Elterngeld, Kindergeld and Elternzeit – What are these and how to apply

parental leave 2

So, did we mention earlier that Germany has a very impressive social system in place, for its citizens? We will try and explain a couple of them to you in detail. If you are planning to start a family in Germany or move here with your family, the German government provides various benefits to new families. The family benefits include maternity leave (Mutterschaftsurlaub), parental leave (Elternzeit)and parental allowance (Elterngeld), Child benefit (Kindergeld). Here you’ll get to know what’s what, who can apply for these benefits and also the eligibility.

Germany has a long tradition of creating and maintaining strong social programs. Given its exceptional social commitment throughout its history, Germany currently has an extremely low birth rate,1.3 births per woman. Although Germany’s ideal birth-rate should be 2.1 births per woman, to maintain a healthy population level, and prevent any further immigration, but is highly unlikely to happen in the near future. When you apply for the same, you will find a few terms coming up continuously and we will explain them to you here

Elterngeld  –Parental Allowance

Elterngeld is funded by the federal tax system (social security system). If you or your partner have recently had a child, you may be eligible to receive a parental allowance (Elterngeld). This benefit is given to all new parents to cover the loss of earnings due to the birth of a child.

To encourage the parents to spend time with their new baby, the government has adopted a Scandinavian-style policy whereby the entitlement to parental allowance can be shared between the child’s parents. This benefit thus allows both parents, some time off, in the early days, to spend time with their newborn. Now let’s try and understand the different types of Elterngeld. There are two types of Elterngeld – Basis and Plus.

Elterngeld- Basis

Parents can claim Elterngeld Basis any time from the birth of their child up to 14 months after their child’s birth. In a two-parent household, either of the parents can take anywhere from 2 months up to 12 months of Elterngeld benefit, but the maximum cannot exceed 14 months altogether. For example, both parents could claim up to 7 months of Elterngeld Basis each, or one parent claims say 4 months while the other takes 10 months (a total of 14 months). Single parents, on the other hand, can claim Elterngeld Basis for up to 14 months.

The entitlement is dependent upon two factors – how much was your income before the childbirth and how many weeks you worked the childbirth. But if you’re not planning to work at all while claiming Elterngeld Basis, you can usually expect to receive roughly two-thirds of your average net income prior to childbirth, starting at €300 and capped at €1800.

Elterngeld-Plus

From 2015, parents who wish to return to work sooner can also opt for Elterngeld Plus. This gives either of the parents the flexibility, to stretch the benefits payments, over a larger period of time, but cannot exceed a maximum of 24 months.

During this time, you are only entitled to work a maximum of 32 hours per week in order to remain eligible for the parental allowance. It is also possible to combine the regular parental allowance with Elterngeld Plus, to suit your family situation. The program is also beneficial for the self-employed by allowing them to work up to 32 hours a week while collecting the benefit over a longer period of time.

The parents can choose either of the programs  Elterngeld basis or plus, or even create a combination of both of these. Each parent can apply for either program individually.

Eligibility

The following criteria needs to be fulfilled

-You look after your child from birth yourself.

-You don’t work more than 32 hours of paid work per week while you are receiving the allowance

-You reside in the same house as your child.

-You are a German / EU / EEA citizen, or you hold a permanent residence permit(Aufenthaltstitel) or a residence permit that entitles you to work in Germany.

-The combined annual household income does not exceed 500.000 euros (or 250.000 euros for single parents). (* as of 05.12.2023: There is a bill being passed right now to reduce the threshold from 500k taxable income – the bill most probably will pass both houses and come into effect beginning 2024. Although not many will be effected – please check in in the next couple of weeks to ensure you’re covered and are still eligible fully).

One can also claim parental allowance if one looks after a child immediately from birth, even if it is not their own, and if one adopts a child (up to eight years old).

Who can apply?

Elterngeld is available for:

-Employees, Civil Servants, Self-Employed, Unemployed, Stay-at-home parents, Part time workers, People with mini jobs and people who work abroad with a German contract.

How much allowance am I entitled to?

The intention of parental allowance is the replacement of one’s income previous to childbirth. Thus the amount one receives as a benefit, is dependent upon one’s income, in the year immediately before childbirth.  

Previous Monthly Income

Allowance (%age of previous income)

Less than 1000 €: 67-100%

1000-1200 €: 67%

1200-1240 €: 65-67%

More than 1240 €: 65%

Parental allowance payments can range from a minimum of 300€  to a maximum of 1800€. You can use this calculator to work out how much parental benefit you are eligible for. A maximum of EUR 2,770 is taken into account as net income before birth.

Partnership bonus

If both parents work simultaneously for 24 – 32 hours per week for two to four consecutive months, each parent will receive four additional months of Elterngeld Plus payments. Even separated partners are allowed to apply for this bonus. Single parents can also claim the bonus by working for 24 – 32 hours per week for two to four months.

How to apply for parental allowance

You can apply for the parental allowance online via the Elterngeld Digital portal (in German) if you are a resident of one of the following states:

-Berlin

-Brandenburg

-Bremen

-Hamburg

-Rhineland-Palatinate

-Saxony

-Schleswig-Holstein

-Thuringia

The digital application is slowly being rolled out across other states, but meantime, you still need to apply for the parental allowance by submitting an application to your local parental allowance office (Elterngeldstelle). You may find the regional office, in your city, on the official website of the Federal Ministry for Families, Senior Citizens, Women, and Youth.

