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Do students have to file a tax return?

If you are a student, you don’t always earn income unless you are on a scholarship or working a student job. Nevertheless, you are obliged to file a tax return in Switzerland because you are already of age. Which deadlines and which tax rates apply depends on the respective canton. At the beginning of each year, you will be asked to file a tax return.

Tax liability for students in Switzerland

If you are of age, you must file a tax return in Switzerland. You always file the tax return retroactively for the previous year. If you first become of age, you must file a tax return for the first time for the year in which you turn 18. You must file your 2023 tax return in 2024 if you celebrate your 18th birthday in 2023. At the beginning of each year, the cantonal tax administration requests you to submit a tax return for the previous year and sets a deadline for submitting the tax return.

Center of life in the tax return

You must file your tax return in the canton where your center of life is located. For example, if you study in Zurich and otherwise live in St. Gallen, you are liable to pay taxes in St. Gallen if you travel to your family in St. Gallen every weekend. The situation is different if you have rented a room in Zurich and only visit your family in St. Gallen on holidays. You are then liable for tax in Zurich and must file your tax return there.

Tax return without income

Not every student has an income. However, this is not a reason not to file the tax return. Even if you do not receive income as a student, you are required to file a tax return. If you have no income of your own, you must declare your assets. This can pay, for example, a bank account or a share deposit. Whether and how much tax you have to pay depends on the amount of assets and the respective canton. The individual cantons have completely different regulations regarding taxes. This concerns the level of income or assets, but also the level of tax rates.
Depending on the canton, head tax or church tax may be levied on your assets. Whether these tax rates are relevant for you depends on the canton. Only if you belong to the church, you pay church tax.

What is considered income for students?

If you have a student job in Switzerland, this counts as income and must be declared in your tax return. If you receive support from your parents, this does not count as income. A scholarship of a support nature is also not considered income. We speak of a scholarship with support character if you do not have any significant means yourself and use the scholarship for the most part to finance your living expenses. Pay from military, firefighting and civilian service is also tax-exempt.

If you receive money for a paid internship or have a part-time job, you must declare the income on your tax return. It depends on the canton and the amount of income whether you actually have to pay taxes.

In some cantons, taxes are only levied on a certain minimum income. However, you still have to declare the income in the tax return. If you do not do this, you could be subject to tax evasion, which is sanctioned by a fine.

Tax return for married couples and registered partnerships

It is quite possible that students are already married or living in a registered civil partnership. In these cases, you must file a joint tax return with your partner, whether or not you earn income as a student. Your income and your partner’s income are added together and taxed jointly. The amount of the tax rate differs depending on the canton. If you marry, you must file a joint tax return for the first time retroactively for the year of the marriage. If you marry in 2022, you will file your joint tax return for 2022 for the first time in 2023.

If you divorce, you must file a separate tax return retroactively for the year of the divorce.

Deadlines for the tax return for students

The deadlines for the tax return may differ depending on the canton. The tax return must always be submitted for the previous year. In many cantons, the March 31 or April 30 as the deadline for filing the tax return. The deadline is stated in the request to submit a tax return that you receive from the relevant tax administration.

However, an extension of the deadline is possible. If it is obvious to you that you will not be able to submit the tax return on time by the deadline, submit a request for extension of the deadline to the relevant tax administration. This request for extension of the deadline must be received before the deadline. You will then receive an extension of the deadline. In some cantons, the extension of time may be subject to a fee if it goes beyond a certain period of time.

Tax return not submitted or forgotten – what now?

In any case, you should not fail to file the tax return. Now it may happen that you forget to file your tax return. You will receive a reminder from the tax administration with a new deadline, for which a reminder fee is usually charged. In addition, a fine may be levied. The tax administration shall determine a tax at its discretion within the time limit. This tax may be too high or too low. If it is too high, you can appeal. This is only useful if you fill out all forms completely afterwards. If the tax is assessed too low, you can be prosecuted for tax evasion. You must pay the outstanding tax in arrears and will be fined. Therefore, it is absolutely advisable to file the tax return on time.

There are a few reasons for which you can file a request for a new deadline if you forget to file your tax return. You must justify to the tax administration why the tax return was forgotten. Only foreign residence of the taxpayer, mental illness of the taxpayer and death of a member of the taxpayer’s family are recognized.

What can students deduct from their taxes?

To avoid paying too much as a student, you should know what you can deduct from your taxes.

Educational expenses such as the cost of books, meals, or tuition are not tax deductible.

Your parents are also not allowed to deduct such expenses for tax purposes, even if they are paid by them. If your parents mainly pay for your upkeep, they can claim a child deduction, which differs depending on the canton. In some cantons, an education deduction also applies to students.
For tax purposes you can deduct

  • Professional expenses, such as travel expenses, expenses for professional training or costs for meals away from home
  • Cost for room away from home
  • Costs for regular return to the place of residence
  • Insurance premiums for health, accident and life insurance
  • Sickness and accident costs
  • Pension contributions for the pension fund

How students can make their tax return easier

In every Swiss canton you can file your tax return electronically. This is also possible for the receipts that you can scan and submit electronically. There are several utilities that will make your tax return easier. However, make sure that they are recognized in the respective canton.
You can also entrust the tax return to a tax advisor, but this is usually not worthwhile for students, as it involves costs.