וַיִּזְרַ֤ע יִצְחָק֙ בָּאָ֣רֶץ הַהִ֔וא וַיִּמְצָ֛א בַּשָּׁנָ֥ה הַהִ֖וא מֵאָ֣ה שְׁעָרִ֑ים וַֽיְבָרְכֵ֖הוּ ה‘.
“Then Yitzchak sowed in that land, and received in the same year an hundredfold: and the Lord blessed him.” (Gen. 26:12).
Rashi – “Our Rabbis say that this measurement was for the sake of giving ma’aser.”
QUESTION—New York, NY
Does one have to take ma’aser before they invest? Or do they take ma’aser on the earnings? Do they have to take it from investment earnings, is this only when they take money out their retirement account? Is ma’aser taken from gross income or adjusted gross income?
According to Rav Moshe (Iggros Moshe YD 1:143), one takes ma’aser on take-home pay after income tax has been deducted, since this is effectively what the person is actually earning. In other words, it would be taken off your adjusted gross income.
There are many discussions in the poskim regarding pre- or post-expenses and a lot depends on what expenses we are talking about (see Yechaveh Da’at 3:76, Minchat Yitzchak 5:34, Tzitz Eliezer 10:6).
As to the question of before they invest – you do have to take ma’aser from your investment earnings. As to whether you can postpone giving the ma’aser on the money you earn so you have more to invest, it pays to consider how this will play out. Let’s first deal with the case of non-retirement investments. Say you earned $200 this year, and that if you invest it, you expect to earn 100% over 5 years. So, if you first take ma’aser off the $200, that would be $20 to tzedakka, leaving you with $180 to invest. After 5 years, it will have grown to $360, you’ve earned $180, so you would now give another $18, translating into $38 total to tzedakka. Alternatively, if you were to wait until after 5 years before giving any tzedakah, your $200 will have grown to $400, and you would now give $40 to tzedakka. So by waiting to give your ma’aser, more money will go to tzedkka. However, depending on how risky your investment, there is a possibility that you there will be loss to the principle, and ma’aser will lose out as a result of your having postponed taking it. Also, there is a broad consensus in the poskim that ma’aser has to be given annually by analogy to ma’aser on grain (see Devarim 14:22) . So, it should be given during the same year that you earned it.
As far as the investment itself is concerned, you would only give ma’aser once you’ve sold the investment and realized the profit. Prior to that you have not really earned any money, it is just that an object in your possession is now worth more than it was before.
An important caveat, however. If we are talking about retirement savings, then I think, similar to Rav Moshe’s ruling regarding take-home pay, if a person is having money going pre-taxes into their retirement fund, then they would not have to give ma’aser on that money until they withdrew it from their fund. Those funds are not really experienced as money earned and available to the person just yet, especially considering that there are usually penalties for early withdrawal. When the money is withdrawn, ma’aser would need to be given both from the principle and the earnings.