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Retroactive Tax Returns: How you Can File Them

Daniel Kusmin
28. December 2021

If you're a mandatory filer, you can submit your tax return retrospectively—up to four years later. For example, if you have not yet submitted your 2019 tax return, now is your chance! Here's how to do file retroactively without missing the deadline.

Submit Tax Returns 4 Years Retroactively

Have you been saving up for a special occasion or do you want to top up your holiday fund? Then you should consider filing a retroactive income tax return. You can voluntarily submit your tax return for each year anytime in the 4 successive years. If, for example, you have not yet filed your 2019 tax return, your paid taxes are not lost. On the contrary, you are still entitled to your due refund! In 2021, you still have the chance to receive a tax refund from 2018.

By the way: You can file your tax returns for several years at the same time and, thus, significantly increase your potential refund (and save time)!

Submitting a retroactive tax return retroactively: Possible timeline

If you are not obligated to file an income return, you can still file your tax return for 2018 and the following years retroactively until the end of 2022.

These articles cover all the information you need to file your tax return for the year in question:

  • Tax year 2017
  • Tax year 2018
  • Tax year 2019
  • Tax year 2020
  • Tax year 2021
  • As an employee, you are generally not obligated to file a tax return. On the contrary, you are granted a longer deadline for filing a voluntary tax return. Of course, you must not have filed a tax return for the respective years. If you meet these requirements, you can take your time.

    You can find out whether you have to file an income tax return in our article on the obligation to file .

    Attention: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have received wage replacement benefits such as unemployment benefit I (Arbeitslosengeld I) or short-time allowance (Kurzarbeitergeld). In most cases, if you earned more than 410 euros in benefits in a particular tax year, you are obligated to file a tax return for that year. You can find more information on this topic in this article.

    Your retroactive tax return may bring you a large refund. Exactly how much? Find out in the next 22 minutes, for free..

    Tip: The tax office will pay you interest under certain circumstances!

    When there’s a large gap between the tax year (for which you’re filing a return) and the actual year of submission, you can earn interest on your tax return. The tax office pays interest at a uniform rate from a certain number of months per month. So, if the tax assessment notice is not issued until many months after the respective tax year, you may receive interest payments from the tax office for your retroactive income tax return. Talk about some extra holiday money! Be noted, the same principle applies to back payments as well. If you have tax arrears, you may have to make interest payments to the tax office once you file your returns.

    We have collected all the relevant information on interest from the tax office in this article , including the latest developments following the decision of the Federal Constitutional Court in August 2021.

    Claim loss carry forward (Verlustvortrag) 7 years retroactively

    In its ruling of January 13, 2015, the Federal Fiscal Court (Bundesfinanzhof, BFH) has made it possible to retroactively determine loss carryforwards for up to seven years. This is particularly beneficial to students filing an income tax return at a later date.

    Students have higher expenses than income. The same also applies to trainees if they had no income during their training period. For these losses, one can claim a loss carry-forward with the tax return. If wage tax is deducted from the first job, the loss carryforward reduces taxes immensely.

    Start filing and see if you have a chance to earn an interest on your retroactive tax return! It's free and without obigation.

    Are retroactive tax returns possible after graduation? Does Verlustvortrag apply to students and trainees?

    There’s one catch: only the second degree and the second course of study (which are considered as further vocational training) can be officially classified as tax-deductible as income-related expenses (Werbungskosten). This principle does not apply to first studies and first training.

    The Federal Constitutional Court has ruled (Ref.: 2 BvL 22/14 and others) that expenses for first studies and first training may not be claimed as income-related expenses.
    Instead, they are considered special expenses. These are limited to 6,000 euros per year. However, special expenses only affect your tax assessment if you also have taxable income in the same year.