You will need to fill out an application form, plus also bring along the following documents:

-Your kid’s birth certificate

-Valid Government identification such as an identity card or a passport

-Proof of income such as an employment contract or your bank account statement

Once submitted your application, you should hear back from your regional office within four weeks through mail, and go through the infamous German bureaucratic processes, or else do it more conveniently online.

Citizens from countries of the European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland can receive parental allowance if they live and work in Germany. Even if you are a citizen of another country, you are entitled to a parental allowance if your residence permit allows you to work in Germany. If you are in Germany for your studies or training, you will not receive parental allowance. More detailed information is available on the family portal or ask your parental allowance office.

Kindergeld – Child Benefit

Unlike what most people believe, child benefit is not a social benefit. Although it is usually paid out by the family benefits office, it is ultimately a tax compensation payment. The claim arises automatically but requires a written application.

As part of the relief package, the federal government has decided on a further child bonus for 2022. This is a one-time fee of 100 euros and will be paid out from July 2022. The prerequisite is that you are entitled to child benefit for at least one day in 2022. A separate application is not necessary, the payment is made automatically via the family benefits office. If children later – after July – are entitled to child benefit, e.g., new-borns, the regular child benefit application is sufficient to also receive the one-off child bonus of 100 euros.

Child benefit: The amount depends on the number of children

1 child: 250 Euros

2 children: 500 Euros

3 children: 750 Euros

4 children: 1000 Euros

The entitlement to child benefits begins in the month of birth and remains unrestricted until the child’s 18th birthday. Parents or other legal guardians (not the child itself!) are entitled to apply. At the age of 18, the entitlement to child benefits only continues if the child is in school or vocational training or is registered with the Employment Agency as looking for work or training. In this case, benefits will continue to be paid until the child reaches the age of 25 (the months in which the child has completed statutory military or community service will continue to be paid beyond the age of 25). In order to receive child benefits, the parents must apply for this in writing. The application for child benefit is submitted to the authority, with a processing time of 4 to 6 weeks to be expected. The Federal Employment Agency (Agentur fur Arbeit) also has further information available here https://www.arbeitsagentur.de/familie-und-kinder

Who can claim child benefits?

German and EU citizens are entitled to child benefits, as long as they are residing in Germany. If you are a foreign national living in Germany, you can receive child benefits if you have a valid temporary residence permit or settlement permit. Usually, you must not be receiving any similar benefit in your home country or anywhere else.

Since child benefit can be claimed only by one parent, a decision will have to be made by married couples, about who shall receive this. Also, in case you are separated then ideally the parent with the primary custody of the child, should claim the benefit. In some cases, when the child is living with you, but you are not their parent, then also you are allowed to claim child benefit.

Supplementary child allowance (Kinderzuschlag)

As well as child benefits, certain parents are entitled to claim a supplementary child allowance (currently up to 209 euros per month) for each unmarried child who is under the age of 25 and lives in their household. A few conditions need to be met to qualify, which are as follows

-You receive child benefit for the child.

-You earn at least 900 euros per month before deductions (600 euros for single parents).

-You earn less than the maximum income limit (could vary from family to family on the basis of the cost of living, of each family and is calculated individually by the Family Benefits Office).

The exact amount you will receive is determined by your income and assets. One is allowed to claim extra assistance, for example, school supplies, meals or school trips. If your child has any income (maintenance payments), this will be deducted from the supplementary child allowance. You can apply for the supplementary child allowance online via the Federal Employment Agency’s website 

Elternzeit – Parental leave

As mentioned earlier Germany gives great importance to family-based social benefits and one of them is the Elternzeit, which entitles both parents to take leave from work for up to 3 years, upon the birth of their child! This a great opportunity for both parents to be with their children during their early years.

A parent has the freedom to choose how much parental leave they would like to avail (maximum 3 years). How a family decides to split the parental leave is totally up to them and the agreement they have with their employer. A mother can stay on parental leave even after her maternity leave is over. In the case of the mother taking parental leave, keep in mind that the time she takes after the birth as maternity leave (two months) counts as part of her parental leave. So, she has two years and ten months left as parental leave.

While taking parental leave, you can also claim the parental allowance (Elterngeld), to cover for your loss of earnings.

Parental leave requirements:

You can claim parental leave if:

-You are employed

-You reside with your child in the same house.

-You (jointly) care for the child yourself.

-You don’t have more than 30 hours per week during parental leave.

How much parental leave am I entitled to?

As a parent,  you are free to decide how much parental leave you would like to apply for. It can be taken anytime between your child’s birth and their third birthday. You can also save up to 24 months of parental leave to use at any later point between your child’s second and seventh birthdays, as long as you have your employer’s permission to do so. Also, both you and your partner, are allowed parental leave, either simultaneously or separately.

During this time, one’s job is protected and one cannot be terminated. The employer may only terminate the employment in an exceptional circumstance (for example insolvency, shutdown of the business). After the completion of the parental leave, parents can return to their respective jobs, at the same seniority level, they left at. To apply for parental leave, the  Elterngeldstellen (parental allowance offices) can assist you. You can find the addresses on the familienportal.de website


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