Church Tax (Kirchensteuer)

About 70% of church revenues come from church tax (Kirchensteuer) in Germany. This was about 9.2 billion euro in 2010.

In Germany, on the basis of tax regulations passed by the communities and within the limits set by state laws, communities may either

  • require the taxation authorities of the state to collect the fees from the members on the basis of income tax assessment (then, the authorities withhold a collection fee), or
  • choose to collect the church tax themselves.

In the first case, membership in the community is entered onto a tax document (Lohnsteuerkarte) which employees must surrender to their employers for the purpose of withholding tax on paid income. If membership in a tax-collecting religious community is entered on the document, the employer must withhold church tax prepayments from the income of the employee in addition to other tax prepayments. In connection with the final annual income tax assessment, the state revenue authorities also finally assess the church tax owed. In the case of self-employed persons or of unemployed taxpayers, state revenue authorities collect prepayments on the church tax together with prepayments on the income tax.

If, however, religious communities choose to collect church tax themselves, they may demand that the tax authorities reveal taxation data of their members to calculate the contributions and prepayments owed. In particular, some smaller communities (e.g. the Jewish Community of Berlin) choose to collect taxes themselves to save collection fees the government would charge otherwise.

The church tax is only paid by members of the respective church. People who are not members of a church tax-collecting denomination do not have to pay it. Members of a religious community under public law may formally declare their wish to leave the community to state (not religious) authorities. With such a declaration, the obligation to pay church taxes ends. Some communities refuse to administer marriages and burials of (former) members who had declared to leave it.

Taxpayers, whether Roman Catholic, Protestant or members of other tax-collecting communities, pay between 8 percent (in Bavaria and Baden-Wuerrttemberg) and 9 percent (in the rest of the country) of their income tax to the church or other community to which they belong.