Tax return for laptop bought for home office/private

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Hi! I am filing my tax return for 2020. I bought a laptop in May 2020 that I needed as a replacement for my existing half-dead laptop, because I work in computation (PhD student in a computational field) and home office is mandatory as per university rules. I am not sure whether or not I can receive a tax return. My German language skills are not so great. I understand that ideally I should be going for a tax advisor but perhaps the TT community can help me out? Here are the details:

 

- I have an employer provided, desktop computer, in my office in the university. I used it for work before the pandemic (and still do via remote connection). Question 1: Is it possible to claim a tax return for the laptop given that I have a computer provided by my employer?

 

- The laptop is a requirement. No laptop, no work. If asked for, I believe I can get my supervisor to write a letter stating that the laptop is a requirement. Question 2: Would such a letter be sufficient? Question 3. If I do go ahead with this I will talk to my supervisor first, but do I need to attach the letter in ELSTER, or I need to do it only when requested by the Finanzamt?

 

- New laptop cost me approx 1400 EUR, bought in Germany. This post suggests that I can claim tax return on it but I have to spread it over the expected lifetime of the laptop. Question 4. Assuming that I can claim the return, how do I go about spreading the expenses over a number of years, in ELSTER? Also, how does one decide how long is the expected lifetime? I see the number 3 or 4 years depending on which website I am reading, but it's a bit confusing.

 

- Question 5. Is there an upper limit on any of the deductions? How much? Does it matter that I will also be claiming the flat tax relief for the home office situation?

 

- Any helpful resources (even if in German) related to this, are appreciated. I could search for them myself but it's a pain to do it without knowing enough German and what exactly to look for.

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First of all, your question is: can I deduct my computer as an expense?  Since your school makes this expense necessary for all the students in your field, I bet this

question has been asked and answered by them.  While I'm not a tax authority, you are also required to buy textbooks.  Do you think their cost is deductible?

 

Sometimes, PhD students in a computational field see everything as a computational problem that is solved with computations.  

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I’m also not clear as you say you’re a student then say you have an employer provided computer, so I don’t know what you can claim. As an employee nothing would be my guess, if it’s required to do the job the employer should provide it. 
 

If you can claim for the computer as a student then I’d assume it’s treated as a business expense and depreciates over time. Again this is just an assumption. There’s a table which states the expected lifetime of the purchase and so how much the value depreciates per year. In the case of a laptop it’s 3 years, so 33.3%,  €467 per year. 
 

https://www.bundesfinanzministerium.de/Web/DE/Themen/Steuern/Steuerverwaltungu-Steuerrecht/Betriebspruefung/AfA_Tabellen/afa_tabellen.html

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@catjones I shouldn't have said 'PhD student' I guess. Apologies for the confusion. I am employed as a scientific researcher with an employment contract (which is how it often is for PhD students, unless they have a scholarship/fellowship to fund their expenses). Secondly, I have no clue why any of this bothers you enough for making snarky remarks. I'll guess you aren't doing very well due to lockdown and I sincerely hope your life gets better.

 

@Dai thank you for the table. Would you be able to comment now that I clarified that I am basically employed at the university while also being enrolled as a student?

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15 hours ago, BlahblahMan said:

I have no clue why any of this bothers you enough for making snarky remarks.

 

Clue#1: read your five paragraph concern about nothing.

15 hours ago, BlahblahMan said:

I'll guess you aren't doing very well due to lockdown and I sincerely hope your life gets better.

Thanks for your guess, but I'm really doing very well.  Healthy, wealthy and wise....and I know a depreciable expense when I see one.

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@catjones well, okay. Maybe you can just... ignore the five paragraphs and just enjoy the weather maybe? *scratches head* I don't even know what a depreciable expense means here. Maybe 1/3 of the laptop value? So what?

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I can’t see how you can claim for any work equipment, if it’s a work requirement it should be paid for by the uni. You’re not self employed and don’t own the uni so I can’t see how it’s a business expense. 
A factory owner couldn’t tell an employee that we’re moving to home office and the employee has to buy a €2000000 3D printer to continue making stuff at home. 
Can’t you just go into the office and pick up your computer from there? 

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On 22/02/2021, 23:14:01, Dai said:

 if it’s required to do the job the employer should provide it. 

 

That's simply not reality, and that's why there are fields to fill work-related items in tax returns. If I am a professional caterer, I can't just show up in my PJs and crocs, even I run the place, I need to buy a chef's outfit and hat from Engelbert Strauss or so. If I am lucky, a boss or higher-up opens the Batman closet full of uniforms and I pick one, otherwise I buy it myself and declare it in my taxes. Just so with a laptop for OP. Being a doctoral student is sort of having a foot in two puddles, but either way should qualify.

 

In short, yes, OP can claim it. Either as an employee or a student. It will vary somewhat, and more detail I cannot say as I haven't been in the situation myself. 

 

10 hours ago, BlahblahMan said:

I don't even know what a depreciable expense means here. Maybe 1/3 of the laptop value? So what?

 

Like most assets, it loses value over time through use, obsolescence, etc. There is a 'Pauschal' for most things you can declare in your taxes. Keep receipts! Generally you only have to provide evidence if they ask you. I am not sure if this is automatic based on entry parameters (my hunch), but in any case they will definitely ask you if they doubt you. Last time I had to provide evidence (they asked months after the fact), I snail-mailed a photocopy with a post-it note attached and that was good enough. I am not sure of the full technical wonders of Elster, but may be it is possible on there too...

 

Here's a link that some quick google scrounging rustled up: https://www.finanztip.de/arbeitsmittel/

 

And don't mind the grumps, they're what makes TT 'interesting'. 

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Fair enough, I stand corrected. The point about depreciation stands though - at €1400 you have to write it off over a couple of years. 
 

I still think it’s a piss take from the employer though. Yes there’s the werbepauschal so that you can buy a smart t-shirt to go to work, but if you’re a chef I wouldn’t expect you to bring your own pots and pans to the kitchen. 

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6 hours ago, Dai said:

Fair enough, I stand corrected. The point about depreciation stands though - at €1400 you have to write it off over a couple of years. 
 

I still think it’s a piss take from the employer though. Yes there’s the werbepauschal so that you can buy a smart t-shirt to go to work, but if you’re a chef I wouldn’t expect you to bring your own pots and pans to the kitchen. 

more of a problem during the pandemic really, because people have been told to do home office but that comes with it's own costs. The link that @alderhill gave says that if you use a laptop for both private and professional use, it's reasonable to divide the cost by 2 and claim tax relief for only half of the asset. I agree with that reasoning.

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