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Travel Expense FAQ

University policy on travel and entertainment expenses has been developed within the constraints and guidelines set forth by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

It is expected that all faculty, staff and students will exercise adequate care in incurring travel expenses. Only actual expenses incurred will be reimbursed. It is the responsibility of each individual incurring such expenses as well as the individual approving such expenses to comply with the University’s policies and procedures. All reimbursements must have the approval of the immediate supervisor or appropriate VP.

IRS regulations require that employers have an “Accountable Plan” for the reimbursement or payment of business expense for employees. An “Accountable Plan” must include requirements for proper substantiation, a bona fide business connection and a timely return of amounts in excess of expenses. Payments not meeting these requirements would be considered taxable wages to the individual receiving the funds. The University would be required to treat these funds as subject to income tax withholding and pay FICA, Medicare and other applicable taxes on these amounts. Consequently, the University will only reimburse individuals for expenses that meet the requirements of an “Accountable Plan.” Included in an Accountable Plan are requirements that:

  1. Reimbursed expenses must have a business connection,
  2. Expenses must be adequately accounted for within a reasonable period of time, and
  3. Any excess reimbursement or allowance must be returned within a reasonable period of time.

This is applicable to all University representatives regardless of the source of funds supporting such travel. It extends to all University representatives seeking reimbursement for meals, alcohol, and entertainment, even if travel is not involved. Purchases with the University purchasing card (p-card) are also subject to this policy.

The Expense Reimbursement form is to be used by employees to account for expenses while traveling on University business and to professional meetings. The guidelines are not intended to impose an undue burden or limitation on the individual, but are intended to maintain adherence to IRS regulations, University independent auditors and the Board of Trustees.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q: What should be included in the business purpose?

Details necessary to show how an expense was related to the University's business differ depending on the type of expense. The business purpose may include:

  • Who benefited from the expense (names of individuals or a description of the class or student group);
  • Names and business relationship of the individuals to the University (for entertainment and meals);
  • What the expense was for;
  • Why the expense was necessary;
  • Dates for the expense

Please don’t use acronyms. They may be familiar to everyone in your department, but auditors will not know what they mean.

Q: What are some examples of acceptable and unacceptable business purpose descriptions?

  • Not acceptable: Dinner with alum
    Acceptable: Dinner with (name) from the Class of 2000 to discuss the class reunion
  • Not acceptable: Business travel
    Acceptable: Presented a paper at the (full name) conference
  • Not acceptable: Department meeting
    Acceptable: Department meeting to discuss (describe purpose); include names of individuals present and their relationship to the University (if the individual is not listed in the University Directory);

Q: Why do I have to provide so many details about the business purpose to get reimbursed when the approver knows what the expense was for and has already approved the payment?

The IRS considers all income taxable unless there is an exception. One exception is to follow an accountable plan for expenses incurred by employee while conducting University business. There are three requirements for these plans:

  1. Reimbursed expenses must have a business connection,
  2. Expenses must be adequately accounted for within a reasonable period of time, and
  3. Any excess reimbursement or allowance must be returned within a reasonable period of time.

The Business Office is not questioning how a department's budget money is used. It is trying to get enough documentation to satisfy IRS requirement (1) listed above to prevent the reimbursement from becoming taxable income for the employee.

Q: Where should we report the business purpose for expenses on the Employee Expense Reimbursement Form?

The form has a space to the right of each item for description, including business purpose. Some people also write the names of individuals attending a business meal and the purpose for the meal on the receipt, some staple or tape the receipt to another piece of paper and write the additional information on the paper. (the form is also available in xls).

Documentation for expenses on the purchasing card (p-card) should be on the original receipt or on the expense envelope if there is not sufficient room on the receipt.

Q: I submitted a copy of a receipt. Why are you asking me for the original?

The University requires original receipts to help prevent duplicate reimbursements.

Q: Why would some of my mileage or travel expense be taxable?

For adjunct faculty, some of the mileage expense may be taxable, depending on the work locations and the mileage from the person’s residence.

  • Mileage – one work location:
    • You live within 150 miles from the work location: If you live within 150 miles of the work location and are reimbursed for your mileage, it will be taxable as income to you.
    • You live greater than 150 miles from the work location: The mileage paid from your home to the work location will not be taxable to you. If you choose to stay overnight at a hotel and are reimbursed for the mileage from the hotel and work location it will be taxable to you as income.
  • Mileage – multiple work locations:
    • In the case of multiple work locations during the workday, mileage paid from your home to the first work location is taxable as well as the mileage paid from the last work location back to your home. Any mileage paid from one work location to the next work location is non-taxable.
  • Overnight lodging and meals:
    • Reimbursement for overnight lodging will be taxable to you as income unless it is required by the University as part of your contract or you live greater than 150 miles from the work location. Any reimbursement for meals will be taxable to you as income.

Q: I traveled for work, why can’t I use the purchasing card to buy gasoline for my car?

The mileage reimbursement rate is designed to include all expenses of operating a vehicle, including fuel, vehicle wear, depreciation and related. The IRS sets the mileage reimbursement rate each year based on its study of current costs; and the University has adopted this as our mileage reimbursement rate. Employees receiving a mileage reimbursement are being compensated for all costs, including fuel and cannot be reimbursed for any other direct expenses.

Q: What is the current mileage rate?

The mileage rate for travel occurring on or after January 1, 2015 is 57.5 cents per mile and is indicated on the Expense Reimbursement form. Travel prior to 1/1/2015 will be at 56 cents per mile. Requests for reimbursement should be accompanied by this form and should indicate the origination and destination points of the trip. Commuting mileage is not eligible for reimbursement. Adjunct travel is addressed in the above policy.

