Tax tips for influencers: The 6 most common questions answered
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The German tax law has a reputation for being complex, particularly for freelancers who may be new to Germany and self-employment. Throw into the mix a relatively new profession, such as a Social Media Influencer, and you’ve got a lot of grey areas to figure out.
Never fear! I this article, we answer the top 6 most common tax questions asked by Social Media Influencers. Assuming you’ve taken the very first step of registering as a freelancer, soon you’ll know how to handle travel expenses, home office costs, as well as gifts and freebies and you’ll be able to get back to what you do best.
1. Can I deduct my home office costs?
In general, freelancers can deduct taxes for home office costs in Germany. However, in order to do so, you must meet a few requirements first. For example, the home office actually needs to be where you do the majority of your work. So, if you have an additional office or work somewhere else a few days a week, the costs for your home office are not fully deductible.
But as long as you work from your home office 90%, you can deduct the costs for it. For those who only do part of their work at home, a maximum of €1,250 per year is deductible for the home office.
Additionally, in order to deduct the cost of a home office, you must use that room exclusively for work. If you use your home office for anything other than work, it won’t be considered a home office. For example, if you set up a desk in your bedroom, you can’t claim the space as a home office, as you also use it to sleep in.
If you do claim home office expenses on your tax return, the Finanzamt (tax office) may request documentation as evidence to support your claim and prove that you have a dedicated office room that is used exclusively for work. You can expect to have to provide such things as a floor plan, or a list of hours worked in your office.
If you have a studio for photo or video productions, it becomes a little more complicated. In that case, you can only deduct costs if it really is an exclusive studio and not also a home office. On the other hand, this is the only instance where you’re exempt from the requirement that it must be a separate room in your home; a studio doesn’t need to be a separate room, it could be a part of your living room in order to be deductible.
2. Can I deduct business trips?
One of the perks of being a Social Media Influencer is that you can often travel a lot for work and can therefore deduct many costs for those trips from your taxes. Events, conferences, courses, and other forms of professional learning and education can count as business trips.
Just remember to keep all tickets and receipts for travel and accommodation, to be able to deduct the amount later on. If you travel by car, you can make use of the ‘Kilometerpauschale’ (mileage allowance). There is also the ‘Verpflegungspauschale’ (living expenses allowance) which you can make use of in order to deduct costs from your journey.
Sounds okay, right? What about trips you take, in order to shoot a specific video or to do a location-specific photo-shoot? These are technically deductible too. Where it gets tricky is if you travel to a location for a day of work, and you stay a few days for a holiday. In this case, you must calculate the percentage of the time you work and the percentage of time you spend on private recreation. For example, if you travel somewhere for two days, but you only spend one day shooting material for a video, you can only deduct the costs for the one day of video work.
That’s why it’s helpful to document your time and costs in as much detail as possible. This way, it’s easier for you to remember and fill in the expenses you want to deduct in your annual tax return. Also, this way you are prepared for possible questions from the Finanzamt.
💡 Tip from Accountable: With Accountable you can easily upload and organize all of your receipts. It’s also possible to directly differentiate between private and business expenses. Easy, right?
3. Do I need to pay tax on donations from livestreams?
Many influencers regularly receive donations by followers via platforms like Twitch or Patreon. YouTube also provides this function for livestreams. Don’t be fooled by the term ‘donations’. These payments are only donations insofar as the viewers can elect to pay as much or as little as they wish. Any income you generate through streaming is subject to income tax, just like any other income. According to German tax law, donations are only tax-free for officially registered organizations or non-profit associations, but not for voluntary services like online streaming.
Wether or not VAT is applicable to income generated via streaming depends on the nature of the donation. If followers or people in your audience send you money voluntarily, VAT is not applicable. However, if people paid in order to elicit a specific service or performance, for example, a specific reaction by you, then you need to pay VAT.
