5

I will have a postdoc fellowship in Germany with a stipend contract, not a working contract. Therefore, I won't have the pension or other social benefits. Health insurance is paid by the organization on a reimbursement basis.

The question is, will any deductions be made, like income tax, from the stipend that I will receive? What percentage of deductions should I expect?

4
  • 1
    I think the general point about PhD/postdoc stipends is precisely that they are not taxed (that is, their amount etc. is such that there is no taxation.) I thus would not expect any taxes. (You'll have to cover health insurance, though.) In any case, if taxes are not deducted automatically I'd just wait and see if the tax office asks for a tax declaration. If they don't, good for you, as (i) you don't pay taxes and (ii) you save the hassle. Ask others with that stipend (they won't create it just for you?).
    – user151413
    Feb 16 at 21:25
  • ... now if you are from an EU country and/or are planning to return there, having a stipend might not be a good deal for you.
    – user151413
    Feb 16 at 21:27
  • @user151413: Wait and see is very bad advise if you do not know whether you have to declare German income tax. In case they have to, it is solely OP's duty to submit the declaration in time. Feb 24 at 20:08
  • @cbeleites In Germany, taxes are generally automatically deducted if you have taxable income (as you certainly know). There is generally no need to file a tax declaration, unless you have income which is not known to the German tax authorities, or your income situation changed during the year, or you want sth back. I doubt that this is the case for a stipend paid through a German institution. Moreover, in my experience in those cases the tax authority will remind you to hand in a tax declaration. Unless they suspect that you purposefully did not do so, it's extremely unlikely they'll fine you.
    – user151413
    Feb 24 at 23:08

3 Answers 3

8

To start, I am not a lawyer, no expert on taxation, or the like, but got a tax-free scholarship in Germany many years back. So if you want to be sure, you will need to check with a professional.

To answer your question: It's complicated (which is not unusual for taxation-related questions, especially in Germany).

Scholarships/stipends are tax-free, provided that they are not too high and come from a source that is considered non-profit. It also really has to be a scholarship and not a relabeled working contract. What exactly "not too high" means depends on the individual case as it seems.

A good source for taxation questions in Germany is the Haufe Verlag, who have a page on scholarships (in German): https://www.haufe.de/steuern/finanzverwaltung/steuerfreiheit-von-stipendien_164_470978.html

They cite the respective taxation law, which - roughly translated - states that taxation-freedom of scholarships requires that the scholarship sum does not exceed the amount of money necessary to cover the basic cost of living and the cost you have because you do research (or for your education). I recall that there used to be a fixed upper bound of the monthly stipend for taxation freedom, but according to the source given above there is a new court ruling that makes this more complicated (it looks like if you previously had a high-paying job, any amount lower than your previous income should be fine). To make things interesting, the source given above also has a list of programs that are called "scholarships" but according to the taxation law aren't.

You also mention "Health insurance is paid by the organization on a reimbursement basis." - This sounds like the organisation you will receive a scholarship from has put some thought into making sure that the scholarship will not be accidentally taxable because it happens to be too high. There is surely someone in the organisation who came up with this idea, and possibly had this idea checked - perhaps you can find out who this is to obtain information on taxation.

6
  • The scholarship and health insurance is paid by an international organization, and the scholarship depends on the institute you are doing your postdoc. And the institutes are from different countries in Europe. So I am not sure it is a calculated move, but it is possible.
    – groove
    Feb 16 at 9:46
  • 2
    @groove Ouch, then according to the source above, things are very complicated because then you will have to prove to your future tax office that the scholarship source is "fine" according to the German tax laws. Translate the sentence starting with "Zum Nachweis, dass" from the source I mentioned in my answer using Google translate, and you will see what I mean. Perhaps there is a current scholarship holder at the German institution whom you may ask for how they handled this issue?
    – DCTLib
    Feb 16 at 9:52
  • Thank you very much. I see, it looks extremely complicated. I think, in the worst case, I will be paying the income tax but not the unemployment, retirement or health insurance. However, to make things more complicated, they have put a note on the contract "you might have to pay an additional fee for the health insurance based on the host country you are going to". I don't know what might be my upper limit for the rent.
    – groove
    Feb 16 at 10:27
  • I guess you mean "provided that they are not too high".
    – Christian
    Feb 16 at 10:32
  • (My guess would be that health insurance being paid or not enters the calculation of what is necessary) Feb 24 at 21:11
3

