Using my personal computer for work
July 21, 2014 6:36 AM   Subscribe

I have been using my personal computer to do my job. How much should they "reimburse" me every month?

I recently started a new job and have been using my personal computer for all of my work. This is a very small nonprofit organization and it would be a big cost for them to buy me a new computer and purchase the expensive software I currently have on my computer and need to do my job.

It also works out nicely for me to use my personal computer because I don't have to keep track of two identical computers. We have discussed them buying me an identical computer, but it seems so wasteful both in terms of the cost and having a perfectly good computer that will sit around unused much of the time, so we are trying to make the reimbursement scheme work.

Our accountant has suggested reimbursing me for the cost of the computer when I bought it + the cost of AppleCare depreciated over 5 years, which is less than $30 per month. Because I don't have receipts for much of the software its value can't be included in the reimbursement.

I feel like this is a little too low and doesn't accurately reflect the value of the computer and software as the tool I use for all my work, the responsibility I retain for taking the computer to Apple if it needs repairs, and the savings to the organization. AppleCare is good for only 3 years, so dividing it over 5 doesn't make a lot of sense to me, but I understand this is a formula that might make sense for tax purposes.

My boss actually cares whether or not this is a fair arrangement so I do feel comfortable letting them know that I think the current amount is not enough. I wanted to get some idea of how these things might be calculated or what the going rate is so that I could come with a proposal, though. Does anyone have any experience with arrangements like these? Or does anyone know of any accounting best practices that would prevent them from deviating from the formula our accountant has laid out?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (17 answers total)
I don't think they should be reimbursing you anything, to be frank. If you want to use their computer, make them buy you a computer.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:48 AM on July 21, 2014 [9 favorites]

"Value" isn't really reimbursable. Only actual cost. "Value" is a very subjective abstraction.

The $30/month seems way more than fair to me, given that you also use it for personal things and you owned it before you took the job. Honestly, they would be perfectly in the right to not reimburse you at all.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:50 AM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't know the answer, but I would consider looking at it in a mirror. Would you be willing to pay them $30 a month to use a work computer for personal usage?

A five year depreciation schedule seems about right to me. Appropriate depreciation schedules for both GAAP and the IRS do not always coincide with the actual useful life of an item. I happen to think while your intentions are good and your seeking a fair amount for the charity using your computer, that the best course of action is either they buy a separate computer or you let them use yours for free.
posted by 724A at 7:09 AM on July 21, 2014

Over 5 years, that is $1,800, for a computer you already own and would be using regardless. Even if you new Mac cost $2,000 new, you need to factor in depreciation. My school's $1,200 MacBooks were worth about $300 after 4 years and $200 after 5 on the open market. I think that's more than fair on their part.
posted by jmd82 at 7:17 AM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't think they should reimburse you anything, but if you want an analogy, think of the reimbursements for using one's personal car for work. The reimbursement isn't meant to cover the cost of purchase and insurance, per se, it's meant to cover the marginal cost of the miles driven, plus some modicum of a reimbursement for wear and tear.

$30/month over a five-year period will cover the full cost of a computer. That's really overreaching, particularly if this is a small non-profit. This is your personal computer that you would have had anyway. Honestly, this is more than a little bit outrageous.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:19 AM on July 21, 2014 [7 favorites]

I think you are confusing the notion of income and reimbursement. The accountant is interested in reimbursement and is proposing standard accountant definitions so that the reimbursement results in you not having to pay tax on the reimbursement (because reimbursements are, in general, not taxable) and so that the non-profit has sufficient justification for the expense for an audit. You are simply interested in getting money from your employer, and it doesn't sound like it matters to you whether that money comes in the form of income or reimbursement. When you say things like "doesn't accurately reflect the value of the computer and software", you are making statements that are meaningful to you for determining compensation/income, but are meaningless to an accountant for determining reimbursement. "Value" is not used in determining reimbursement.

