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How to make the most of reward schemes on your German health insurance

Most people in Germany pay for health insurance, but did you know that many providers also have reward schemes that let you earn points for healthy living? Whether you’re a gym bunny or a couch potato, here's how to make the most of them.

Jogger in Dresden, Saxony
A man goes for a jog in Volkspark Großer Garten in Dresden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

I’ve got health insurance. What’s all this about rewards?

We’re glad you asked! Health insurance bonus or reward schemes are incentives designed to encourage people to take a more proactive approach to managing their health. 

Generally, people participating in the schemes can collect points for deductions in their healthcare payments or other rewards for doing things to improve their health and wellbeing. They’re available for most people with insurance, regardless of whether you’re employed, self-employed, a student or a pensioner. 

These schemes are entirely voluntary but can be a great way of saving a bit of money on your health insurance for things you might do anyway, like going to the gym or getting a dental check-up.

You won’t face penalties for not completing activities, so there’s no risk involved in participating. 

The idea is that by offering cash or other incentives for people to improve their lifestyle, insurance companies are far less likely to have to shell out money for treatment later on. Ever heard the phrase, “Prevention is better than cure?”. Well, that’s pretty much the motto of these bonus schemes. 

If you have statutory health insurance such as AOK, TK or one of the regional state providers, your insurance is bound by law to offer extras like bonus schemes, so it could be worth checking their website to see what you can find out. 

Private providers may also offer them as a way of enticing new customers and trying to keep their existing customers healthy. 

Maximum bonuses are generally around €300 for a single person and €600 for a family, so participating could be well worth your while.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The three new services covered by German health insurance

What kind of things count as ‘healthy living’? 

That partially depends on your insurance provider, but generally bonuses are given out for things like getting regular check-ups, going to the gym, visiting the dentist or taking a course on health and wellbeing.

Technische Krankenkasse (TK), for instance, offer 200 points for doing an early cancer screening such as a smear test, 200 points for a dental check-up and 400 points for getting a Covid vaccination. They also offer points for taking part in sports activities and events.

These points can be redeemed for money off your health insurance or issued as a ‘TK Health Dividend’ which can be used to pay for treatments or other healthy activities like courses on health and nutrition. You can find a full list of the activities covered and more about the bonus scheme here.

The other major state health insurance provider, AOK, runs a similar bonus scheme with points doled out for regular check-ups, dental treatment, having a gym membership and Covid-19 vaccination.

They also offer a bonus of 2,000 points (equivalent to €20) for socially conscious activities like donating blood. Find out more about the AOK scheme here

In the case of both TK and AOK, 100 points is equivalent to €1. 

Barmer, a public health insurance that caters to English speakers, also offers a bonus scheme with up to €100 available for things like regular check-ups, having a gym membership and maintaining a healthy BMI. 

Meanwhile, IKKBB, a regional insurance provider for the Berlin-Brandenburg areas, offers a €20 bonus for quitting smoking, €10 for having a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI), €75 for regular exercise and other incentives for check-ups and healthy living courses. 

Sounds great – where do I sign up? 

That all depends on your provider, but generally you’ll be able to sign up online in your health insurance’s customer portal, in person at a local branch or in their app. 

If you’re not with any of the providers listed above, you may able to find details of their rewards scheme and how to participate by Googling the name of your provider and the word “Bonusprogramm” (rewards or bonus programme) – or by visiting their website.

You’ll generally be expected to sign a disclaimer to say that you consent to your personal data being used for the purpose of collecting points or cashback. 

After you’ve signed up, you’ll need to prove you’ve taken part in activities by uploading relevant photos or collecting ‘stamps’ on your app or a paper booklet.

People at the gym

Two people run on treadmills at Campus Sports Club in Saarbrücken. Rewards are often earned by having a gym membership or attending classes. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Oliver Dietze

So for example, if you’ve just been to the hygienist, you may need to get them to confirm the activity in your in-app activity log or by placing a stamp in a booklet that you can then send to your health insurance provider. 

READ ALSO: 12 ways to improve your life in Germany without even trying

In the case of AOK, you can opt to synchronise the Bonus App with a fitness tracker like FitBit and enter data on your sports activities that way.

Other activities, such as check-ups, may also be tracked automatically by your insurance provider if you are enrolled in the scheme. 

