What can I deduct as study costs?

Being a student comes with expenses – but your tax return is a great way to reclaim at least a part of your hard-earned money. Find out what you can deduct as study costs to claim your optimal refund as a university student!

    01.

    Federal decision: Are first-degree costs deductible as "Werbungskosten"?

    At the end of 2019, Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court issued a verdict on what first-degree study costs could be deducted. The court decided that all costs in the context of “initial education”, such as a Bachelor’s degree or an apprenticeship without any prior qualification, cannot be deducted as income-related expenses (Werbungskosten), but as special expenses (Sonderausgaben).

    02.

    “Werbungskosten” & “Sonderausgaben” – What's the difference?

    If you’re a student and pursuing your first degree – so without a prior qualification – you can only deduct your study costs as special expenses (Sonderausgaben). These types of deductions are limited to a maximum of €6,000 a year and only pay out when you actually earn taxable income (from a job or other source) for the year.

    If you’re a student that already has a prior qualification – for example, second-degree students or Bachelor students who completed an apprenticeship before – you can deduct your study costs as income-related expenses (Werbungskosten). Income-related expenses can exceed €6,000 a year, and even if your expenses exceed your income, they give you the possibility to carry your expenses into future tax years as a loss carryforward (German content).

    Students in the dual education system are an exception and can deduct their study costs as income-related expenses right from the start!

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    03.

    Key study costs you can deduct in your tax return

    Semester & study fees

    Semester and study fees are some of the biggest expenses that you have to face as a student. They often amount to several hundreds of euros per year and are usually due each half-year or semester. Some colleges and universities may charge monthly fees instead. Additionally, many libraries charge user fees; these are also deductible as tuition fees.

    Course & exam fees

    In some cases, you might have to pay upfront for courses or exams. Costs for language classes can also add up quickly. Throughout the course of your studies, fees will continue to accumulate. But the good news is that you can utilize these costs to claim some tax relief further down the line!

    Subject literature

    Depending on your study program, you might have varying expenses for specialized subject literature – which are deductible. You can also deduct the costs of exercise sheets and other educational or teaching materials, in addition to your books.

    Writing materials

    • Pens
    • Writing paper
    • Printing paper
    • Ink cartridges
    • Binders & folders
    • Your stapler
    • Paperclips
    • Copy costs

    Over time, these small expenses for writing materials can really add up! The total after just one year of studying can be quite impressive – and is deductible as well.

    Computer or Laptop

    In modern-day libraries and lecture halls, there’s always a sea of laptops and PCs. Many students also own their own outboard gear like scanners or printers. Fortunately, expenses for computers and computer accessories are deductible as study costs.

    Important: The use of laptops is usually not exclusively limited to studying. To deduct the complete purchase price, the private use of your laptop has to be limited to no more than 10% of total use. Since this requires proof and tax officers are free to estimate the value instead, you can deduct a blanket sum of half the purchase price. This 50/50 estimate is usually approved by the tax officers, except in the case of disproportionately expensive computers.

    Travel expenses to your university

    If you have to commute between your home and your university, these rides are considered travel costs. These deductible costs can also include visits to specialized libraries that require extended travel. You can deduct EUR 0.30 per kilometre driven one-way.

    Are you in a dual study program? Then you can only deduct the way to your employer as a commuter allowance instead.

    You can deduct set lump sums for additional subsistence in the case of longer stays in out-of-town libraries or student excursions. You may even be able to claim accommodation expenses (Verpflegungsmehraufwand & Übernachtungskosten).

    Attention full-time students: the regular commute to university is calculated at 30 cents per kilometer driven! However, this only applies one-way, not forth and back!

    Accommodation expenses

    First degree: During a first-degree education, you can deduct your rent as special expenses (Sonderausgaben). The requirements mentioned below regarding a secondary residence do not apply.


    Second degree: If your student apartment is your secondary residence (Zweitwohnsitz), you can deduct its entire rent as study costs / Werbungskosten.


    You can also deduct journeys between your student apartment and your main place of residence (e.g., your parents’ house) as home journeys; at EUR 0.30 per kilometer, both ways!

    Important

    Important: To qualify for a secondary residence, you must pay at least 10% of your main (primary) residence costs. These are expenses that the tax office may require you to prove! You can only deduct the rent for your student apartment as study costs in these circumstances.

    Student loan

    Many students rely on additional support to cover study costs. If your parents cannot fully support you, it’s common to get a BAföG (federal financial aid) – or a student loan. If you have to repay these loans, it’s possible to save some money by deducting your tax return’s accumulated annual interest.

    “Abschlussarbeit” / thesis

    Graduating typically involves some sort of final exam or thesis (Abschlussarbeit) – often in the form of a written paper. As a student, this task allows you to use and prove the academic skills you’ve acquired during the course of your studies. Printing costs, as well as expenses for binding your thesis – whether Bachelor, Master, Diploma, or Ph.D. – are all deductible study costs.

    Student associations

    Are you a member of an alumni union or a fraternity? Membership fees can be stated in your tax declaration as well. So start yours with Taxfix now.

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    04.

    Need help?

    As you can see, there are many different study costs you may be able to deduct in your tax return. Understanding these and then tracking your expenses accordingly can really pay off.

    You now know how to file your declaration successfully to claim back money via your tax return. The average tax refund is EUR 1,095 per tax year and the German tax law allows you to file for up to four years (!) retroactively!

    And in case you have any questions about the filing process with Taxfix, we’re here to help. Get in touch under [email protected]!

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