Policy Notes:  Business and Travel Expense Reimbursement

Per Administrative Guide Policy 5.4.2, the university pays directly or reimburses individuals for expenses that are necessary and appropriate to conduct University business. Individuals using University resources and funds for Stanford business and travel are expected to spend appropriately. Specifically, expenses incurred in the course of University-related business must be reasonable and necessary.

All expenses incurred must have a business connection; that is, they must have been paid or incurred while performing Stanford business. The business connection must be adequately explained and documented in the University’s records. Documentation must include the Business Purpose, which should clearly and without need for interpretation:

  1. Explain how the business expense is connected to the University and supports its mission; and
  2. Include sufficient documentation to support the business purpose and alignment to the purpose of the funds, such as agendas or travel itinerary and demonstrate that the expense was reasonable based on circumstances.

The university has established limits on maximum university reimbursement for specific types of business and travel expenses, including meals, air and ground transportation, and lodging. The limits, details and associated processes for these reimbursements are available at the links below.

> See At-a-glance view of the Business and Travel Expense Desk Guide.

On this page:

Advances, Reconciling (Clearing)

Per Administrative Guide Policy 5.4.1, if the business need for an outstanding advance ceases to exist, the funds advanced must be returned immediately to Travel and Reimbursements in the form of a check made out to Stanford University. See How To: Return Unused Advance Funds.

Advances not cleared by expected clearing date will be cleared, whenever possible, from subsequent reimbursements for the same payee indicated on the advance.

If an advance is not cleared within 60 days of the completion date of the trip or activity, the advance will be forced-cleared by Disbursements and the amount of the advance will be reported as income to the individual who received the funds, under IRS rules.

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Business Purpose

In order to receive reimbursement that is not treated as taxable income, the expense must conform to the IRS Accountable Plan Guidelines. One such guideline is that a Business Purpose must be provided and must clearly document the business connection to the University, its mission and the funding source. A Business Purpose should be written so that someone reading it at a future time (e.g., an auditor reviewing the expense 2-3 years later) would have no questions about the activity. See Resources: Guidelines for Writing a Clear Business Purpose.

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Business Meals

Stanford policy allows business meal reimbursements when:

  • There is a substantial Stanford business purpose.
  • The participants are actively engaged in Stanford business during the meal or entertainment or immediately before or after.
  • Appropriate and permissible funding sources are available
  • The purpose and amount of the expense demonstrate good judgment.
  • The expense is properly documented (who, what, when, where, why)
  • The expense has been appropriately approved at a local level in accordance with the requirements of the policy.

The university sets maximum limits for business meal reimbursements. Learn more on the Policy Notes: Business Meals page.

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Conference Fees

  • The conference program or agenda is a required attachment to the expense report as back-up documentation.
  • Reimbursement payments to students and Post Doctorates who attend, speak or present at a conference or meeting, or visit a field site or off-campus laboratory, will be tax-reportable UNLESS the expense is certified as traveling on University business by the appropriate signatory. Learn more on the Policy Notes: Student Travel page.
  • Reimbursements cannot include expenses for spouses, such as lodging, meals, or activities at the conference.
  • Meals included in the conference registration fee or hotel rates must be indicated on the expense report and will be automatically deducted when using the Travel Meals Per Diem option.
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Dues and Subscriptions

Voluntary contributions are not reimbursable.

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Retirement and years of service gifts that comply with University policy are not tax-reportable. (See Administrative Guide Policy 2.2.10 Section 3) Other gifts (not retirement or years of service gifts) that are valued at more than $50 are tax-reportable, and expense reports must include the payee's Employee ID number and home address for tax purposes.

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Human Subjects

If individual payments are $200 or more, or, if the recipient will receive payments totaling $600 or more in the calendar year, the Supplier Enablement group will require social security numbers and banking information in order to process payments. Non-Stanford payees, or Stanford staff authorized to act on the payee's behalf, submit required documents via the secure Supplier / Payee Request Portal.

Learn more about paying human subjects.

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Moving / House Hunting Expenses

Some expenses are subject to tax reporting and will be submitted to Payroll (see Administrative Guide Policy 2.1.19 for more information).

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Receipts (Domestic and Foreign)

  • Original receipts are required in Expense Requests System for expenses of $75 or more and should correspond to an individual expense line.
  • Meal receipts must be itemized.
  • If an individual expense exceeds $75 and an original receipt is not submitted as a backup document, some form of proof of payment, such as a credit card statement, must be submitted.
  • Foreign receipts must be converted to U.S. dollars. To convert foreign receipts, go to the Oanda website.

