You moved to Berlin, landed a job and just received your first pay cheque. You notice a deduction called “Kirchensteuer” in the small print and wonder what it could possibly be…
What is Kirchensteuer?
Kirchensteuer (church tax) is a tax imposed on members of some religious congregations in Germany.
Who has to pay it?
Taxpayers in Berlin who are registered as Catholics or Protestants will have 9% of their income tax deducted by the tax office (Finanzamt) and channelled into the appropriate religious organisation.
How does the Finanzamt know whether I belong to a particular religion?
Good question! The main source of information comes from the Bürgeramt. When you fill out the paperwork to register your address (Anmeldung), the form asks you to state your religion. The Bürgeramt passes this information on to the Finanzamt.
But I don’t attend church in Berlin/I haven’t attended church for years. Why am I paying church tax?
This, unfortunately, is not relevant to the Finanzamt. If you’ve declared that you belong to a certain religion, they will deduct the tax regardless of whether you still participate or not.
So if I don’t declare my religion when I register, I won’t have to pay church tax, right?
In some cases, this is correct. However, there is also the possibility that the Finanzamt wants to investigate further e.g. they might make an assumption, based on your nationality, that you are fairly likely to belong to a certain religion. In some cases, they have been known to write to people asking them to provide further, more detailed information about their religious status.
How can I stop paying church tax?
The most effective way to stop paying church tax is to formally declare that you are leaving the church (even if you feel like you never “joined” as such!). This is called “Kirchenaustritt” and involves making a declaration at your local Amtsgericht (district court). This must be done in person. You’ll need to show your EU ID card or passport and your birth certificate. In Berlin, you are also required to pay €30. Your departure from the church will come into effect at the end of the month in which you made the declaration. Here is a list of offices you can visit.
Are there any consequences if I leave the church?
If you leave the church formally, you can no longer avail of most religious services from that point e.g. marrying in a church, becoming a godparent, etc. Last rites, however, may still be performed in some cases.
If you need help getting this done, feel free to get in touch!