Why don't churches have to pay taxes?

Church tax: what do I need to know, what can I deduct?

Unlike all other types of tax, church tax is not regulated in the Basic Law, but rather by the laws of the federal states. According to this, every religious community or ideology organization may levy a church tax if it is recognized as a corporation under public law. The relevant federal state then checks the corresponding resolutions of the corporation in terms of formal law.

Who has to pay church tax?

You then have to pay church tax if you belong to a state-recognized church and your main residence is in Germany. The two largest state-recognized religious communities in Germany are the Catholic and Protestant churches. According to calculations by the German Bishops' Conference, the Catholic Church had a total of 22.6 million and the Protestant Church 20.7 million members in 2019.

By the way:

A corporation under public law is something like a state within a state. In addition to certain requirements - for example, at least 30 years of existence before recognition as a corporation - many rights are associated with it: A corporation under public law may employ civil servants, is exempt from property tax and can collect (church) tax primarily with the help of the tax offices. For recognized religious communities, the church tax makes up by far the largest share of their income.

In total there are nine state-recognized religious communities in Germany, all of which are allowed to levy a church tax:

  • Catholic Church
  • Evangelical regional churches
  • Old Catholic Church
  • Jewish religious communities
  • Israelite religious communities
  • Free religious communities
  • French Church in Berlin
  • Mennonite community in Hamburg-Altona
  • Unitarian religious community of Free Protestants in Rhineland-Palatinate

Which religious communities do not charge a church tax?

If a religious community is a recognized corporation under public law, it can levy church tax - but does not have to. Many do without it. These include, for example, the Orthodox churches with a good 1.5 million members in Germany, as well as the Evangelical-Free Church communities with around 301,000 members.

Which religious communities are not allowed to collect church tax?

Members of the Muslim religious community do not pay church tax because this is not recognized as a corporation under public law. The German Bishops' Conference estimates that around 4.5 million Muslims currently live in Germany.

Fewer members, similar principle: Buddhists, Methodists, Baptists or Adventists also do not belong to any state-recognized religious community and therefore do not pay any church tax.

By the way:

With over 80 million inhabitants, according to projections by the German Bishops' Conference, more than a third of the population in Germany is non-denominational.

How much is the church tax?

The amount of church tax depends on your place of residence. In Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria eight percent of your income tax is paid as church tax, in the other federal states nine percent:

federal stateChurch tax
Bavaria8 percent
Baden-Wuerttemberg8 percent
Berlin9 percent
Brandenburg9 percent
Bremen9 percent
Hamburg9 percent
Hesse9 percent
Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania9 percent
Lower Saxony9 percent
North Rhine-Westphalia9 percent
Rhineland-Palatinate9 percent
Saarland9 percent
Saxony-Anhalt9 percent
Saxony9 percent
Schleswig-Holstein9 percent
Thuringia9 percent

This is how the invoice looks with eight or nine percent church tax:

Sample calculation for 2021: 
Taxable profit:30,000 euros a year
Income tax:5,091 euros
Solidarity surcharge:0 euros
Church tax:

407.28 euros


458.19 euros

The tax office sets income tax and church tax, your employer withholds wage and church tax. The church tax is then passed on to the church. However, the tax authorities do not make this transaction for free: the respective church has to pay a fee of 3 to 4.5 percent of the church tax collected. But the church is happy to accept that, because if it were to collect its own taxes, the administrative costs would be much higher.

By the way:

If your income is below 9,744 euros per year or around 812 euros per month in 2021, you do not have to pay any wage tax, no income tax or church tax. For married couples and registered partners, double the basic allowance of 19,488 euros applies.

Can I deduct church tax from my tax?

Yes, you can. The church tax you actually paid can be deducted from the tax as special expenses. Simply enter the amount in the special expenses annex under "Church tax".

Are there different types of church taxes?

There are three different types in total:

  • the church tax on income,
  • the church tax on property,
  • the general and the special church money.

How does the church tax on income work?

This is the most common form of church tax. It is also known as church income tax or church wage tax. Under the question "How much is the church tax?" you will find the most important details about it.

What about the church tax on property?

Some bishoprics and dioceses charge their members not only a church tax on their income, but also on their property. In Rhineland-Palatinate, for example, this is the case in the area of ​​the Roman Catholic dioceses of Limburg and Speyer.

The church tax on property is collected by the municipalities together with the property tax and is based on a fixed percentage. In the area of ​​the Diocese of Speyer, for example, the church tax on property is 10 percent of the base tax amount (as of 2021). If you own a property but are not subject to church tax, the municipality is not allowed to collect church tax from the property.

What is the general church money?

If you only have a low income and do not own any property, as a member of a state-recognized parish, theoretically, you would not have to pay an obulus to the church. In this case, the general church money takes effect: This means that housewives or unemployed people also pay their contribution to the church when they are of legal age and their income is above the subsistence level. Then they pay between 5 and 120 euros a year directly to their parish.

Just like the church tax on property, the general church money is only levied in certain regions. In Rhineland-Palatinate, for example, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Limburg, the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland and the Evangelical Church of the Palatinate levy general church fees.