Q: Why won’t the University reimburse me if I pay someone for services?

The University needs to directly pay for services to make sure the vendor is properly classified as either an employee or an independent contractor and all the information necessary to report the income is obtained before the payment is made. If services are reimbursed, the payment does not show up in Datatel under the name of the service provider, creating the risk of inappropriate tax reporting to both the vendor and the employee.

Q: How is the term “services” defined?

A payment is for “services” if it is paying for the performance of work or duties and is primarily compensating time or expertise. “Services” may include some merchandise.

Examples of payments for “services”: lecturers, musicians, medical and legal assistance, repairs and maintenance, consultants, tour guides, translators, photographers, maintenance agreements for software or equipment, employee training, athletic officials, security officers, investment assistance, catering, tickets for an activity that includes services, advertising

Examples of payments not for “services”: purchases of machinery and equipment (although installation and maintenance would be “services”), books, supplies, postage, utilities, insurance, items for resale

Q: What is the policy on gift cards?

Gift cards to students or others are considered as taxable compensation when provided in exchange of services rendered (including ‘honorariums’ for work performed). Prizes to students may be allowed, but may also be taxable to the recipient and may need to follow the W-9 documentation requirements.

Gift cards provided to employees are considered taxable compensation by the IRS without exception. For this reason, gifts card purchases for employees are strongly discouraged and must have the prior approval of the area vice president. The University must comply with IRS reporting requirements. The Business Office will make the final determination on the taxability on gift cards. Any questions should be directed to the Business Office.

Q: Why is there a problem getting a tax-free reimbursement more than 60 days after the cost was incurred or the business trip ended?

The IRS considers all income taxable unless there is an exception. One exception is to follow an accountable plan for expenses incurred by employee while conducting University business. There are three requirements for these plans:

  1. Reimbursed expenses must have a business connection,
  2. Expenses must be adequately accounted for within a reasonable period of time, and
  3. Any excess reimbursement or allowance must be returned within a reasonable period of time.

The second (2) condition is that the expenses be accounted for within a reasonable period of time, and the IRS believes 60 days is a reasonable period.

Q: What are some examples of extreme extenuating circumstances for late submission of a reimbursement form?

Examples of reasonable explanations for late submission of a reimbursement include, but are not limited to:

  • The employee had an extended illness,
  • The employee returned from one trip and left right away on another, or
  • There was a death in the employee's family.

If the circumstances would not have prevented the employee from submitting the reimbursement form within 60 days, the reimbursement will be considered taxable income and reported on the employee’s W-2.

Q: How do I handle a reimbursement request submitted after 60 days?

Please attach the completed Late Reimbursement Request to the Employee Expense Reimbursement Form (with all supporting documents), get the approval signature, and send everything to the Vice President for Business and Finance. The VPBF will decide if the reimbursement will be paid and if it is, whether it should be treated as taxable income. The VPBF will return the denied request to the employee, forward the approved reimbursement to Accounts Payable (if nontaxable), or send the approved taxable reimbursement request to Payroll.

Q: If I incur research expenses in June and I’m still out of the country until August, how will my reimbursement be handled?

When travel crosses the fiscal year end, the University asks that the reimbursement form be submitted by July 15 or, if the trip ends later than that, as soon as the employee returns. The employee should obtain electronic copies of credit card statements so that the reimbursement isn’t delayed until the statement arrives in the mail. In addition, all expenses incurred in advance of the trip should be reported before leaving. Every year there are a few people with lengthy travel that includes both fiscal years, and the Business Office appreciates it when told in advance that there will be late reports.

Q: Why don’t we have more than 15 days after the close of the fiscal year to submit invoices and reimbursements for that fiscal year?

In order to get everything ready before the auditors arrive, the Business Office follows a strict schedule for closing the books at year-end. If one task is delayed, everything that depends on that task is also delayed. For example, until all invoices are submitted, reconciliations involving accounts payable cannot be done, grant reports cannot be completed, and accounts cannot be reviewed for new property and equipment.

Q: If I’m going to charge my reimbursement to an account with a budget that will carry over to the next year, is it still important to submit all reimbursement requests by July 15?

Yes. The deadline for submitting invoices and reimbursement requests is not just for budget purposes. It is also to get costs in the correct fiscal year for the audited financial statements. With the financial statements there is some tolerance for small expenses getting in the wrong year. With Federal grants however, there is no tolerance for error. Expenses must be recorded in the correct fiscal year.

Q: How should I convert foreign currency to U.S. dollars?

The rate used has to be reasonable and the Business Office must have printed support for the rate. Some of the ways the conversion rate may be determined are:

  • Cash wired once to a foreign country: The conversion rate used would be the rate in effect on the day the cash was wired. This rate would be used for all the expenses paid with that money.
  • Infrequent cash withdrawals from ATM machines: The conversion rate would be the rate in effect on the day the money is withdrawn. That rate could be used for all the expenses paid with the money withdrawn.
  • Frequent cash conversions: Use an average rate. This would be based on the beginning and ending dates of the trip if there was little change, or it could be calculated on a weekly or monthly basis if the currency rates are fluctuating a lot. This will probably be the method most commonly used; the average rate is easily obtained from the historical rate section at http://www.oanda.com/.
  • Credit card charge: Use the U.S. Dollar Amount as shown on the credit card statement.
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