Let’s consider this example. A musician decides to stream a performance online via a non-ticketed event. People watching decide to donate money at various points throughout the performance. These voluntary payments aren’t subject to VAT, however, since they’re not technically donations, they are subject to income tax.
Some other people watching the performance decide to request their favourite song by paying a specific amount. This payment is subject to VAT, as it’s a payment for a specific performance. It’s also subject to income tax.
So, you can see why it’s so important to document all of your income from streaming in all detail, in order to be prepared for possible questions from the Finanzamt.
4. Do I need to pay taxes on gifts and free products?
Brands often send influencers gifts and samples of new products in the hope that an influencer will provide publicity and advertising. Sometimes this is arranged formally and the influencer is remunerated monetarily. Other times, the brands simply send the products and hope for the best, without a specific expectation in return and without paying the influencer a promotional fee. If you receive a gift from a brand, the following rules apply:
- If you send the product back to the return address, or it’s worth less than 10€, you don’t need to pay tax on it.
- If company pays tax on the product for you, you don’t need to pay them, as long as they don’t cost more than 10.000€.
In other cases gifts and samples are considered ‘Sacheinnahmen’ (gifts in kind). Recipients of gifts in kind need to pay tax on them. However, it’s not always easy to find out the price or value of a gift you receive. When in doubt, contact the sender and ask for the cost. It may seem awkward or impolite, but a business should understand the importance of this step and that it ensures you to avoid any trouble with the Finanzamt.
Since the field of social media and the new professions that came with it have became increasingly popular, the tax authorities began to focus more on them as well.
It’s easy for the Finanzamt to find out about gifts and freebies you received, either through researching people online, or through so called ‘Kontrollmitteilungen’ (control notices), which can be used to verify whether a taxpayer has fulfilled their tax obligations.
So again, it’s important to document all gifts and free things you receive. Investigate the price of anything you receive and declare it correctly in your tax return in order to avoid possible investigations or fines.
5. Can I deduct costs for clothes?
Freelancers in Germany can deduct so called ‘Werbungskosten’ (professional expenses) against their annual tax return. Special working clothes such as job uniforms are part of these expenses, but what about clothes and fashion that influencers present on their social media profiles?
Put simply: No. In general, only people working in professions where certain clothes are required may deduct work clothing. For example, police officers, chimney sweeps, and chefs. So, if you buy clothes that you want to present on social media, but which you can also wear in your free time, you may not deduct them from your taxes.
6. Are costs for video equipment and gear deductible?
It is written in the German tax law that expenses for purchases that are necessary for your work are indeed deductible from your income tax. Those costs fall under ‘Betriebsausgaben’ (business expenses). So, when you’re producing videos for YouTube and making an income from it, you can deduct expenses for equipment that you need for the production, such as video cameras, lightning, and microphones. However, purchases should be plausible and financially reasonable – not exorbitantly expensive – in order to be accepted by the Finanzamt.
We can’t stress it enough: Document! We’ll say it again, the most important tax tip for Social Media Influencers is: Document, document, document. Save all your receipts for all of your purchases and write down, why you needed it, and how you used it.
As soon as you receive a gift, check the value and determine wether or not it’s subject to tax. And keep records of your travels, noting how much time was spent working and how much was leisure time. Note down how much time you spend in your home office and make sure you can prove how you use the space. This way, you are always prepared for questions from the tax authorities, and you’ll avoid any headaches when it comes to tax time.
💡 Tip from Accountable: With our app you can organize your expenses in different categories and add individual notes. This way you’ll always have an overview of all purchases and expenses in one place.
Other things for influencers to consider
So you’ve got some clarity around what expenses you can and can’t claim, as well as what extra sources of income are subject to tax, but hey, why end your tax education journey there?
As a freelance influencer in Germany, there’s plenty more for you to learn. Brush up on where you stand with regards to health insurance, retirement fund, and how your work as an influencer impacts your full time job, if you have one.