I looked into a PhD stipend I had a while ago and I had the following text in there:

Das Stipendium ist im Rahmen der Bestimmmung des §3 Nr. 44 EStG steuerfrei

This is not a PostDoc stipend, but as far as I understand the rules should be roughly the same. I would look into the text for some clause like this, if it is tax-free it should be mentioned in there. If this is not a stipend adapted to the rules in Germany, you probably need some professional to figure out if it counts as tax-free under these rules. You might want to try asking the tax office "Finanzamt" about this.

This is the text of the paragraph cited in my example:

Stipendien, die aus öffentlichen Mitteln oder von zwischenstaatlichen oder überstaatlichen Einrichtungen, denen die Bundesrepublik Deutschland als Mitglied angehört, zur Förderung der Forschung oder zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen oder künstlerischen Ausbildung oder Fortbildung gewährt werden. Das Gleiche gilt für Stipendien, die zu den in Satz 1 bezeichneten Zwecken von einer Einrichtung, die von einer Körperschaft des öffentlichen Rechts errichtet ist oder verwaltet wird, oder von einer Körperschaft, Personenvereinigung oder Vermögensmasse im Sinne des § 5 Absatz 1 Nummer 9 des Körperschaftsteuergesetzes gegeben werden. Voraussetzung für die Steuerfreiheit ist, dass

a) die Stipendien einen für die Erfüllung der Forschungsaufgabe oder für die Bestreitung des Lebensunterhalts und die Deckung des Ausbildungsbedarfs erforderlichen Betrag nicht übersteigen und nach den von dem Geber erlassenen Richtlinien vergeben werden,

b) der Empfänger im Zusammenhang mit dem Stipendium nicht zu einer bestimmten wissenschaftlichen oder künstlerischen Gegenleistung oder zu einer bestimmten Arbeitnehmertätigkeit verpflichtet ist;

This roughly states that the the amount must not exceed what is necessary for the research itself and your cost of living. It also states that you must not be obligated to any specific research activity or employee duties.

I'm not a lawyer, but these rules are kinda vague and personally I'd really try to avoid getting into a situation where someone takes a hard look at your situation and applies them somewhat strictly.

You will need to get health insurance yourself, that is not optional in Germany (in your situation) and the university will probably ask for a confirmation that you are insured.

You should also be aware that you don't have any unemployment insurance you would usually have if this were a real employee contract. There are even more differences in other areas like parental leave, most social security systems in Germany work under the assumption that people have regular jobs, not stipends.

3
  • 1
    I'm not sure I would 100% trust the Finanzamt, or an average tax lawyer, on that - stipends for scientists are a somewhat special and not too common situation.
    – user151413
    Feb 16 at 21:23
  • +1 for asking the tax office. While @user151413 is correct that deciding whether OP's particular scholarship is taxable income or not would be non-standard for OP's local tax office, AFAIK a standard procedure is in place. (for details, see my answer) Feb 24 at 21:05
  • @cbleites There's certainly a range of situations unknown in detail to tax attorneys and tax offices alike, such as in relation to double taxation treaties or special tax regulations for scientists, stipends, and so on - at least, I have witnessed several such cases in different countries with colleagues and myself. I'm not saying one should not ask, but one should definitely exercise caution and also independently gather information and rely on ones own judgement as well.
    – user151413
    Feb 24 at 23:12
3

A few thoughts in addition to the existing answers:

Social Insurance

As MadScientist says, social insurance in Germany mostly works along the assumption that everyone is employee. However, some parts allow volountary contributions in order to get some insurance also if you are not in the obligatory social insurance.

