Eröffnungsbilanz: The opening balance sheet explained in plain English

The opening balance sheet is a statement of the assets and capital of a company subject to the general accounting obligation. By comparing it with previous years’ balance sheets, it’s possible to assess the company’s performance.

 

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Contents

 

Why must I create an Eröffnungsbilanz (opening balance sheet)?

The HGB (German commercial code) describes the opening balance sheet as:

  • einen das Verhältnis des Vermögens und der Schulden darstellenden Abschluss
    (a financial statement showing the relationship between assets and liabilities).

One of the purposes of an opening balance sheet is to verify the closing balance sheet of the previous financial year. To this end, the opening balance sheet is prepared at the beginning of each new financial year and must correspond to the closing balance sheet of the previous year. The opening balance sheet can be used to compare the company’s performance from year to year. This differs from the key figures of the BWA (business analysis), which are used to analyse performance from month to month.

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Who has to prepare one?

In principle, all companies and Kaufleute (registered merchants/traders) required to keep double-entry accounts must prepare an Eröffnungsbilanz (opening balance sheet). They must prepare an opening balance sheet when they start operating and at the beginning of each new Geschäftsjahr (financial year). Let’s break down what events require an opening balance sheet:

  • Neugründung
    Company formation
  • Eintritt des neuen Geschäftsjahres
    Start of the new financial year
  • Besitzerwechsel in einem Unternehmen
    Change of ownership in a company

    • Veränderungen in der Gesellschafterzusammensetzung
      Changes in the shareholder structure
    • Veränderung der Gesellschafterliste
      Changes to the list of shareholders
  • Unternehmensumwandlung
    Business transformation

    • Verschmelzung
      Merger
    • Fusion
      A different type of merger
    • Spaltung
      Spin-off or demerger
    • Rechtsformwechsel
      Change of legal form
    • Einbringung
      Capital contribution

When one of these events occurs in a company, a new opening balance sheet must be prepared, regardless of where it is in the financial year. If the balance sheet is prepared after a business transformation, it has to be a Übernahmebilanz (takeover balance sheet).

What is the deadline?

There is no fixed deadline for submitting the Bilanz (balance sheet) to the Finanzamt (tax office), but for larger and medium-sized companies, a period of up to three months after the start of business is the norm. For UGs and smaller GmbHs, the tax office will often allow up to six months.

It is not always easy to determine a company’s start date. For a GmbH, for example, the company has an “in Gründung” (“in formation”) phase when it is effectively a pre-GmbH. A GmbH has this status between the notary appointment and the official entry in the Handelsregister (commercial register). Thus, you should choose a start date that falls within this phase so it reflects the start of operations as accurately as possible. However, the latest cut-off is the date of entry in the commercial register.

 

What are the components?

The Eröffnungsbilanzkonto (opening balance sheet account) is a type of Bilanz (balance sheet). It consists of an asset side (Aktiva = assets) on the left and a liability side on the right (Passiva = liabilities).

Assets side of the opening balance sheet

The Aktivseite (assets side) of the balance sheet records the use of funds, which includes all Anlagevermögen (fixed assets) and Umlaufvermögen (current assets). Fixed assets include everything that serves the business operations of a company (e.g. machines for production, company vehicles, computers, printers). Current assets, on the other hand, include all goods that are used for consumption, processing or short-term sale (e.g. raw materials, printer cartridges, car batteries, petrol for company vehicles).

Liabilities side of the opening balance sheet

The Passivseite (liabilities side) shows the source of funds and is divided into Eigenkapital (equity), Rückstellungen (provisions) and Verbindlichkeiten (debts/liabilities).

  • Equity consists of all income and deposits not provided by creditors.
  • Provisions are liabilities that are still considered ‘uncertain’ but are expected to be incurred with a high degree of probability. Provisions include liabilities that may not be recoverable (e.g. if the customer doubts the performance of the service) and liabilities where the exact amount has not yet been determined.
  • Liabilities also include the costs of formation, if so provided for in the articles of association.

Finishing touches

An opening balance sheet also includes the name of the company, the place and date of formation, and the names and signatures of the directors.

What does Bilanzidentität mean?

An Eröffnungsbilanz (opening balance sheet) must be prepared not only when the company is formed, but also at the beginning of each new financial year, and it must match the Schlussbilanz (closing balance sheet). This matching requirement is also known as Bilanzidentität (balance sheet identity) or Bilanzkontinuität (balance sheet continuity).

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What are the costs involved?

The cost of the opening balance depends on the amount of share capital contributed. The tax adviser will charge you accordingly on a sliding scale. Also, as the opening balance sheet needs to be certified by a notary, there will be additional notary fees.

 

What is an E-Bilanz?

You can send your balance sheet to the tax office electronically as an E-Bilanz (e-balance sheet). Like the tax return, it is sent via the ELSTER portal. You will need an ELSTER-Zertifikat (ELSTER certificate) to authenticate your company. But the fun (admin) doesn’t stop there. In addition, the e-balance sheet must be sent to the Bundesanzeiger (federal gazette) using accounting software.

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