Kleinunternehmen: The top 6 mistakes people make starting a small business in Germany

Do you want to start your own business and are you considering using the Kleinunternehmerregelung (small business regulation)? Do you know how to set this up? And what turnover limits apply? Do you know how to avoid getting into trouble with the tax office? This guide will help you avoid the top 6 mistakes many Kleinunternehmer (small business owners) make.


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Kleinunternehmen: How to set up a small business

Legally speaking, a Kleinunternehmen is a business that uses the Kleinunternehmerregelung (small business regulation). The size of the company or its legal form is irrelevant, but certain turnover limits must not be exceeded. Registering to use this small business regulation is very simple: You check the box in the Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung (tax registration questionnaire) you must fill out after registering either your gewerblich (commercial) business or if you’re a Freiberufler (liberal professional), your freiberuflich business.

But wait there’s more: You’ll also need to do a trade register with the Gewerbeamt too. 

Kleinunternehmer: Who can become a small trader (business)?

There are no legal requirements to become a Kleinunternehmer (small business owner of a Kleinunternehmen) – you can even use the Kleinunternehmerregelung (small business regulation) as a Freiberufler (liberal professional). It makes no difference whether you are an Einzelunternehmer (sole trader) or the director of a GmbH (limited liability company). In fact, Freiberufler can use this scheme without registering with the Gewerbeamt (trade office). The only important thing is that the tax office has ticked the box on the tax questionnaire form.

In contrast to Kleingewerbe (a different type of small business), the legal form of a small business is therefore irrelevant. And, yes, there is an important difference between Kleingewerbe and Kleinunternehmen. Things are never simple when it comes to bureaucracy in Germany!

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Kleinunternehmerregelung: The small business regulation

‘Kleinunternehmer’ use the ‘Kleinunternehmerregelung’ (small business regulation), which basically means they don’t have to pay VAT to the tax authorities. Not paying VAT can have both advantages and disadvantages. For full details of the scheme, see our guide.

 Umsatzgrenzen: Revenue limits

To qualify for the Kleinunternehmerregelung, the revenue in the year of application must not exceed €22,000 (new limit from 2020, previously €17,500). In the following year, the planned revenue must not exceed €50,000. For those who are already self-employed, the previous year’s turnover cannot exceed €22,000 and the current year’s revenue cannot exceed €50,000. This means that if you exceed these in one year, you cannot use the Kleinunternehmerregelung, but possibly in the following year.

The common pitfalls to avoid

Not crunching the numbers accurately

The Kleinunternehmerregelung can be negative if you have high expenses or make a lot of purchases. This is because, as a Kleinunternehmer, you can’t make VAT deductions.

Incorrect revenue estimation

If you send the tax authorities a deliberately low estimate of your revenue, you may have to pay VAT retrospectively if your business exceeds it. In the case of a surprisingly high turnover, e.g. in the first year of operation, the low estimate will be accepted, but not for more mature businesses that have only underestimated their turnover to qualify for the Kleinunternehmerregelung. Only if the business can credibly prove that the high revenue couldn’t be predicted at the beginning of the year can the business avoid retrospective taxation.

Overlooking the 5-year time limit

If you opt out of the Kleinunternehmerregelung in one year, your decision is binding for the next five as well. Therefore, if you opt out of the scheme in one year in anticipation of a lot of revenue, you won’t be able to opt in the following year if the revenue doesn’t materialise. In other words, your decision for or against the Kleinunternehmerregelung is binding for five years.

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Forgetting to mention your VAT exemption

When you issue invoices, you must state on the document that you are a small business and therefore exempt from VAT under § 19 UStG. Not doing so is illegal.

Regelbesteuerung: Failing to switch to the standard tax system

Businesses will not receive a notification from the tax authorities if their revenue is such that they will no longer be eligible for the Kleinunternehmerregelung in the following year. To ensure that the changeover to Regelbesteuerung (standard taxation) is registered with the tax office on time keep track of your revenue yourself. Otherwise, you may issue invalid invoices inadvertently.

Having more than one Kleinunternehmen

This is not possible for legal reasons alone, as the Kleinunternehmerregelung applies to only one person, not one or more businesses. Therefore, if you have more than one enterprise, the sales from all of them are counted as a total. This means that if you have two businesses below the revenue limit, you cannot benefit from the scheme. Instead, you will be subject to standard taxation.

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