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ELSTER provides an important service for Germans and people living and working in Germany during tax time. In this article, learn all about ELSTER: what it is, the kinds of services it provides, and how to sign up to use it. 

ELSTER in a nutshell

  • ELSTER is a tax software designed to make the tax process easier for people living and working in Germany
  • MeinElster accounts provide an online portal for users to do tax returns, registrations, and other things
  • Users who wish to sign up with ELSTER must already have a registered address in Germany and a Tax ID
  • Registration can be partly done online, and then users must wait for two letters to arrive in the post and to confirm their accounts
  • Users can then check their MeinElster accounts to determine which documents they need to submit and which returns are due

What is ELSTER?

ELSTER was developed by the tax authorities in Germany and made available to the public in 1996. The goal of the software was to make the processing of all tax returns and registrations possible over the internet. 

Users sign up to create a MeinElster account and will be then provided with an online portal through which tax returns, registrations, and other services can be accessed. Possible features include: 

  • Tax returns (income, corporate, and sales)
  • Registration (both income and Capital Gains)
  • Application for retention benefit
  • Income surplus calculation

Signing up for ELSTER

Signing up with ELSTER is a simple process, however users will need to ensure they have completed prior steps. 

Users must already have a registered address in Germany, and have obtained their Tax ID number from the local tax office.

ELSTER registration steps

  1. Once they have navigated to account creation from the ELSTER homepage, users will be prompted to choose a login method. Zertifkatsdatei is free and not as complex as the other paid options which are usually for tax advisors and business owners.
  2. After determining whether this is a personal or business account, users then must fill in their personal information: 
  • Email address
  • Date of birth
  • Tax ID
  • Username
  • Password
  1. Users can then consent to allowing the tax office to pre-fill tax returns, greatly speeding up the process of income declaration. Consenting means giving the tax office permission to obtain personal and income information from the user’s employer. 
  2. Once users have confirmed registration via email, they will receive another email with an activation code. Fourteen days later, they will receive by post another activation code. Users can then use both codes to complete their registration via the link provided in the email. 
  3. A digital certificate will be provided to users, which should be kept safely in both digital and physical format. Users are now able to login with their username and password.

How to Use ELSTER

From their MeinELSTER pages, users can see which tax documents they are required to submit. This is for freelancers and business owners who are obligated to file for a tax return. Users who wish to file a return voluntarily can access the necessary forms under ‘Formulare’. There, they will find everything they need to file for their annual tax return.

To file for an income tax return, users navigate to ‘Einkommensteuer’ and then ‘Einkommenssteuererklärung’. Here, all the possible tax return forms are displayed for users. Refer to one of our top articles on taxation in Germany for an overview of the tax return types and to whom they apply.

English tax resources

For English-speaking German residents, ELSTER may prove difficult because it is only available to use in German. Fortunately, there are several resources available as alternatives.

Two of the most popular English tax resources are TaxFix and SteuerGo. These applications have both free and paid options, with paid versions not exceeding €40 per tax return. They will calculate your tax return for you, they work on all devices, and will forward your data to the ELSTER system without you having to use it.

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