Steuerberater or Buchhalter: what's the difference?

In Germany, there is an important distinction between a Steuerberater (tax advisor) and a Buchhalter (bookkeeper). Picking the right one can save you a lot of money, or bring you a lot of trouble.

Special thanks to tax advisor Suat Göydeniz for bringing this difference to our attention.

Summary

  • Tax advisor (Steuerberater) is a protected title in Germany. Bookkeeper (Buchhalter) is not.
  • Tax advisors are allowed to submit tax declarations and financial statements in your name. Bookkeepers can fill the papers, but you must submit them yourself.
  • Tax advisors are liable for their mistakes, bookkeepers are not.
  • Tax advisors are more expensive than bookkeepers.

Steuerberater (tax advisor)

Tax advisor (Steuerberater) is a protected title in Germany. To become a tax advisor in Germany, you must have a university degree and 3 years of practical experience1, then you must pass the Steuerberaterprüfung, an 3 day long test1.

Because of their qualifications, tax advisors have special powers and special responsibilities. For example, only tax advisors can submit tax declarations (Steuererklärungen) and financial statements (Jahresabschluss) for you1.

More importantly, tax advisors are liable for their mistakes. If a tax advisor makes a mistake in your tax declaration and you get fined by the Finanzamt, your tax advisor is liable to pay the fine1.

Since they have more powers and responsibilities, tax advisors charge more than bookkeepers for their services1.

Buchhalter (bookkeeper)

Bookkeeper (Buchhalter) is not a protected title in Germany. Anyone can call himself a bookkeeper without having special credentials. Because of this, bookkeepers have limited powers. Bookkeepers usually cost less than tax advisors.

Bookkeepers cannot submit tax declarations or financial statements in your name. They can help you fill the paperwork, but you must submit them to the german government yourself. If your bookkeeper makes mistakes in your tax declaration and you get fined by the tax office (Finanzamt), he is not liable to pay the fine - you are.

How to find a tax advisor or bookkeeper?

We have compiled a list of English-speaking accountants in Berlin. You can also ask for recommendations from most freelancers in Berlin.