Deducting the cost of work clothes: What is tax-recognized by the tax office in Germany?

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Although you bought the work clothes, you can deduct the cost from your taxes in Germany thereby reducing the tax burden. Both the acquisition costs and the expenses for cleaning can be taken into account. Are all items of clothing recognized as workwear by the tax office?

Deducting the cost of work clothes: In many professions in Germany, the work clothing is not provided by the employer. The self-employed and entrepreneurs in particular often have to purchase and clean protective clothing, uniforms, work jackets and work trousers themselves. If you work as a freelance painter or chimney sweep, or if you run your own restaurant as a chef, you have to buy workwear on a regular basis. In skilled trades in particular, you often have the opportunity to claim your work items. When can expenses for work clothes be deducted? And when is it not possible? The legal situation is very strict and leaves relatively little room for interpretation.

Deducting the cost of work clothes

Deducting the cost of work clothes: What counts as work clothes?

In the past there have been a number of legal disputes over the question of what can be deducted as work clothing and which items of clothing count as work clothing. 

When in doubt refer to the judgment made by the Federal Fiscal Court (Bundesfinanzhof): “Typical work clothing is present when its nature is objectively almost exclusively intended for professional use and is necessary due to the nature of the profession,” the BFH ruled on April 18 .1991 (reference IV R 13/90)

▶︎ Cooks, painters or chimney sweeps who wear special work trousers and jackets are in the right place and should be able to take off their work clothes without much difficulty. 

▶︎ And even with high-visibility clothing, the tax office shouldn’t have too much trouble accepting the purchase as an income-related expense. 

The principle is: Everything that is worn with typical work clothing and cannot objectively also be worn privately can be claimed as income-related expenses in the tax return.

Which items of clothing are likely to be accepted by the tax office?

In practical terms, this means that many items of clothing from typical craft trades are tax deductible. 

  • Craftsmen can claim protective clothing such as warning vests , safety gloves , helmets and goggles for tax purposes. 
  • A painter’s trousers and overalls
  • A waiter’s apron and a chef’s hat should also be accepted without any problems. 
  • Clear service clothing such as the uniforms of the police, fire brigade and other institutions. You are on the safe side, especially if there is a logo or coat of arms on the uniform. 
  • Sportswear for sports teachers or for members of the armed forces is also accepted.
  • White clothing for health professionals and skirts and trousers for cellars are also often accepted. 
  • Airline employees can also claim their rather smart suits and costumes.

Funeral speakers and funeral attendants cannot deduct the black clothing from taxes!

Federal Fiscal Court (Az.: VIII R 33/18): “Even if the mourners are expected to wear black clothing, it is still a matter of normal clothing. Costs for such clothes cannot be deducted even if they are only worn when exercising their profession.” According to the Finanzhof, the decision can be applied to the entire funeral industry.

Deducting the cost of work clothes

Which work clothes are not tax-deductible?

The Bundesfinanzhof (BFH) interprets the private use of work clothing very strictly. According to this, “expenditure on clothing that was also or possibly primarily purchased for use for professional reasons cannot be allocated to operating expenses or income-related expenses if […] a private use option is only possible for occasional special private occasions, objectively not quite or at least cannot be almost completely ruled out” (file number IV R 13/90). If you are unsure about items of clothing in individual cases, you should ask your tax advisor for advice and, if necessary, get a second opinion. The criteria are very strict:

  • White T-shirt for nurses or painters, things get complicated. Because such a top is considered neutral clothing and theoretically the craftsman could also wear his white T-shirts in his free time. 
  • Shoes, underwear and socks in particular are generally not accepted. 
  • There is also no entitlement for normal clothing: suits, shirts and bankers’ shoes or smart evening wear, such as musicians’ black suits, are not permitted as income-related expenses. 
  • A black tailcoat for an orchestra musician should again be recognized. 
  • Special clothing for part-time jobs is also not accepted. A ski instructor who only works part-time cannot deduct the cost of work clothes.

How much can you deduct for work clothes?

Workwear is tax-deductible in Germany up to a maximum price of 487.90 euros. This means that you can then claim the work clothing in one piece. The 487.90 euros refer to the individual piece of clothing. 

▶︎ Work clothing that costs more than this amount has to be written off over several years. Then only a partial amount of the costs of the work clothes can be deducted each year. This could include, for example, an expensive judge’s robe or the orchestra musician’s tailcoat mentioned above, if the wardrobe costs more than 487.90 euros.

Deducting the cost of work clothes

Can you claim expenses for cleaning of work clothes for tax purposes in Germany?

YES! If you have items of clothing that you can claim for tax purposes, you can also deduct their cleaning. There is a very simple and a very complicated way:

▶︎ The simple way: The simple variant is to simply claim a flat rate of 110 euros. If authorized work clothes are available, such a flat rate is usually accepted by the tax office.

▶︎ The complicated way: There is a second way of claiming the costs for washing workwear in the washing machine at home. The complicated version provides for an estimation procedure. Here you include the people in the household, the washing program and the type of drying and ironing. In the end, you will come up with a figure that estimates the cost of the cleaning process. This amount is then multiplied by the number of washes per year. Of course, only the washes where work clothes were in the machine. For those who do not wash their work clothes around the clock, the cleaning fee of 110 euros should be more worthwhile.

This article does not constitute tax advice, but merely provides some tips and suggestions on this subject. If in doubt, you should always contact your tax advisor or your responsible tax office directly ! 


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