You can, however, combine the two. You can tell the accountant that you'd accept the $30/month for reimbursement and tell your boss that you don't think that's sufficient and would like a raise to include the value you generate as an employee. Whether or not you'll succeed at that is up to your particular employer, but I'll suggest that if they can't afford to buy you a computer, they probably can't afford to give you a raise. I agree with previous posters that have noted that you are getting a reasonable offer from your employer and that if you want to avoid this in the future, that you should either keep your business and personal computing separate or you should keep more careful attention to your computing expenses as being business expenses.
posted by saeculorum at 7:20 AM on July 21, 2014

Most companies don't reimburse employees for BYOD computers or cell phones. It's very nice that your employer is going to do this. I'd suggest taking the money they've offered and thanking them.
posted by alms at 7:22 AM on July 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Here in LA, we call this " kit rental" and it's about $25 per pay period.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:35 AM on July 21, 2014

"depreciated over 5 years"

Typical depreciation of computers is three years, which coincidentally is the length of most warranties, including Apple Care.
posted by Gungho at 7:51 AM on July 21, 2014

I think this is a nice gimmie but not an obligation - as other say above, if the cost of use is pertinent then they should simply provide you the tool you need. I'd also consider this - if they start paying you for this then that's a pretty explicit indicator that from this point forward it's your obligation to make sure you have a computer to do your job. So if it were to die or fall in a pond next month you'd need to go buy a new one and they'll keep handing you $30 a month.

Is that the arrangement you want? I'm personally comfortable with that since I tend to feel, like you, that I'd just as soon use one device and I'm going to maintain having this personal device regardless. But if that could drop you in a sticky situation money-wise then you may want to give that some consideration.

doesn't accurately reflect the value of the computer and software as the tool I use for all my work, the responsibility I retain for taking the computer to Apple if it needs repairs

This is likely irrelevant, btw, since at a small organization w/o support resources you likely would be responsible for keeping your kit working regardless of who has legal ownership of it. Ten years ago I came on a small consultancy where part of my day one duties was to assemble the pile of PC parts so I had a working computer and install Windows on it. I now have a civilized job and use Apple products but it's not unusual to wear a dozen hats at a small shoestring operation.
posted by phearlez at 8:01 AM on July 21, 2014

At that rate they might as well finance purchase a computer. But, it sounds like you could go back and say, "how about $40/mo because I also own software XYZ", show them the cost to purchase it today and they'd go along with it.
posted by michaelh at 8:11 AM on July 21, 2014

I agree with Admiral Haddock. I would add from my own experience that when I have opted to use a personal computer instead of a work-owned computer, as you said yourself, "it works out nicely." There are a number of hassles and responsibilities that come with using a work-owned computer, and I prefer not to deal with those. That's a benefit I am reaping. I personally would not expect to be compensated above that.

That said, you didn't mention the nature of your work. Microsoft Word isn't Final Cut. If my personal habit were to use a computer occasionally and mostly for word-processing, email, browsing, etc, and if I took a job where suddenly I was running that same computer as a video-editing tool for thirty hours a week, then I would probably accept $30 per month gratefully.
posted by cribcage at 8:57 AM on July 21, 2014

Yeah, along the lines of michaelh and roomthreeseventeen, if they're ok with $30/month, you can then point them to a retailer's page where a laptop can be financed for less than that.
posted by rhizome at 8:59 AM on July 21, 2014

Are you leaving yourself and your employer open to licensing issues if you use personally-owned software for work purposes?

It might be considerably cheaper for your employer to lease a computer and own the software.
posted by dvrmmr at 9:14 AM on July 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Along the lines of dvrmmr's question, you should also consider data security, especially if you handle any sensitive company information, client data, etc.

Are you permitted to allow others to use the computer or access company/customer data?

Who is responsible for ensuring security software is up to date?

What will be the process for removing sensitive or proprietary information upon your departure?
posted by jshort at 10:44 AM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

What do you pay for bandwidth? 45/ month? Ask them to pick up the tab. Even 30/month is not bad. It's not that much money; I wouldn't sweat it.
posted by theora55 at 1:11 PM on July 21, 2014

Also, not sure if you are an employee or an independent contractor for the company, but keep in mind that any reimbursement may be taxable income.
posted by ageispolis at 6:17 PM on July 21, 2014

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