Commercial letter

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A commercial letter is a document that is used to prepare, execute, conclude or reverse a commercial transaction .


Commercial letters, as restricted by section 257 (2) of the German Commercial Code ( HGB) , are only written documents that relate to a commercial transaction. Commercial business is understood to mean legal acts or legal transactions of a merchant that are part of the operation of his commercial trade ( § 343 ). This means that commercial letters can only be sent by merchants within the meaning of the HGB; Letters from private individuals with business content are called business letters . Since a so-called unilateral commercial transaction ( § 345 HGB) also belongs to the commercial transactions, the correspondence with business content to or from private persons is to be regarded as a commercial letter. Any correspondence that serves to initiate (such as answering an offer) , carry out (such as a delivery ) or cancel (such as cancellation ) a commercial transaction is considered a commercial letter in this sense.

Types of commercial letters

The HGB uses the broad term "document" for the medium. In addition to letters, this also includes telex , telegrams , fax messages and e-mails ; If these concern a commercial transaction, they also belong to the commercial letters. Therefore, with regard to general rules of evidence and special retention regulations under commercial and tax law, attention must be paid to the proper documentation of these forms of communication. In terms of content, commercial letters also include incoming invoices and reproductions of outgoing invoices .

Retention requirements

With regard to incoming mail, Section 257 (1) No. 2 of the German Commercial Code obliges every merchant to keep the commercial letters received in an orderly manner . This also applies to outgoing mail, of which a merchant has to keep a copy of the commercial letters sent that match the original ( §§ 238 Paragraph 1 , 257 Paragraph 1 No. 3 HGB). The retention period for commercial letters is six years (Section 257 Paragraph 4 HGB) and begins at the end of the calendar year in which the commercial letter was received or sent (Section 257 Paragraph 5 HGB). This also applies to the other forms of communication.

The tax code contains in § 147 AO a tax regulation regulation for the storage. First of all, reference is made to the regulations in the Commercial Code. Received commercial and business letters as well as the reproduction of the dispatched commercial and business letters are to be kept for 6 years according to § 147 Abs. 3 AO. Here, too, the retention period begins at the end of the calendar year in which the commercial and business letter was received or sent (Section 147 (4) AO).


For the minimum information required by commercial law in a commercial letter, see imprint obligation and business letter .

Individual evidence

  1. Iris Thomsen: Bookkeeping Basics: Compact learning units with final test and confirmation of participation , Haufe Lexware; Edition: 1st, edition 2009, ISBN 978-3-4480-9357-5 , p. 208