What makes a Receipt a valid Receipt?

Have you ever received a receipt with something that looked like the scribblings of a three-year-old on it? Or have you ever done that yourself? During one's life, a signature typically becomes less legible – especially if you are constantly signing something. The question of the day is: Does this suffice?


Pursuant to §368 BGB, the creditor is obliged to give proof of received payment – via a receipt. But can such an unreadable signature be really accepted? What do you think?

A receipt usually demands written form. What is written? Does an email or WhatsApp or a spoken "Thank you!" suffice? In German law, this is easy to answer. We consult §126 Civil Code. This provision says in English "hard copy paper". email, WhatsApp, text messages, Instagram messages, etc. are "only" text form. So this means the receipt must be in written form and signed. But what is legally a signature?

A long wavy line will surely not be considered a signature. BGH determined this in its decision of 15 November 2006 (re IV ZR 122/05): Whoever signs off with a mark that only represents one or several letters does not legally add his signature – in other words, you have to identify the name. Finally, it is a matter of the individual case. What are the consequences of a missing or wrong signature? The debtor can retain his part of the deal (right of retainment or Zurückbehaltungsrecht). He does not have to pay.Usually, you first pay and then get the receipt. Even in this case, you are still entitled to have a receipt and can even sue the creditor for it. This is theory, of course!

Hint: Receipts / Documents in other Languages for Authorities

We foreigners love to use our native tongue. Will a document in a language other than German be acceptable for authoritative purposes? The answer is a clear: „Yes!“ but… But the authorities can request a translation and in justified cases this translation is to be certified. In most cases, documents in the English language will be accepted without translation. So, if you want to use Latin, better forget it.

An overview of the regulations:




§146 III AO

tax law

It must be a modern language.

§184 cl. 1 GVG

court cases

regardless of which jurisdiction

§23 VwVfG

administrative cases (outside of court)


§19 cl. 1 SGB X

social law administration

translations only requested when the case decider cannot understand