    Retroactive tax return: When the tax limitation period begins to lapse

    In most cases, it should be possible to file either your tax return retroactively or carry your loss carry forward for a sufficiently long time. Here are your rough deadlines for retroactive tax filing:

  • Tax return 2014
  • Limitation period for the tax return: Expired
    Limitation period for the loss carry forward: 31.12.2021

  • Tax return 2015
  • Limitation period for the tax return: Expired
    Limitation period for loss carry forward: 31.12.2022

  • Tax return 2016
  • Limitation period for the tax return: Expired
    Limitation period for loss carry forward: 31.12.2023

  • Tax return 2017
  • Limitation period for the tax return: 31.12.2021
    Limitation period for the loss carried forward: 31.12.2024

  • Tax return 2018
  • Limitation period for the tax return: 31.12.2022
    Limitation period for the loss carried forward: 31.12.2025

  • Tax return 2019
  • Limitation period for the tax return: 31.12.2023
    Limitation period for the loss carried forward: 31.12.2026

  • Tax return 2020
  • Limitation period for the tax return: 31.12.2024
    Limitation period for the loss carried forward: 31.12.2027

  • Tax return 2021
  • Limitation period for the tax return: 31.12.2025
    Limitation period for the loss carried forward: 31.12.2028

    Statute of limitations for tax returns: Deadlines and timelines

    As described in the previous section, there are limitation periods for the tax return. In addition to the limitation period for loss carry-forwards and the 4-year period for voluntarily filing a tax return, the tax office imposes further requirements for filing the return. Speaking of voluntary filing: When inactive, you can no longer file a voluntary tax return after the four-year period has lapsed.

    These additional deadlines must also be observed:

  • If there is a mandate to file taxes, the limitation period of four years starts three years after the end of the tax year.
    As an example, for the 2020 tax return, the limitation period for mandatory tax filing starts on 31.12.2023 and lasts for four years. Therefore, the mandatory tax return can be submitted or claimed by the tax office until December 31, 2027.
  • In case of tax evasion, the four-year period extends to 10 years.
  • If taxes are carelessly withheld, extends to 5 years.
  • Please note that in the event of a late tax return from a mandatory filer, further actions may be taken by the tax office. Late penalties are possible as well.

    Retroactive tax submissions: FAQs

    • How long is this possible to submit a retroactive tax return?

      It is possible to file a voluntary tax return up to 4 years after the tax year in question, for example until the end of 2022 for the year 2018.
    • I haven't filed a tax return for years. Can I file again now?

      You can file voluntarily for the last 4 tax years. It doesn't matter how long you haven't filed before that.
    • Can I file a tax return 7 years retroactively with a loss carryforward?

      Yes, that is possible. Losses can be carried forward retroactively for seven years. This is particularly relevant for students and trainees.
    • For which years can I file retrospectively in 2021?

      In 2021, you can file voluntary tax returns for 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.
    • Can I file several tax returns together?

      Yes, regardless of whether you use ELSTER (tax office programme) or the intuitive Taxfix app, you can file for up to 4 years at once.

    Retroactively reclaim income tax, fulfil your long-held wishes!

    You haven’t submitted your 2020 or 2018 tax return yet? When it comes to filing online tax returns, most people picture the ELSTER, the ‘online electronic tax return portal’ from the tax office. You can get your income tax back for the 2019 tax year, for example, by filing retroactively with ELSTER. However, average taxpayers won’t find this programme easy to navigate. ELSTER uses complex tax forms filled with jargon that need plenty of processing time. It takes more than just a basic tax knowledge to file an accurate and error-free tax return, which is why it is advisable to take a closer look when using ELSTER.

    Our tip: With the Taxfix tax app, you can submit retroactive tax returns for 2018-2021 in 2022 — without complicated forms or tax knowledge. It takes about 22 minutes to get to your tax return calculation.


    Enter your tax details in the intuitive question-answer process . You can upload documents or use the automatic transfer of information that Taxfix offers. All you need to do is keep your old paycheques and supporting documents ready. In around 22 minutes you can send your tax return straight to the tax office with Taxfix.

    Your tax return: online, intuitive and checked for plausibility. Avoid errors in your tax returns with Taxfix.

    Your advantages with Taxfix at a glance

    • Simple questions instead of complicated forms.
    • No previous tax knowledge necessary.
    • Checking your information for plausibility.
    • Preliminary estimate of your possible refund.
    • Encrypted submission of the tax return via the ELSTER interface.
    • Available in German and English.
    • Free tax return calculation before tax submission; you only pay if you get a tax refund of 50 euros or if you are a mandatory filer.y.

    On average, around 1,051 euros are waiting for you. You could invest this refund in a well-deserved treat to yourself. You’ve earned it!

    Click here to try Taxfix tax app.