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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Employee Expense Reimbursement Tips: Part I: Protecting Your Credit and Cash Flow

This is Part I of a two-part post. See Part II for thoughts about what is reimbursable these days.

Photo by Loty
Paperwork is a bore, but when you have a cash flow problem, it can be worth your while to expedite it. Today I'll discuss some strategies for making sure that expenses you incur as an employee don't impact and are not impacted by your personal financial situation.

One thing I have been known to put on the back burner are requesting reimbursement employer-related business expenses.

Every employer has different policies. Here are a few options, listed in the order of most to least desirable for the employee:

1. Get a Corporate Card Card.

This option is the best and easiest for employees. Need to fly to Paris for a week of meetings? Have to buy your own laptop? Charge it directly to the corporate card and you don't have to worry about your own credit limits. (I learned this lesson the hard way during the worst of my money troubles. I found myself in another city unable to check into a hotel because of a hard limit American Express put on my charging capability.)

If you have a corporate card, do your accounts payable department a favor and be just as diligent with the receipts as if you needed to keep them for your own reimbursement. After all, the company will need to properly classify the expenses.

While you're at it see if they have a corporate phone card program too.

2. Request a Corporate Check

No corporate card available? You may be able to get a corporate check cut to pay expenses such as conference fees or association memberships. If there isn't an immediate need to pay the supplier, request a check. This method keeps the expense out of your own credit accounts.

3. Use Somebody Else's Card

Need it right away? Maybe your manager has a corporate card he or she would be willing to use. I recently had someone buy my notebook computer this way.

4. Get an Advance

You may also be able to get a travel advance to pay for expensive trips. You will still have to keep track of detailed expenses, but at least you aren't out the money up front. Be careful, though, that you don't dip into the advance while you are waiting for the credit card bills to hit. That money is to pay for the expenses you incur.

5. Get Reimbursed

Finally, at last resort, you may have to use your own credit card. If so, submit those expenses immediately after you incur them. For example, let's say you are a responsible doobie, so you made airplane reservations 30 days in advance for that trip to Paris to get the best fare for your employer. Don't wait until after the trip to submit that expense. Include all prepaid reimbursable expenses like conference registration fees in the expense report you submit up front. Yeah, that means you have to do two expense reports for the same trip, but it's worth it not having your cash or credit tied up in the meantime.

While on your trip, take one of those envelopes in the hotel-provided stationery kit in your room, and put it in your purse or jacket pocket. Then every time you take a taxi or have a meal, but the receipt in your envelope. Each night when you get back to your room, make a note of all the cash tips you gave on the outside of the envelope.

Do your expense report on your computer or PDA or whatever works for you on our way home--while you wait for your plane or train, or in flight. Submit it first thing the morning you are back in the office. Do not let them pile up to do them once a month. Get it done. The less the elapsed time between the trip and your report, the less likely you'll forget those little expenses like tips and tolls.

Tune in tomorrow for Part II of Employee Reimbursement Tips: What's Reimbursable, Anyway?

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