Saturday, January 29, 2011

What to Do With Your Business Travel Expenses

I'm heading out to a conference for work tomorrow, so I thought it'd be a good time to mention something about business travel expenses. Believe it or not, employers are not legally obligated to pay for your work related travel expenses or give you a per diem. Most do it anyways, though, for the sake of good business practice because the trips you make benefit them a great deal. Every company has its own policy for this matter, so clarify with your employer as to what you can and cannot get reimbursed for. Depending on what you're most comfortable with, here are a few ways you can keep organized:

The Laptop Pro
If you like tracking things on your laptop, create an email label or folder that stores all of your online receipts, for example, flight/hotel booking confirmation. You can also find Excel spreadsheet templates online to log your spending. Save and scan your receipts at the end of the trip and email all of your information along with your expense report to the employer.

The Gadget Guru
A smartphone can be a very powerful tool for expense tracking. Some apps allow you to take pictures of your receipts, log expenses, and generate report at the same time. I'm all for free apps, so here are a few promising ones: Expensify (iPhone, Android), ProOnGo (iPhone, Android, Blackberry), and Expense Log Pro (Blackberry). There are also mileage trackers for those who'll be driving.

The Traditionalist
If you want to go old school, keep an envelope on hand with the travel dates and destination(s) written on the front. Put all of your receipts in there with a printed spreadsheet. At the end of each day, review it, write down where you had been, and make other notes if needed.

Get to choose between using the company card and your own credit card? Keeping expenses on the company card makes everything simpler. It's the way to go if you expect to spend more than you can front. Waiting for the reimbursement payment to come through can also be a huge pain. On the other hand, using your own credit card can be beneficial for collecting reward points or frequent flyer miles. Be sure to consider how long the reimbursement process takes and the approximate amount that'll be spent.

So what if your employers don't reimburse you for the cost of the trip? Well, I'd try to convince them that it's common practice and in their best interest to do so, first. But if they don't budge at your request, the government will give you a break. If you itemize deductions on your personal income tax return, you'll be able to claim the cost on Schedule A of the 1040 Form. Check out the IRS website for more details on eligible expenses.

Have a safe trip!


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