    In the Oanda website, enter date of receipt, or date the plane ticket was issued (not necessarily the travel date) to get proper conversion.

Other Documentation Should include:

Airline Tickets An itinerary receipt for airfare, showing proof of payment from a travel agency, airline, or online booking tool. If the travel is funded by government contract or grant, and is to or from a foreign country, travel must be on a U.S. flag carrier and the proper airline code referenced on the ticket. See Policy Notes: Fly America Act and Open Skies Exceptions (Federal Project Air Carrier Requirements) for compliance information.
Car Rental Contract, itemizing all charges and proof of payment
Lodging Itemized bill showing all charges and proof of payment, unless per diem is claimed
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Roles and Responsibilities

Roles Responsibilities
The individual incurring the expense
  • Initiating expense reports within 10 days of incurring the expense(s) or completing travel for Stanford business. If requests are not made within 60 days, the amount paid by Stanford for expenses will be tax-reportable as income to the individual per IRS guidelines.
  • Providing the necessary documentation to support the request. Depending upon the type and value of the expense, certain requirements for documentation apply.
  • Transactions submitted in the Expense Requests system are reviewed for authorization by designated "approvers,"usually a department or other representative with authority to approve charges to the appropriate PTAE.
  • Expenses are payable only when all required approvals, including any required approval from government agencies or other project sponsors, are obtained.
  • Employees may not authorize travel or approve expense payments for themselves or for a person to whom they report directly or indirectly.
The Travel and Reimbursement department
  • Once approved, transactions are routed to a processor in the Travel and Reimbursements (T&R) department. The T&R processor checks to see that the expenditures and backup documentation comply with policy and government regulations, and if compliant, approve the transaction for payment. When a transaction is non-compliant, it is rejected and the person initiating the transaction is notified of required action.
Senior Management and Other University Units
  • It is the responsibility of the officers and deans to periodically advise faculty and staff of requirements of this guidance. Deans’ offices should properly advise new employees of this guidance and any related local policies and procedures.
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Sponsored Awards

On occasion, expenditures may be incurred for University business or travel that may not be charged directly to restricted or sponsored awards (i.e., business entertainment and alcohol). In this case, these expenditures should be charged to the appropriate expenditure type on an unrestricted account. It is recommended that originators include this information about the allowability in the Business Purpose.

Costs incurred by travelers that will be charged to federally-sponsored awards, including costs of lodging, meals, and incidental expenses, must be reasonable, allowable, necessary to the award, and consistent with University policies. The federal government has mandated that no alcohol may be charged as either a direct or indirect expense of federally sponsored projects. Consequently, alcohol cannot be charged to a federal grant or contract account under any circumstances.

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Student and Postdoctorate Business and Travel Expenses

Reimbursement payments to students and postdoctorates who incur a business or travel expense will be tax-reportable UNLESS the expense is certified as related to University business by the appropriate signatory. The preparer of the reimbursement request must certify within the Expense Requests System that the expenses meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • Directly support faculty member's project or research program
  • Are related to presenting at a conference (attach program)
  • Are an integral part of this student's degree work (does not apply to postdoctorates)
  • Are directly related to the student's employment at the University

Learn more on the Policy Notes: Student Travel page.

The preparer of the reimbursement request must certify within the Expense Requests System that the expenses meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • Directly support faculty member's project or research program
  • Are related to presenting at a conference (attach program)
  • Are an integral part of this student's degree work (does not apply to post docs)
  • Are directly related to the student's employment at the University

A paper form is available for schools and units to facilitate this certification, but it is not required as an attachment to the reimbursement request. See Student Certificate for Authorized Expenses.

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Tips should not exceed 20% unless there is a mandatory charge for a large group.

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Travel Expenses

See travel expense policies:

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When to Submit an Expense Report

  • Within 10 days of incurring expense, or 10 days after completing travel
  • Per federal regulation, expenses reported after 60 days of incurring the expense (trip, meals, supplies, etc.), will be reported to the IRS as taxable income.
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60-Day Expense Request / Travel Card Expense

  • Per federal regulation, expenses reported after 60 days of incurring expenses, will be reported to the IRS as taxable income.
  • If an expense request, Travel Card, or PCard transaction for an employee is determined non-compliant, the payee and preparer will be notified of the required action to take, should they wish to submit an exception within the specified timeframe.
  • A request for an exception should be sent by the payee or preparer to the Financial Support Center within 30 days of the notification and should include:
    • Detailed justification for the exception
    • Identification as to whether the non-compliant decision was administratively related and, if so, what corrective measures were taken to prevent future delinquent reporting
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