Elterngeld: what is it and how to apply?
Germany has all these benefits for new parents, isn’t it wonderful? But the whole topic can be quite stressful and complicated for most. In this article we aim to explain the how it works and how to make sure you optimize your request.
What is Elterngeld in Germany
Elterngeld is an income replacement state benefit that is available to both mothers and fathers in Germany. Parents can claim between 150 and 1800€ / month depending on a number of factors (how long they wish to claim Elterngeld for, how much income they earned before the child was born etc).
If you live in Germany, have a child who is 15 months old or younger and if you do not work because you are caring for your baby (or work less than 32 hours a week), then it’s very likely you will be entitled to Elterngeld.
Who is eligible for Elterngeld
In order to be entitled to Elterngeld, you have to fulfil certain criteria:
- Be the biological or adoptive parent of the child (some exceptions possible for children of spouses, foster parents or grand-parents when the biological parents are not able to care for the child for example)
- Live in the same household as the child (some exceptions possible for workers in Germany where the child lives abroad with another parent)
- Be a citizen of one of the EU member states (or Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, Switzerland) or hold a valid residence permit (see below)
- Have earned less than 250K€ as a single parent or 300K€ as a couple in the fiscal year prior to the baby being born
- Work no more than 32h whilst claiming Elterngeld
You are eligible for Elterngeld even if:
- You have never worked in Germany or never worked at all
- You gave birth abroad
- You are a freelancer
- You are a foreigner
A valid residence permit is one that allows you to work in Germany. This includes:
- Work permit Niederlassungs-Erlaubnis
- Permit to reside in the EU Erlaubnis zum Daueraufenthalt-EU
- EU blue card
- ICT-card or a mobile ICT-card
- Residence permit on the grounds of living in Germany before the Brexit Aufenthaltsdokument GB
- Temporary work permit Beschäftigungsduldung
- Residence permit Aufenthalts-Erlaubnis, if you had been able to work for at least 6 months in Germany previously
The following residence permits will not allow you to claim Elterngeld
- Student visa
- Asylum seeker residence permit Aufenthalts-Gestattung
- Temporary residence permit Duldung
Elterngeld vs Elternzeit
It’s important to make the difference between Elterngeld and Elternzeit as there is some confusion but they are not the same thing.
Elterngeld is a benefit, Elternzeit is an advantage.
Elterngeld is an income replacement allowance. Elternzeit is a legal framework allowing you to be freed from your work obligations as an employee.
Elterngeld is the parental allowance, Elternzeit is parental leave.
You apply for Elterngeld with the German state, you apply for Elternzeit with your employer.
The various models of Elterngeld: Elterngeld vs Elterngeld plus
Elterngeld is available as 2 different models:
- Elterngeld Basic
- Elterngeld Plus
Elterngeld Basic is minimum 300€ per month per parent, and maximum 1800€ per month per parent.
Elterngeld Basic is available for 14 months to share between the parents (some exceptions possible where single parents can take 14 months alone). One parent can take a minimum of 2 months, and a maximum of 12 months. Most couples split the Elterngeld so that a parent takes 12 months and the other parent takes 2, but you can also split it 10/4, 9/5 etc.
Elterngeld Basic is minimum 150€ per month per parent, and maximum 900€ per month per parent.
Elterngeld Plus is available for 28 months to share between the parents (some exceptions possible where single parents can take 28 months alone). One parent can take a minimum of 4 months, and a maximum of 24 months.
Elterngeld Basic is 66% of the income you’re missing out on whereas the Elterngeld Plus is half the Basic but for double the amount of time. Some exceptions are possible for very low income levels where the percentage is higher.
Minimum per parent
Maximum per parent
% of your income
How is Elterngeld calculated?
Elterngeld Basic is calculated as 66% of the income you’re missing out on, i.e. your average net monthly income before birth. Elterngeld Plus is calculated as 33% of the income you’re missing out on.
The calculation period to get to your average net monthly income differs whether you are self-employed or employed. If you are employed only, then the calculation basis period will be the last 12 months before birth. If you are self-employed or have mixed income (from employment and self-employment) then the calculation basis will be the last fiscal year before birth.
There are exceptions where you can skip some months or even years in the calculation period if you were receiving maternity leave allowance (Mutterschaftsgeld), Elterngeld for an older child, suffered income loss because of Covid etc. This can positively impact your Elterngeld and you can find more information on how it works and some examples on this article.
Please note that Elterngeld is capped. If your average net monthly income before birth exceeds 2770€, your Elterngeld will be calculated based on a maximum of 2770€.
