Wednesday, November 18, 2015

German daily life: when paying cash means losing tax deductibility

There are people who like cash, and then there are governments that don't.

Not running afoul of laws and regulations when you pay in cash can be quite a challenge in Europe. A German consumer protection charity has this handy website in German and English. While it is advertised as a resource for travelers, you really should consult it if you are moving to Europe.

The map shows only a few countries that have "no limit" on cash payments and many in ominous red for "cash payment limited".

The blogster suggests you click on a couple of the "red" countries to see what is regulated. Keep in mind that the justification for putting limits on cash payment is to curb tax evasion and corruption. Checking out, for example, France and Italy shows us what legislators in the two countries decided to tackle, and some details may surprise you.

The web site does not provide a full picture either, as notes at gas stations and shops tell us. Most won't accept any banknote above 100 Euros, so no 200s or 500s, and that's pretty reasonable. Should you be as naive as the blogster and accept a 500 note from the friendly bank teller because it is so convenient you because you've never seen one before, rest assured that the effort of spending any of it is guaranteed to make you decline any subsequent suggestion by the friendly teller.

In Germany, there is a pretty bad trap that is equally guaranteed to make the German tax authorities millions each year from gullible newbies to the country. No statistics exist, but millions it must be because the blogster alone lost somewhere around a grand, and with close to a million newcomers to the country - not counting the latest refugees - more folks will trip over the regulations.

So, what is it, you say?

It's that often copied but never rivaled German way of legally allowing you to do something and then punishing you for it later.

The first of these tricks surfaced with regard to a lost driver's license. As it turns out, in our state, the fee for replacing a lost license is double that of replacing a stolen license.
In a rare display of up front information by a German government agency, they do inform citizens about this on their web site.

The tax authorities have a different take on good information when it comes to how to deduct the cost of contractors who fix something in your house or do maintenance, for example, sweeping the chimney or clearing out the yard.

The good news is that you can deduct some of the labor cost from your taxes when you prepare the tax return.

The bad news is that you get to deduct nothing, nada, when you pay cash.

The receipt by the contractor is not accepted by the tax man unless it comes with a bank statement that proves direct debit. Small contractors around here often do not accept credit cards, so, no, that won't work.

The obvious problem, of course, is that the tax preparer you enlist after your first six months to a year in the country may inform you about with an appropriately sympathetic "sorry for your loss", but you cannot fix the problem. Of course, you may also find that the tax preparer recommended warmly by a co-worker is a completely condescending gentleman who has a knack for making you feel your measly salary is not worth his effort. That's a different story, though.

If you plan to move to Germany, don't expect a "welcome to Germany" package to warn you of the driver's license loss penalty or any tax regulations.

If want to see the quirks in a positive light, convince yourself that learning German to the point to understand newspapers may pay off.

Oh, and feel free to send the folks who run the limitations on cash payments website a nice request for correction.

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