How do I file income tax returns

How does your tax return get to the tax office?

First of all: Regardless of whether you do your own tax return or whether you have it done by an income tax aid association, the central criterion when submitting the forms is that they are submitted on time.

Therefore, do not wait until the last day of the deadline. Take enough processing time or make an appointment with your advisor in good time.

1. Send online and free of charge with Elster

The Internet portal of the German tax authorities is called Elster. There you can find out in detail how the paperless filling out and sending of your tax return works.

If you decide to do so, you have to register once or create a user account. For this you need an email address and your tax identification number. Following the authentication process, you will receive a certificate (electronic signature) and can then submit your tax return online without having to print or sign it. The date of receipt in the data center of the financial administration applies.

If you do not want to be authenticated, you can also use the ElsterFormular. You can also use this to submit the tax return electronically to the tax office responsible for you. After that, however, you have to print out a so-called compressed tax return and sign it. Without the signed tax return, the tax office cannot process your data. IMPORTANT: The date of receipt of the postal submission applies - not that of the electronic transmission.

2. With the help of a chargeable tax program

Tax programs that are subject to a fee are available as DVDs in stores or can be downloaded from the Internet. But the certification, with which you can send everything online, is only available from the Elster online tax office. This means that even if you use a tax program, you have to register in Elster. Only then can you submit your tax return online - without a printout or signature.

3. By post to your local tax office

Would you like to submit your tax return in the traditional way by post without electronic help? To do this, you need a printout of the tax forms. These are available as official forms at your tax office in the entrance area or you can print them out yourself as a PDF on the form server of the Federal Tax Administration. Now all you have to do is fill in everything by hand and sign it. Then send the tax return by post to your local tax office or hand in the envelope in person.

But be careful: Some people are only allowed to send their tax return electronically to the tax office. In addition to the self-employed, tradespeople, farmers and foresters as well as private households with photovoltaic systems, this also includes self-employed as part-time jobs.


As of 2018, you no longer have to enclose receipts with your tax return. But the tax office can ask you to submit some later. You should therefore keep all evidence to hand at home. You can find out more about this in our article What documents must be included in the tax return?

4. Via an income tax aid association, for example the VLH

If you need help with the preparation of your income tax return, you can contact an income tax relief association. In an initial consultation, your advisor will discuss your life and financial situation in order to determine all the tax advantages that you are entitled to. Then hand over your documents, invoices, receipts and receipts to your advisor. Your tax return will then be prepared for you and sent to the responsible tax office - all you have to do is sign it beforehand.

Interested? Then choose an advisor, for example with the help of our advisor search - as the largest wage tax aid association in Germany, around 3,000 VLH advice centers are there for you nationwide.

This is an editorial text from the VLH editorial team. There is no advice on topics that are outside the tax advisory powers of an income tax aid association. Consulting services in specific individual cases can only be provided within the framework of the establishment of a membership and exclusively within the advisory authority according to ยง 4 No. 11 StBerG.