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As a freelancer, it is very tempting to use tax returns as a way to track the total maaserable income.

The only thing is that people tend to write off all kinds of stuff that "could be used for business" whether it is really used or not.

Separating all of these out would be quite cumbersome for anyone who has hundreds of invoices per year spent on things that are used for business, personal, or mixed reasons. Weeding out items blatantly dedicated to personal use is hard enough, figuring out controversial items makes all this even more painful.

Printer ink (and paper) - is one expected to really keep track of how much is used for personal vs business documents?

GPT, newspaper, all kinds of software subscriptions? Desk, chairs, headphones, all stationary, petrol, parking, car insurance, electricity, water, SIM card, internet, Yacht / Golf clubs (people look for business connections there), bicycles? Is it enough that you use something for business once to justify its purchase? Is it enough to have an intention to maybe use it at some point?

Is there space for a kula that says - if that's good enough for the government (as far as reducing taxable base is concerned) it's good enough for maaser?

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  • Who said it's good enough for the government?
    – Double AA
    Commented Jun 27 at 16:03
  • Every accountant I've ever had. If you make a film about how you've never used anything you'd bought for work they might come for you. But if you use your purchases just once symbolically, you're off the hook and they don't get to question the rationality of your business decisions (unless it's outright fraud). And that's why accounts refuse to write certain things off, sometimes the government releases regulation notes where they poskim certain cases that were otherwise ambiguous.
    – rudolfovic
    Commented Jun 27 at 16:08
  • For example, in Israel as a freelancer, working from home (not necessarily exclusively) you get to write 25% off utilities - they had to pick a number as it can't really even be determined neither by the government nor by the freelancers themselves.
    – rudolfovic
    Commented Jun 27 at 16:10
  • 2
    Why not just take maaser from your after-tax income? Commented Jun 27 at 16:42
  • 2
    @Yoreinu I was told by my rov that childcare expenses can be deducted from income before calculating maaser, because it's a necessary cost in order for me to be able to work. The same for transportation to and from work.
    – Esther
    Commented Jun 27 at 21:44

1 Answer 1

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The consensus of sources I saw on the topic is that you can only deduct true business expenses from the "maaser base", i.e., expenses which are truly necessary to the running of your business. Expenses you would have incurred if you didn't have your business should not be deducted. The following examples should help make this come alive

  • Food: money spent on food during a business trip can be deducted, however only the difference between what the food would cost him at home and what it costs on the trip. Pne may not buy more expensive food which one doesn't eat at home and deduct it from maaser

  • Clothing: one can deduct the cost of a business suit but only if one would not have purchased the suit otherwise

  • Business trip combined with pleasure: one can only deduct the cost of the trip if one would not have taken the trip otherwise, and any expenses for the personal time cannot be deducted

  • Car used for business and personal: a car purchased for both business and personal use is not considered a business expense if he would have purchased the car even if he didn't need it for business. A calculation must be made to determine of amount of gas, repairs, etc. which is spent for business use, and only that portion can be deducted.

As you note, this can be quite complicated to track. R Feuer explicitly writes "This calculation can become very detailed ... one should be scrupulous to deduct only the added expense which actually results from engaging in business".

Sources: R Shimon Taub's The laws of tzedaka and maaser (pp. 137ff), R Yisrael Bronstein's The halachos of maaser kesafim (pp. 147ff), R Avrohom Chaim Feur's the tzedaka treasury (pp. 133ff)

Of course, consult your rabbi before implementing anything you learn here.

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