What is the special church money?

This form of church tax only affects married or partnered persons who use the joint assessment for their tax return. We use an example to explain how the special church money works:

Suppose a senior officer recently left the Church. His wife is a housewife and continues to be a member of a state-recognized church. If both of them submit a tax return together as a joint assessment, the wife has to pay the special church fee - according to the joint income. In other words, because he left, she has to pay a higher church tax.

The special church fee is calculated by the responsible tax office. The calculation is based on a table with 13 levels: The first and at the same time the lowest level applies to a joint taxable income of the spouses between 30,000 and 37,499 euros, the special church fee then amounts to 96 euros per year. The 13th and highest level applies from a joint taxable income of 300,000 euros, the special church fee then amounts to 3,600 euros annually (as of 2021).

What if only one spouse or partner is a member of the church?

If a married or life couple submits their tax return as a joint assessment and is only one of the two church members, then the special church money applies (see above).

If the spouses or life partners belong to different denominations and only earns one of the two, the employer and the tax office collect the church tax, namely half for the husband's church and half for the wife's church.

What do I have to consider when moving?

Basically, you don't have to pay attention to anything when moving. Because no extra re-registration is necessary for the church tax. But the tax officials may have to do a little math - if you have moved from North Rhine-Westphalia to Bavaria, for example. How so? The church tax in NRW is nine percent, the church tax in Bavaria eight.

An example: Christoph moves from Cologne to Munich because he has found a new job there. But because Christoph moves to a federal state with a lower church tax, the tax officer has to calculate a little, at least for the year of the move: He takes the income tax that Christoph has to pay and divides it by twelve (months). For every twelfth he calculates the church tax rate applicable for the respective place of residence - that is, from January through July the nine percent church tax as it applies in Lower Saxony and from August through December the eight percent church tax in Bavaria. At the end of the day, the tax officer adds up both sums - and receives the church tax due for Christoph in the year of his move.

By the way:

When Christoph still lived in Cologne, he earned a lot less than in Munich. Therefore, the twelfth division could be unfavorable for him, so that he has to pay a lot of church tax. Therefore he submits an application for "exemption for reasons of equity" to his competent church tax office. This then decides at its own discretion whether Christoph has to pay church tax or whether it is waived for him.

I live and work in different federal states - does that affect church tax?

Yes it did. The amount of church tax depends on the state in which you work. This is regulated for reasons of simplicity, because an employer can simply make the monthly tax deduction for all employees with the same church tax rate - regardless of the state in which the employees live. In the final assessment, however, the amount of the church tax depends on your place of residence. You will either get the difference back on your tax return or you may have to pay it later.

How can one quit the church?

If you want to leave the church, go with your identity card or passport to the registry office, district court or district court responsible for you. If you are married, you will in many cases also need your marriage certificate. Fill out the form to leave the church together with the official. In some federal states, leaving the church is free of charge, in others you have to pay between 25 and 100 euros.

Important: Obtain a confirmation of leaving the church. You may pay a small fee for this, but it's worth it. Since the church has not yet deleted you from its baptismal register, you may otherwise be asked to pay again or retroactively when you move. With the confirmation of leaving the church, you can prove that you have left the church.

When does an exit become tax-effective?

The church tax liability ends at the end of the calendar month in which you declared your departure from the church at the registry office. Sometimes it can be the following month as well. Then the church tax is no longer applicable.

Do I have to inform my employer about my leaving the church?

As a rule, the Federal Central Tax Office automatically sends a notification of change to the employer. If you want to be absolutely sure whether your employer has been informed, it is best to check the first pay slip after leaving the church.

How does it go with leaving the church with a mini job?

Especially with a mini job, you do not have to inform anyone about your leaving the church. The reason: As a mini-jobber, you generally do not pay any church tax. If you do a mid-job and have tax class V (5) or VI (6), you pay church tax, but you still don't have to inform your employer about your departure - as with a regular employee, this should happen automatically via the Federal Central Tax Office.

How do I pay church tax if I change denomination?

If you change your denomination - for example from Catholic to Protestant - your previous Catholic parish will receive the church tax on a pro-rata basis until the end of the current calendar month. From the following month you will then pay church tax to your new Protestant congregation.

Church tax is also due on my investment income - is this withheld by the bank?

In general, the withholding tax and church tax are due on investment income. The tax office levies church tax on investment income that you had before 2009. Between 2009 and 2015 you could choose: Either you took care of the taxation yourself by completing your tax return accordingly or you asked your bank to do it for you. The automatic church tax deduction on your investment income by your bank has been mandatory since 2015. You can find out all the details on this topic in our article on withholding tax.

What if I receive a severance payment - is it also subject to church tax?

Yes. But at least you have the opportunity to save church taxes with the help of a partial decree. You can find out how this works in our top topic. Do you have to pay taxes on a severance payment?

By the way:

Do you no longer want to pay church tax, but still want to remain a member of the Catholic Church as a religious community? This is not possible, as the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig decided in 2012 and the German Bishops' Conference made it clear. The professor emeritus for canon law Hartmut Zapp had sued.

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 § 4 No. 11 StBerG.