As an example:
- Linda used to earn 4000€ per month, her Elterngeld will be 66% of 2770€ = 1800€ max per month
- Max used to earn 2800€ per month, his Elterngeld will also be 1800€ (66% of 2770€)
Also note that there is a minimum of Elterngeld you can claim. If you have not worked before birth or worked outside of the EU, then you are still eligible to receive the minimum Elterngeld Basic of 300€, or Elterngeld Plus of 150€.
How long can I claim Elterngeld?
Elterngeld Basic can be claimed for min 2 month and max 12 months per parent (14 months together as a couple). This model is available until the child turns 15 months old.
Elterngeld Plus can be claimed for min 4 month and max 24 months per parent (28 months together as a couple). This model is available until the child turns 30 months old.
Parents can claim Elterngeld simultaneously or one after the other. You can also split your Elterngeld claim period, for example take the first 3 months after birth as Elterngeld, then go back to work for 2 months and then claim another 6 months.
Note that Elterngeld is paid in life months of the baby. If they were born on February 14th then Elterngeld will always be paid from the 14th to the 13th of the following month. Make sure you apply for Elternzeit with your employer to coincide with the baby’s life month.
Can I work whilst claiming Elterngeld?
Yes you can work whilst receiving Elterngeld but no more than 32 hours per week, otherwise you loose your entitlement.
Your Elterngeld amount will be calculated based on the difference between your calculation basis (your average net monthly income before birth) and what you’re earning whilst working part-time.
To give you an example:
- Markus used to earn 2500€ per month before birth
- He is now working part-time and earning 1700€ per month
- His Elterngeld will be calculated based on the difference 2500 – 1700 = 800€
- Elterngeld Basic = 66% of 800€ = 528€ plus his earnings from work
- Elterngeld Plus = half of Basic = 264€ plus his earnings from work
Elterngeld: how to apply
You apply for Elterngeld by filling in some forms either as pdf or that you have printed from your local Elterngeldstelle’s website. Each federal state has their own version of the forms so make sure to find your state’s application forms for Elterngeld. Alternatively, some Elterngeld offices provide an online version of the forms, which you can fill out online. It will generate a pdf at the end that you need to print out and sign. You cannot really circumvent the printing, signing and posting the physical forms.
Where to send the Elterngeld application?
You send the filled application forms for Elterngeld at your local Elterngeldstelle (Elterngeld office) which is part of your local Jugendamt. If you live in the state of Baden-Württemberg, there are no Elterngeldstellen and the service is provided by the L-Bank, the state bank. It’s easy to find your local Elterngeldstelle by googling “elterngeld” and the town or district where you live. Once you have the address, gather all your supporting documents and your application forms and send it all by post. I recommend your make copies of the entire (!) application, including the supporting documents or to scan them before you post them. Most Elterngeld offices will not allow you to come and drop it off to an Elterngeld case officer, although you can pop it in the mailbox by hand.
Elterngeld: when to apply
You can only send your application for Elterngeld after birth since you will only receive some of the documents you need to provide after birth (the baby’s birth certificate, the health insurance confirmation that you received or not Mutterschaftsgeld, etc). You should aim to apply for Elterngeld within 3 months after the baby was born as Elterngeld is only paid 3 months retroactively. If you have not applied within 3 months after birth, don’t panic, you can still send your application for Elterngeld but it will only be 3 months retroactive from the date the application was sent. If you don’t have all the documents and the deadline of 3 months is coming nearer, send the application for your Elterngeld anyway, what counts is not when the application is complete but when the Elterngeld offices received your first application, even if it’s incomplete.
If you move to Germany after the baby was born, you can still apply for Elterngeld, even though was born outside of Germany. You can apply as soon as the baby was registered as living under your roof. In the case of a surrogacy, Elterngeld will be paid from birth, even though the child can only be registered weeks after birth.
Who pays Elterngeld?
Elterngeld is paid by the Elterngeldstelle (part of the Jugendamt) of the German state. Elterngeld is not paid by your employer.
Prepare your Elterngeld application
Although you can only send your Elterngeld application after birth, you can actually prepare most of it beforehand. It will make the time after birth so much easier.
- Discuss Elterngeld with your partner throughout the entire pregnancy (who will take how many months and when, who wants to go back to work when, what will the family and individual finances look like with Elterngeld vs full pay, how will this impact each parent’s career and pension plans, when can you realistically expect to have childcare, etc?)
- Start discussing parental leave plans with your employers 2-3 months before birth
- Download all forms 6 weeks before birth and fill them in as much as possible (technically you can fill in everything apart from the baby’s date of birth)
- Make a checklist of the documents necessary and start making copies
- If freelancing: get your accounting in order, you will need to provide your tax return for the last fiscal year before birth
If you need some help with all this, I have helped hundreds of families get their Elterngeld right. Just get in touch and let me take this off your shoulders!
About Baby in Berlin
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