  • Health insurance: you have to have one. It is your choice whether you go for a private one (if you come from a foreign country, this includes the possibility to have a health insurance from there which covers Germany) or if you go for the Freiwillige Pflichtversicherung (literally volountary obligatory insurance :-> ) of one of the compulsory health insurers (gesetzliche Krankenkasse)
  • Pension cass: accepts volountary contributions, which will earn you a) contribution years (Beitragsjahre) and b) pension in proportion to your contribution.
  • unemployment insurance: you may be able to enter Freiwillige Weiterversicherung (volountary continuation of the unemployment insurance). Relevant court decision about a research scholarships. Note though, that the scholarship question is subject to income tax.
    However, you need to have been obligatorily insured before.
  • Accident insurance: it is obligatory for an employer to have work accident insurance for their employees. I.e., your new university will have it (and thus have to comply with the prevention rules), but it will not cover you since your are not an employee.
    Again, you may be able to enter one yourself the way freelancers can (along the lines of the court decision I linked above).
    If you do not have work accident insurance, your health insurance will cover medical costs. However, work accident insurance may get you preferential treatment compared to a compulsory health insurance (waiting times, rehabilitation programs, ... Private health insurance will get you even more preferential treatment in terms of waiting time at the doctor's, but I don't know their general reputation in terms of rehabilitation etc.)

Taxation

I'll also second MadScientists advise to talk to the tax office. It is their legal duty to explain to you whether you have file a tax declaration, and also where in their forms to fill in the stipend iff it turns out to be taxable.

Here's a highly relevant post by a tax advisor. Roughly speaking, the "home" tax office of the funding agency is the one responsible for finding out whether the scholarship is taxable income or not. They'll issue a binding decision to you or to your tax office (binding means: if they write that your scholarship is not subject to income tax, your local tax office has to accept this decision. You may still have to file a tax declaration depending on other circumstances).
This means: they will very likely be able to tell you immediately.

The post also says that scholarships from funders in the EU or EWR can also be exempt from income tax. (Your "local" tax office in spe can tell you what tax office you need to ask in that case.)


In general, it is your legal duty to sign up for tax numbers and submit declarations in time if they are obligatory.

My experience is that German tax offices are very fair and reliable in their explanations.
They will not give advise like a tax advisor (e.g. telling you what kind of business decisions will optimize your tax payload by shifting income and costs between years) - and they'll tell you so if they think you ask such advise of them - as opposed to how to correctly declare taxes for your given situation.

You can certainly also ask a tax advisor. However, if you just ask the same questions that you'd otherwise ask the tax office, the tax advisor is a rather expensive alternative. They are most useful if you want to argue with the tax office that they are wrong about your taxes. And of course, if you think this likely to happen, you'd talk to them first before talking to the tax office.
For employees, there are also the Lohnsteuerhilfevereine who help with income tax declaration and are much less expensive than tax advisors/tax lawyers - but their services are only for employees.

(I've had a scholarship as PhD student, and my local tax office on looking through my paperwork told me it is not subject to income tax, that I can volountarily file a declaration - which would get me some withholdings refunded [wage tax withholding calculations are done on the assumption that the wage goes on throughout the year] - and if I do file, the stipend needs to go into line so-and-so as income that is not subject to income tax. All in a very friendly and professional manner. I've since had various kinds of complicated tax declarations that a scientist moving temporarily into other countries, or a freelancer with part-time employment in science encounters. The tax officers I've dealt with have all been very professional. On several occasions they did not immediately know the answer: in that case, they told me they'd have to look it up and/or ask a colleague and would I please call again next week. When I did so, they did have the answer ready.)

1
  • Wow, that's very good to know. I never considered that the German tax office would be able to directly help/answer those questions! Feb 25 at 14:14

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .