Freelancing in Israel: Oved Atzmai vs Billing Company
Congrats, you’re considering starting your own full time business. Or maybe you’re just looking for a little money on the side. Sooner or later, someone is going to want a cheshbonit mas (tax receipt) and its time to stop working under the table; it’s time to register as a freelancer.
In Israel, you register as a freelancer or Over Atzmai (hereinafter OA) as either an osek patur or osek murshe. An osek patur earns less than NIS 76,884 and does not charge VAT for his services. If an OA makes more than NIS 76,884, he or she registers as an osek murshe. An osek murshe does charge VAT, but can reclaim VAT on business expenses. You can change from an osek patur to an osek murshe mid-year (when you come close to the 76,884 line you have to change your status) and once you are an osek murshe, you cannot be an osek patur again for at least two years. Finally, some professions such as accountants, lawyers and doctors may only register as an osek murshe. Regardless of what you choose, the process is the same: register at the tax authority, then mas hachnasah, and then bituach leumi Once you are registered, you have to file regular reports, prepay VAT every so often (for an osek murshe) and file an annual report.
Sounds difficult. Is there an easier way?
I know, the reason you became a freelancer was so you wouldn’t have to leave the couch and put on pants; going to so many government offices seems out of the question. Fear not, there is an alternative; you can register with a billing company. A billing company is a company that hires you as a worker. You work as a freelancer, the company does your billing and the company takes a small cut of your revenue and pays you as a worker. Since you are working under the guise of another company, you pay both the employer and employee side of all taxes and investments. Billing company freelancers (hereinafter BF) do not issue personal receipts, but send the money to the billing company and then ask their billing company to issue a receipt. All that the billing companies ask for in return is a small percentage of your revenue.
So which is right for your?
This is a very complicated question that gets to the heart of a very important matter – tax planning, or more honestly, tax avoidance. With tax rates as high as they are in Israel, saving money on your taxes can mean a world (or at least a paycheck) of difference.
1) Tax deductible expenses: Expenses are deductible for both OAs and BFs. The only difference is that OAs can also deduct some living expenses (a portion of arnona, electricity, water and va’ad bayit). In addition, OAs who are registered as an osek murshe and BFs can also receive back VAT on most expenses (for some such as a car and cell phone, you only get back 2/3 VAT. Car rental expenses receive no VAT at all). Click here for a full list of deductible expenses for an OA including VAT reimbursement rates.
2) Charging VAT: Despite popular belief, VAT is more of a tax on the seller than on the buyer. Like all taxes, it leaves a tax incidence, but in a world of many suppliers, VAT is really less of a 16% sales tax on the consumer and more of a ~14% tax on the supplier. An OA is allowed to not pay this tax as long as he is an osek patur. One he is an osek murshe, then he is in the same boat as the BF, who always charges VAT.
3) Bituach Leumi. OAs pay 9.82% on all salary below 60% of the average wage (meaning on the first 5,000 of revenue) and 16.23% on all revenue after that. BFs pay 3.95 on the first portion of revenue and 17.9% afterwards. This means that until ~ NIS 14,200 revenue BF’s pay less, but after 14,200 revenue, OAs pay less. All in all, the difference is not that significant until an OA starts making a lot of money. Another difference is that OAs pay a minimal amount of Bituach Leumi (NIS 212) every month, whether they receive income or not. BFs only pay bituach leumi during months they receive income.
4) Pension: Both BFs and OAs can put aside money for pensions. BFs can put aside up to 7.5% from the employee side (which means after tax money, but 35% of the deposit is a tax credit, 7.5% from the employer side (tax and bituach leumi exempt money), and up to 8.33% for pitzuyim (also, tax and bituach leumi exempt money). Note that the percentages from the employer side turn out to always be a bit less than listed above because these are percentages of your declared salary after you remove the deductible and refundable expenses, including the hishtalmut and pension (there is some complicated math in this). OAs can also put aside money for a pension, 5% from the employee side and 11% from the employer side (both have the same tax deductible policies mentioned for a BF).
5) Hishtalmut: One of the best ways to get some money past the tax man is by paying to a keren hsihtalmut. Typically, a keren hishtalmut, allows a worker to pay in 2.5% of his or her income, which the employer matches with 7.5%. Since BFs are paying both the employer and employee side, this means that they get to pass the 7.5% through tax free and bituach leumi free (Note: like pensions, percentages are a bit less than 2.5% and 7.5% because these are percentages of your declared salary after you remove the deductible and refundable expenses, including the hishtalmut and pension). Similarly, an OA may deposit 2.5% from the employee side, but only 4.5% from the employer side.
6) Social Security: This is where the OA’s have it rough. If you’re an American and registered as an OA. you’ll have to pay 15.3% of your revenue (before taxes, but after deductibles and bituach leumi) to the US government for social security. This is sometimes a good thing, because if you’re close to having 40 quarters, being an OA can push you over the edge, but it also means you’re going to be paying a lot of extra taxes. (For those interested, I plan to have a post discussing the social security issue at length in the near future). Again, this tax does not apply to BFs at all.
7) Billing company fees and accounting fees. Billing companies charge a certain percentage of your initial revenue as a fee for its services (the fess is paid on revenue after removing VAT, but before removing expenses.) This fee covers not only billing, but all Israeli accounting expenses you’ll need throughout the year including deductions, refunds and tax planning (fees range from 4% – 7% with a maximum fee per month). Similarly, an OA requires the services of an accountant. I know there are many OAs out there who choose to do it alone, this is often a huge mistake. The major perk in being an atzmai is the ability to utilize tax exemptions and if a worker is not using an accountant he or she risks either not taking advantages of all the tax advantages at his or her disposal or, conversely, committing fraud. The cost of an accountant is usually between NIS 1000 and 3,000 a year for preparing an annual report. Obviously this price varies depending on the extent of the time and service you need from your accountant.
Some final thoughts:
There are a variety of billing companies that can offer you their services (Yeul Sachir, Atzmai Sachir, Autotax, Cheshbonit Sachir, Sveram & Taxpay to name a few.) When choosing a billing company, it is important not only to look at the fee, but the level of customer service offered. I have heard good reviews from customers from Yeul Sachir. If you have worked with any of these companies, please share your experience in the comments below.
Many choose to be an OA because issuing a receipt from one’s own company looks more professional.
Despite what many say, and what I have been told in the past, it is not a big deal to close a tik. Just speak to your accountant and he or she will probably do the paperwork for you for a small fee.
This is the first time I am posting about this topic and I anticipate feedback and corrections. I’m going to be on vacation next week, so if there is any problem, please e-mail me and I’ll correct it when I come back. In the meantime, please enter any comments relevant to this topic below.