germanic custom where the chief of the tribe was directly responsible for the maintenance of priests and religious cults. 

During the Christianization of Western Europe, this custom was adopted by the Christian churches (Arian and Catholic) in the concept of "Eigenkirchen" (churches owned by the landlord) which stood in strong contrast to the central church organization of the Roman Catholic Church. 

Despite the resulting medieval conflict between emperor and pope, the concept of church maintenance by the ruler remained the accepted custom in most Western European countries. 

In Reformation times, the local princes in Germany became officially heads of the church in Protestant areas and were legally responsible for the maintenance of churches. 

Not until the 19th century were the finances of churches and state regulated to a point where the churches became financially independent. At this point, the church tax was introduced to replace the state benefits the churches had obtained previously.

All Germans who are officially registered as Catholics, Protestants or Jews pay a religious tax on their annual income tax bill. 

The levy is collected by German tax offices and channelled to those faiths.

Those who do not want to pay the religious tax can leave the church by
making an official declaration that he or she is leaving the faith.

More than 181,000 German Catholics left the Church in 2010 and a further 126,000 the following year, reducing the total number to 24.47 million in a total population of 82 million. 

The declining congregations have alarmed German bishops since the tax brings in billions for the Roman Catholic Church each year.

Income from church taxes in Germany amounted to about $6.3 billion (€4.8 billion) for the Roman Catholic Church in 2011, and $5.5 billion (€4.2 billion) for the Protestant, mostly Lutheran, churches in 2010. 

The money goes to support religious hospitals, schools, daycare and myriad other social services, but a sizable amount of the Catholic money is also channelled to the Vatican.

You can reclaim the church tax together with the income tax by filing a tax return with SteuerGo

The German church tax — which is 8 to 9 percent of the annual income tax — is so steep, however, that many people formally quit the church to avoid paying, while nevertheless remaining active in their faith. That is what is angering Catholic Church officials.

Catholics, Protestants or Jews who opt out of the tax will no longer be allowed to receive sacraments in Germany, except the last rites before death. 

They will also not be allowed, for example, to participate in confessions, confirmation, work in the church / house of worship and its schools or hospitals, become a godparent, or take part in parish activities in Germany.

When you apply for a German Tax ID (if you have lost it!), you need to fill in an application form. 

On that form, you need to specify if you belong to one of the taxable faiths (see image below). If you choose not to tick the box, but you have been baptized, you may have to pay the tax one day regardless. The Finanzamt simply assumes faith for certain nationalities and begins charging (see the 2nd image below: if you receive that kind of letter, that means that they already assumed that you are Catholic). 

If you do not want to pay, you need to abandon the German church, even if you never joined in the first place. 

Important: As from 2013, the tax ID form is only necessary if you've lost your tax ID number. However, the same process above applies when filling in your Anmeldung form, so remember to not select any religion in the form if you do not want to be taxed!

Tax ID Form
German Tax ID application form (old)

Letter from the Archdiocese of Berlin
Letter from the Archdiocese of Berlin celebrating Pentecost 

In order you leave the church, you will need to declare your wish to leave officially. 

The process to do so differs between every German state. This website (German only) holds information about where to go and what to do for every German state. 

Do not worry, you will not be excommunicated if you decide to take this step. It is only a matter of tax, not faith, after all. 

Our next post will be about How to leave the Church (for tax purposes)...




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