Does maaser need to be given on bonus points from signing up for credit cards, or points earned for making purchases?
My question in more detail is as follows:
If you open a bank account that offers for example 40,000 points (worth between $400 to $600) for opening the new account, it gets filed with the IRS as either interest or a gift which requires taxes to be paid on it. I’m assuming maaser would need to be given here, am I correct?
However with credit cards, both new account bonuses (which are awarded only after a certain spending threshold is met, e.x. $3000 spent on the card within a certain time frame) and points earned on everyday purchases are not reported to the IRS as they are considered a rebate on those purchases and therefore tax is not required. I’m assuming here maaser would not need to be given, am I correct?
The analysis presented in the question assumes that the IRS as a reliable indicator of whether the gift is considered “income,” or “rebate” on money spent.
For income, there is an obligation (whether a full obligation or a custom) to give maaser. For a rebate, maaser has already been taken from the money, which is not considered a new income, and therefore there is no obligation to give maaser again.
However, halachic authorities dispute whether maaser must be taken from gifts other than money. The Chazon Ish (quoted in Derech Emunah, Matnos Ani’im 7:27) ruled that there is no obligation of separating maaser.
The reason for this is that maaser is only a quantification of the mitzvah of giving charity, and there is no obligation to sell one’s possessions in order to give charity (Orchos Rabbeinu, vol. 1, p. 396). In the light of this explanation, somebody who sells the gifts he was given would be obligated to separate maaser from the income he receives, but there is no obligation to give maaser from the gifts themselves.
Although most authorities follow the ruling of the Chazon Ish, it is noteworthy that Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach disputed this, and ruled that even non-monetary gifts are obligated in separating maaser.
However, the Chut Hashani (Yom Tov and Chol Hamoed, p. 351) rules that if one receives supermarket vouchers, which can be used for buying many different products, one is obligated to separate maaser. Due to the purchasing power of these vouchers, they are considered (in this opinion) as money, which is obligated in maaser. The same will apply to credit card points, which enable purchasing power, just as money.
Therefore, in the first instance, there is an obligation to pay maaser. In the second, providing the IRS definition is accurate, and the intention is truly a rebate, there will not be an obligation to pay maaser.