Mein Elster – Tax return with Elster in Germany

Elster Steuererklärung online 2023

My Elster 2023 – Tax return with Elster in Germany

What is required for registration with Elster?

A valid e-mail address is required for initial registration with Elster. You should set a password and select a security question. After registration, you will receive an activation ID by e-mail and an activation code by mail.

What does the certificate file at Elster mean?

After receiving your activation data by e-mail and mail, you can generate your certificate file and save it on your computer. This file is required for every further registration.

What advantages does Elster offer?
Elster is characterized above all by the fact that it is free of charge. It not only allows you to prepare your tax return, but also to submit appeals, applications and much more.

What are the disadvantages of Elster?
For many users, Elster is quite challenging to use. It doesn’t offer direct advice on how to save taxes. Therefore, a dedicated tax software or app for taxes might often be a more suitable option.

What is possible with Elster?
Elster allows you to create and electronically submit all types of tax returns to the tax office. In addition, you can file tax returns, appeals, deadline extensions and various applications.

How do I create a tax return with Elster?
After the one-time registration, you must select “Income tax return with unlimited tax liability (ESt 1 A)”. A solid understanding of taxes is required to complete the return.

Are there alternatives to Elster?
Your tax return can also be prepared with specialized tax software or a tax app that offer support and tips for saving taxes.

What is the Elster form?
The Elster form is a free software that can be downloaded. However, it can only be used for tax returns up to 2019.

Steuererklärung per App

Elster stands for the “electronic tax return” and does not refer to the avian behavior. It is a project of the German tax administrations of all federal states and the federal government to handle tax returns and other tax matters via the Internet. This project is coordinated by the Bavarian State Tax Office.

We provide a brief overview of how to use “My Elster” to create an (income) tax return online and submit it to the tax office free of charge. We then discuss why tax software is a more practical choice in many cases and what else the Elster portal does.

It may be confusing, but the terms “Elster” and “My Elster” are often used interchangeably, even though the official site sometimes makes distinctions: on the main page of Elster, it is called “Your Online Tax Office”, while on the “Benefits and Advantages” subpage it is called “My ELSTER”.

“My Elster” is the official online application of the tax authorities.

The most obvious benefit of “Mein Elster” is the ability to prepare your tax return online for free. However, it doesn’t offer as much support as commercial tax programs that are inexpensive. The goal of the tax office is not to point out all possible tax saving options. In addition, filling out the return with “My Elster” can be challenging for people with little tax knowledge.

If you still want to use it, there are two options until you file your tax return for 2023: the Elster form and “My Elster.”

The Elster form is a free software that you can install on your PC, but it is no longer being developed and can only be used for tax returns up to 2019. “My Elster” is the only option for tax returns from 2020 onwards. It is web-based, requires no software download and the return can be created directly in the browser. It technically performs best on a Windows PC using Edge, Chrome or Firefox, while Mac users should use Safari or Chrome. However, tax or content challenges do not depend on the browser used.

Retirees or pensioners without additional income have the option of using EinfachElster as a free program since 2022.

The 2022 property tax return could also be processed free of charge using Elster. In eleven federal states, there was an additional option to use a simpler, free program version in addition to Elster.

Instructions: Set up an Elster account

To take full advantage of the electronic tax return, it is recommended to create a one-time user account and register for “My Elster”. This will not only give you access to various forms in Elster, but also to numerous electronic services provided by the tax authorities, such as document retrieval (retrieving certificates or receipts that the tax office already has) or information about the data recorded on your electronic income tax card (Elstam). Therefore, registration makes sense in the long run.

There are different possibilities for this, about which you can inform yourself on this page at Elster. For private individuals, there are three free registration methods:

-with the app ElsterSecure,
-with the new ID card in credit card format and the ID card app2,
-with Elster certificate (certificate file).

The last method is preferred by the tax authorities. Therefore, in the following we offer instructions for the Elster certificate, which will guide you step by step through the process.

-Create a user account – First, create a user account at Click on the appropriate button at the top of the Elster home page.
-Submit personal data – First, enter your name, date of birth and tax identification number. Then you set your username, select a -security question and enter the appropriate answer. These data will be sent.
Wait for the activation letter and e-mail – you will receive the activation ID by e-mail and the activation code by mail. This will be sent to the address that is currently on file with the registration office. This can take up to two weeks.
-Download the certificate file – After you have entered the data on the Elster page, you will receive your certificate file with the extension “pfx”. You have to download this file and save it on your computer. This file is colloquially known as an “Elster certificate”. Now you can use it to log in to “My Elster”. After that you have the possibility to choose a personal password. Together with the certificate file, which is valid for three years, authentication takes place.
-Renew Elster certificate – About three months before the validity of the Elster certificate expires, you will be notified in your e-mail inbox. With one click you can normally extend your certificate file for Elster.
-Keep your password and Elster certificate safe – It is extremely important that you remember your password. Save your Elster certificate on your hard drive and ideally also on a USB stick or an external hard drive. Keep the location in mind, as you will need this certificate every time you log in to the Elster portal. Attention: If you change your computer or your operating system, you should retrieve your certificate file from the USB stick or from an online storage.
Forgotten access data for Elster – what now?

