Swapping Favors in a Time Bank

Photo (cc) by CarbonNYC

Suppose you could earn a “time dollar” for every hour you babysit for your neighbor, drove the carpool or fed someone’s pet while they were away, odds are you’d have plenty of time dollars saved up. Now imagine you could spend those time dollars getting other people to do favors for you. That’s a time bank.

What is a time bank?

A time bank is a real network of people who all pay each other for favors in a currency based on time. The basic theory is a socialist one, your hour is worth the same as anyone else’s hour regardless of the skill required; one hour of cleaning gutters is equal in value to one hour of neurosurgery. In practice though, you’ll find few brain surgeons. You will, however, find plenty of people willing to help out with everything from housework and gardening to driving an elderly person to a doctor’s appointment.

Here’s a story we just did about one man and how he uses his hobby of web design to participate in a time bank.

The website featured in that video, Zakle, seems to have strayed somewhat from the original theory of time banking. They run on a system of “time points” and according to their website, “one point is roughly equivalent to one US dollar”. So, on a site like Zakle, you might see a request for help with a computer worth 10 points next to a request for help building a swimming pool worth 700, however it still seems to be roughly based on the amount of time spent.

Is time banking legal?

My first question about time banks was “how is this legal?” After all, it certainly seems like people are receiving payment and paying each other for services using an unregulated, untaxed currency. But from what I can tell after doing a little research, the IRS considers the charitable nature of time banks, along with the informal, non-commercial way in which they operate, and has decided that time dollars do not represent taxable income. Of course, there is no guarantee that the IRS wont change its mind in the future (I can’t find an official regulation that specifically deals with time banks), but for now, time banking appears to be perfectly legal.

Looking for a time bank?

If you’re looking for a time bank, check out the TimeBanks USA Member Directory to find a time bank near you. TimeBanks USA can also provide help starting your own time bank, should you be interested.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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