Contact your insurance or consult their website to find out more about the kind of evidence they require for the bonus scheme. 

Does this affect my taxes in any way? 

It may do – but it all depends on how much you ‘earn’ in bonuses.

Generally, taxpayers can declare their health insurance contributions – whether statutory or private – as special expenses in their tax return. This reduces the taxable income and, with it, the amount of tax you have to pay.

However, if you receive, say, €200 off your insurance bill, you need to make sure this is calculated in the tax bill – which basically means you’ll have fewer expenses to write off.

There is some good news for taxpayers, however. According to a recent report by Handelsblatt, the first €150 in bonuses earned does not need to be accounted for in your tax return.

In order to simplify things for taxpayers, up to €150 is classified as benefits from the statutory health insurance fund and therefore shouldn’t be deducted from expenses, the Ministry of Finance confirmed.

Above this amount, only the ‘surplus’ is counted – so in the case of a €200 bonus, only €50 would be deducted from the total amount you’ve spent on health insurance that year. 

What else do I need to know?

According to the German Consumer Rights Centre (VZ), the devil tends to be in the detail with these bonus programmes – so make sure you know all of the relevant terms and conditions.

Generally, health insurance providers will try and entice you with incredible looking bonuses of €300 or more, but be aware that this is the maximum you can earn – not the standard payout. Unless you’re an absolute superhuman when it comes to health (or have a lot of time on your hands), the real bonus is likely to be a fair bit less.

You may also notice that not all of the activities required to collect points are free of charge, so these may only worth doing if you’re keen to do them for the health benefits rather than the financial gain. Others, like online health courses, may be subsidised or offered for free by your insurance – so be sure to read up on what’s on offer.

If you’re signing up with a partner or family members who are covered on your insurance, it’s worth reading up on the rules. Some programmes will allow you to pool points with your family members or transfer them to another person on your insurance, but generally this doesn’t work in all directions.

Child Covid jab

A five year old boy receives a Covid vaccination in Frankenthal, Rhineland-Palatinate. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

For example, parents may be able to share points with their children but not the other way around. Equally, you may find that a partner who’s included on the insurance is offered a slightly less generous rewards scheme than the person paying into the pot. That means that you may want to think twice before sharing your points or consider transferring them to the person with the best bonuses, if possible.

READ ALSO: How much does it cost to bring up a child in Germany?

Another thing to consider are deadlines for gathering and/or submitting points. Some insurers such as TK specify that you have to gather a minimum number of points in order to receive a reward, so be sure to do this in the allotted time to prevent points being wasted.

Often, bonus schemes run for a year and points are finalised by March 31st, so if you join a new health insurance in January you may have to rush to get your activities in in order to save that year. Others may link the deadline to your registration date, giving you 12 or 13 months from when you sign up to collect points and earn rewards. 

Check with your health insurance provider for any deadlines and T&Cs, and be aware that your points will be invalidated if you switch providers before redeeming them. 

Vocabulary

Bonus/rewards programme – (das) Bonusprogramm

collect points – Punkte sammeln 

special (tax) expenses – (die) Sonderausgaben 

check-up – (der) Gesundheitscheck 

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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For members

ENERGY

Who gets Germany’s €300 energy relief payout – and when?

As part of a package to ease the rising cost of living, the German government is set to give taxpayers in employment a one-off payout. Here's what we know so far.

Who gets Germany's €300 energy relief payout - and when?

Germany has approved a special package to provide financial relief to people during the cost of living crisis. 

Among the measures in the Tax Relief Act is a €300 allowance known as the Energiepreispauschale or EEP in Germany, which employers will have to pay out to their staff later this year. Self-employed people will also receive it. However, the payment is taxed for everyone who receives it. 

It is aimed at providing financial relief to workers in Germany dealing with soaring energy bills. 

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS- What Germany’s budget means for you

Which employees receive the payout?

All employees in tax brackets one to five who are in employment in 2022, as well as people in marginal and short-term employment (i.e. people with mini jobs and temp work) who pay flat-rate tax on their wages, will get the cash boost.

“Marginal or short-term employees must confirm in writing to the employer that the marginal employment is their first employment relationship,” Ecovis tax consultant Magdalena Glück, who’s based in Dingolfing, told trade site Handwerksblatt.