Despite the greatest care, it can happen that the certificate file is lost or you can no longer remember the password. In this case you have to renew your access data. This also applies if the certificate file has expired and you missed the renewal. In such cases you should visit this special Elster page. Then you can log in to your account again and retrieve stored data.

In addition to basic information such as your name, address, religious affiliation and tax ID, you will need to provide the following information in particular:

-Wage tax, church tax and solidarity surcharge withheld by your employer;
-Contributions paid by you to health, nursing care, pension and unemployment insurance;
-contributions to Riester and Rürup contracts, and
pension benefits received.

It is envisaged that more and more data will be transmitted electronically and will then be available to you.

To be able to retrieve these documents for your tax return, you need a retrieval code, which you should request in advance. To do this, click on “Forms and services” on the Elster homepage and then on “Manage certificate”. Your retrieval code will then be mailed to you. You can use this code to retrieve the data filed with the tax office. There is no time limit on this document retrieval feature, so you will only need to perform this process once.

After you retrieve your data, you should check the information to be sure. If you find any errors in the numbers, inform the IRS and include the correct data on your tax return.

Instructions for filling out the forms

Now the real work begins. Fill out the forms that are relevant to you step by step. This can be quite tedious in many places, and you may not get far without tax knowledge. However, with the appropriate prior knowledge, it is not an impossible task.

We can’t give you detailed instructions for every single form here, as there are simply too many. Instead, we offer you an overview and show you where you can find further information.

Home page: If necessary, place checkmarks here for things like employee savings allowance, loss carryforward, church tax on investment income, and mobility premium. You will also need to enter your tax number or apply for a new one.
Main form: First comes your personal data and, for couples, your joint data and religious affiliation. Then come, among other things, wage replacement benefits that are subject to the progression proviso. On line 45 you can send a short message to the tax office.

-Anlage AUS: This is about foreign income and the credit or deduction of foreign taxes.
-Attachment for extraordinary expenses / lump sums: Here you first enter if you want to claim a disability, survivor or care lump sum.
-Anlage AV (Riester): If you have a Riester contract, you must enter information here.
-Anlage Energetische Maßnahmen: This only affects you if you actually had costs for energy measures.
-Anlage FW: This concerns the promotion of home ownership.
-Anlage Haushaltsnahe Dienstleistungen: This concerns household-related employment, services and craftsman services. Don’t forget to also include the data from your utility bill.
Anlage  KAP, KAP-BET, KAP-INV annexes: You do not always have to fill out these annexes for income from capital assets and tax credits. If you are unsure, take a look at this guide.

-Anlage Kind: If you have one or more children, you need to be active here. Don’t forget to include childcare expenses and tuition, if applicable.
Mobility bonus: This has only been available since 2021 and only applies if you earn so little that you don’t have to pay taxes, but have a one-way commute of at least 21 kilometers.
-Anlage  N: This concerns income from employment, i.e. if you are an employee. On the one hand, you need information about your wages, and on the other hand, you need information about your work-related expenses, the income-related expenses. So now it’s about deducting: Your commute to work, dues to professional associations, work room or home office allowance, continuing education expenses, travel expenses, moving expenses, double housekeeping, and more.
-Anlage  N-AUS: This does not need to be filled out often, as it deals with foreign income from non-self-employment.
-Anlage N-Gre: This concerns so-called cross-border commuters, i.e. people who work in Switzerland, Austria or France but live in Germany.
-Anlagen R, R-AV/bAV, R-AUS: If you are already retired, you must take action here. Retired persons enter their data in the appropriate places, and there are also income-related expenses here. Income from a Rürup or Riester pension and a company pension also plays a role here.
-Anlage SO: Here you must enter other income. This includes income from private sales transactions, alimony payments and parliamentary allowances.
-Anlage Sonder: This includes church tax, donations and vocational training costs. Detailed information can be found in the guide to special expenses.
-Anlage Sonstiges: This should not be confused with the Annex SO. Here there are items such as a tax reduction for inheritance tax, donations carried forward and loss deduction.