This article is adapted from the business magazine Capital and is available here for ten days. Afterwards it will only be available to read at Like stern, Capital belongs to RTL Deutschland.

Submitted tax return? In any case, it will take a few days for the tax office to process a tax return and send out the tax notice. Sometimes it takes significantly longer, for example because the tax office has questions, is overloaded or employees are absent due to illness.

The current speed check by the Taxpayers’ Association shows that Berlin has the fastest tax offices: In the capital, taxpayers had to wait an average of 39 days for their tax return – one day less than the previous year. The longest wait was in Lower Saxony and Baden-Württemberg. There, an average of 54 days passed between the submission of the income tax return and the tax return.

Normally, the tax refund comes into your account immediately with the postal notice. Anyone hoping for a hefty refund can become impatient. Capital asked tax officials what is delaying processing and how taxpayers can shorten the waiting time.

If busy taxpayers get rid of the unpleasant tax return right at the beginning of the year, it is better to plan a little waiting time for their decision. Because declarations that arrived at the beginning of January remain at the tax office for a while: First, employers, health insurance companies, pension providers and other bodies have to report all tax-relevant information for the previous year, such as wage data and insurance contributions paid. They have until the end of February to do this. Nothing happens in the tax office beforehand. From mid-March, tax officials will generally process tax returns in the order in which they are received. This means that the earlier your own tax return is in the processing queue, the quicker it will arrive.

However, the starting signal may have been pushed back a bit this year because the Growth Opportunities Act, which was only passed at the end of March, hung in the air for so long. This regulates a few things that affect tax returns for the 2023 tax year. Processing can only begin once the computer software in the authorities has been updated accordingly.

Is the address correct? Is the Iban of the bank account current? Have all the necessary attachments been filled out? Is all the information on the appropriate lines? Is the declaration signed? Careless errors and number transpositions happen quickly, but can lead to queries and delayed processing.

Before sending the declaration, it is better to check for yourself whether all the information is comprehensible or whether something is missing or does not fit together. The tax administration’s Elster portal and paid tax programs support this. If you submit on paper, you have to do the tedious checking yourself.

In the tax office, special computer software first checks whether all relevant fields in the declaration have been filled out, whether the information is plausible or whether there is a risk lurking somewhere. There are tax returns that the program can check off fully automatically and that never end up on the clerk’s desk – so-called car cases. The speed check from the Taxpayers’ Association showed that the car accident rate is almost 21 percent.

Regardless of whether taxpayers use Elster or a commercial tax program: returns submitted online are more common than paper returns for car cases and get through to the tax office more quickly. The government software works less often for them because the programs check tax returns for plausibility and completeness before sending them to the tax office.

Whether online or on paper – for some tax returns, after the automated check, it is necessary for a clerk to take a careful look at the annual statement. There are various reasons for this: The upstream audit program may seem somewhat implausible, for example because the amounts differ greatly from those of the previous year. Or a larger savings item is claimed for the first time, for example the costs of a study.

In addition, there are new, thematically defined test areas every year: If taxpayers provide information in one of the risk areas, tax officials must critically examine the tax case and possibly request evidence to clarify the matter.

Taxpayers should prepare for such queries and keep their documents to hand. Although they no longer have to submit receipts with their tax return without being asked, they must be able to present them when requested by the tax office. If you have everything at hand, you can react quickly if the tax office asks for certain evidence. In complex tax cases, multiple correspondence is possible and detailed explanations from the taxpayer are sometimes necessary. This increases the processing time.

Tax returns submitted online also have an advantage here: With the Elster portal, as with commercial programs, more detailed information and information can be provided on individual facts than is possible on paper forms. This sometimes makes inquiries from the tax office unnecessary.

Submitting electronically is also worthwhile at the end: If you work with Elster or tax software, you can usually have the notice delivered online. This saves another few days of postage. This is different with tax returns on paper. The notice also comes by post.

If you have been waiting longer than three months for your tax assessment, you can call the tax office and ask when it is expected to be sent out. It helps to have your own tax number ready so that the switchboard at the tax office can quickly put you through to the responsible tax officer, who can inform you about the processing status. If the authority continues to dilly-dally, you should follow up in writing and set a deadline.

Although the tax office has a lot of flexibility in processing the tax return, it cannot take forever: If nothing is done and the tax return was submitted more than six months ago without the tax office taking action, taxpayers can file an objection for inaction consider. However, this should be the last resort and only be submitted if all previous contact attempts have failed.