This prevents the energy price lump sum from being paid out twice. All those who were employed as workers at some point in 2022 will receive the €300, whether it’s through their employers or an income tax assessment. 

The SPD (Social Democrats) parliamentary group in the Bundestag said “44 million working people will be relieved quickly and unbureaucratically” through the payment. 

When and how do employers pay out the lump sum?

Employees should receive the cash boost with their September wages. For this purpose, the employer will add an “E” on the pay slip certificate detailing the amount. 

“If employers do not pay the wage tax monthly – but quarterly instead – the energy price lump sum can also be paid out in October,” said Glück.

The lump sum is free of social security contributions – but it will be subject to tax for most people. “For mini-jobs taxed at a flat rate, the €300 is tax-free,” said Glück. 

A woman turns down a radiator in Germany.

Energy prices have been significantly rising in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marcus Brandt

Glück added that it was extra bureaucracy for employers.

“Many citizens will be happy about the money. But for employers, the energy price lump sum is additional work,” she said.

Do self-employed people also get the lump sum and if so, how?

As well as employees, freelancers tradespeople and other self-employed workers also receive the lump sum. For them, the payout is considered other income – but the exemption limit of €256 is not applied.

They receive the lump sum by reducing their advanced income tax payment in September, provided the advance payment reaches the amount of the lump sum. 

Employees who are not in employment on September 1st and self-employed people with low advance payments are granted the flat-rate energy allowance via their income tax return without submitting a separate application.

“If no advance payment is made, the amount can only be taken into account in the income tax assessment,” said Glück. “This happens automatically,” she added.

READ ALSO: Will freelancers benefit from Germany’s €300 energy allowance?

What about people who’ve retired?

Pensioners who are not in employment in 2022 are not entitled to the payout. However, according to reports in German media, if they work for a short time in 2022 – even if that’s a one-day mini-job – they are entitled to the payment.

CDU financial expert Antje Tillmann even recommended a special trick to try, 

“It is sufficient, for example, for a pensioner to look after his grandchild for one hour in 2022 and receive €12 minimum wage from his children in return as part of a mini-job or from self-employment,” said Tillmann told German daily Bild. “Subsequently, he declares this income in his tax return, gets the energy price lump sum paid out in May 2023.”

Tillmann recommended that the “salary” be paid out via a bank transfer so that it can be presented as a mini-job.

We’d recommend you chat to an expert such as a tax consultant to see your options. 

How much of the €300 will people actually receive?

“That varies from person to person, because the EEP is subject to the personal income tax rate,” said Glück.

It means that people with a low income will have to pay little or no tax at all, while those with a high income will receive less of the payment. 

The payout has been designed that way on purpose. “Since taxation increases with income, a social design for the flat rate is achieved,” said the SPD in a press release

Some cash and an EC card.

Some cash and an EC card. Photo:
picture alliance/dpa | Arne Dedert

The German government expects additional tax revenue from the energy price flat rate of €3.4 billion. On average, people who get it will be left with around €226.

As well as income tax, surcharge taxes such as church tax and the solidarity surcharge may further reduce the lump sum in some cases.

As we mentioned above, people who have mini-jobs who are taxed at a flat rate should be happy: for reasons of simplification, lawmakers have decided to waive taxation here.

How do employers get their money back from the government?

The energy price flat rate is offset against tax.

“The employer therefore simply pays less wage tax to the tax office,” said Glück. “If employers have to pay out more EEP to employees than they pay in wage tax, they get the difference from the tax office.”

What other payouts are people receiving?

As well as the €300 payout, families will receive a one-off Kinderbonus of €100 per child this year. The bonus will be paid out with the child benefit payment in July.

There will also be a €200 payout for people on social welfare, and €100 for people on the unemployment benefit Arbeitslosengeld I.

Meanwhile, a €270 heating cost allowance for people on housing benefit, and €230 for students receiving state support (BAfög) is also planned.

In total, the law provides around €4.46 billion of financial relief for people in Germany this year.

READ ALSO: Why people in Germany have longer for their tax return this year

As with all of our tax and financial summaries, this is a guide only and should not be taken to constitute specific and tailored financial advice. For tax advice which is personalised to your situation, please contact an accountant or tax specialist. 

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