What is a Timebank?

A timebank is like a local community bank that keeps track of time instead of US dollars. For every hour you spend doing something for someone in your community, you earn one hour to use to have someone do something for you. It is an alternative way to give and receive resources.

How does an exchange work?

Let's say you need someone to help out in the garden for two hours. You can post a request to the timebank or search the timebank directory and contact another member to set up an exchange. A timebank member then comes by and helps out in the garden. Once the service is completed, you transfer hours on the timebank from your account to the service provider. You've spent two time dollars and another member has earned two time dollars that s/he can spend elsewhere in the timebank.

You can also post service offers to earn more hours and help out your community. Posting specific offers and requests help generate more exchanges and invigorates the timebank.

What's in it for me?

For every hour of help you give, you also receive an hour of help. You may get credit for things you may not normally be rewarded for but do anyways or things that you love to do but don't often make time for. You can save your scarce cash for things like rent, food, and medicine and use time dollars for the rest.

You are also making a difference in someone's life, whether it's giving a ride to a person who doesn't have a car, tutoring a student, translating, sewing, or helping with computer problems, things that they might not be able to afford but need. You are contributing to a more caring culture and healthy community to live in that can help take better care of you in the long run.

How much time is involved?

You may participate in service exchanges as often as you are able. Some members give or receive services every week, or every month, or a few times per year. You are invited to help each other by doing what you enjoy when it is convenient for you. Usually the more you give the more you get back in many ways.

Many of the services people exchange in a timebank are the types of things they are already doing every day. For example, those of us who have children are already cooking for them, driving them to activities, and helping them with their schoolwork among other things. Cooking an extra portion of food for someone down the street who is housebound, picking up your neighbor's kids on the way to soccer practice, or helping the child down the street with his homework doesn't add work to your day. Or, if you have a dog and take it for a walk every day, why not pick up your neighbor's dog along the way?

What if I don't have any skills or a service to offer?

At the core of timebanking is the belief that everyone is valuable and everyone has something to offer. Think of the various tasks you do everyday (e.g. cooking, driving, walking a dog, etc.) and your hobbies (e.g. sewing, graphic design, writing, playing tennis, photography, etc.). Don't list only what you could get paid to do in the formal economy. The timebank economy is an informal economy of people doing the types of favors that family and neighbors have been doing for millennia. Thus, mentoring, braiding hair, beginning guitar lessons and making chicken soup are all great offers!

You can also contact the timebank administration if you volunteer for a nonprofit and want to earn time dollars for volunteering. If your organization offers services to the community, it may be eligible to join the timebank. Contact timebankinfo@sfbace.org for more information about how an organization can apply to be a part of the timebank.

Why is everyone's time given the same value?

At first glance, it seems crazy that someone is paid the same for web design and pulling weeds, but this turns out to be the core of what makes time dollars really work. Putting a price on people's time separates us by making some people more valuable than others. Time credits excel in building relationships because they place an equal value on everyone's time and relationships above profit.

Time credits aren't meant to replace US dollars. They are designed to counterbalance the market economy where people may have invested in special training to make their time more valuable. There's nothing wrong with that, it's just taken over too much of our experience of the world. Almost everything is monetized. We are building a parallel economy where people take care of each other as families. We build extended families or villages by geography.

Can I trust the people in Timebank to come into my home?

Most people on the timebank are probably trustworthy. However, we do not screen people. If you have any doubts, please do not accept the person's offer to help. It is up to each member to get to know and feel comfortable with another member. You can also look at each member's profile to see comments about them made by other members they have exchanged with.

What keeps the system honest and fair?

Whenever one person earns time dollars, there is a corresponding debit for the same amount in someone else's account. No one is anonymous in a timebank and transactions are transparent. This makes it pretty easy to know whether transactions are honest or not. There is not much incentive to cheat because the system is inherently abundant and is based more on reputation than anything else.

What if the quality of work doesn't meet my standards?

Sometimes you get professional quality work, but you can't always expect professional standards as the receiver or giver. People are donating their time and skills to the best of their ability. If you have a concern that you want to share about someone's exchange, pleases contact timebankinfo@sfbace.org.

What if a member's conduct is unacceptable?

We have a process for handling complaints about conduct. Through this process a member may be suspended or removed from the system. Please contact timebankinfo@sfbace.org if you have a problem.

What if I don't have Internet or Email?

We can help you find free public computer terminals or a friendly neighbor with a computer and set up an email account. We are hoping in the near future to have more ways for the off-line population to participate.

Can children join the Timebank?

Yes, with their parent or guardian's permission, children and teenagers can participate in the timebank. The timebank can be a great way for children and teenagers to secure tutoring, music lessons, mentoring and job coaching, as well as feel useful and develop skills.

What happens if you go into debt?

Having a negative balance is not a big deal in a time dollar account. After all, people have to receive in order for others to give and everyone needs to be cared for sometimes. Currently, we have set the limit around 50 hours. Reaching the limit triggers an administrator to contact you to help you spend or earn more hours. Limits may change as we see what works for the system.

Our system functions a bit more like a reputation system than a normal accounting system. You can see how much other members have both given and received and others comments about them, as well as profile information that may help you determine who you would like to exchange with.

Do I have to live in San Francisco Bay Area to participate?

We prefer that members be in the Bay Area on a fairly regular basis. It is difficult to build a community with people you can't get to know and are not able to regularly exchange.

Are hour exchanges tax-exempt?

Yes, timebanking is different than bartering, it is not taxable. In normal bartering, you have to declare the value of the good and services you receive to the IRS. In independent contractor or consulting work, you should declare your income in US dollars. However, timebanking is considered volunteering as long as you don't charge market rate for your service (more or less than one hour for an hour). Goods are also nontaxable as long as they are valued based on labor time, not market value. Timebanks USA, a very similar system to ours has an IRS private letter ruling that time dollar exchanges are tax-exempt. However, laws and their interpretation by the courts change all the time. You are responsible for knowing the law and reporting your income if necessary.

Can I share my hours?

Yes, you can always gift your earned hours to a member of your family, a friend, or someone in the community who may need hours.