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What is an Expense Report?

Susan Grindstaff
Susan Grindstaff

An expense report is a document that outlines expenses incurred during the course of a specific amount of time or while performing a specific job or assignment. An expense report can be quite broad, sometimes covering whole departments within a business, or the reports can be individualized, applying to only one employee and task. Most of the time, expense reports are used to document spending that becomes necessary while employees are working outside the normal office environment. In most cases, expense reports are reviewed by department heads, then passed on to accounting.

Sometimes expense reports are used exclusively for the purpose of employee reimbursement. This applies to an employee who is outside the office, and has to use his or her own funds for business-related expenses. In order to be reimbursed, the employee is usually expected to file an expense report, attaching receipts that corroborate the expenditures.

Businessman with a briefcase
Businessman with a briefcase

Some employees are given expense accounts. This is a predetermined amount of money that is at their disposal for use when they are away from the office, but engaged in work-related activities. Employees with expense accounts, though not using their own money, are still typically required to file an expense report to document their spending. In many cases, expense account funds are held on a company credit or debit card issued to the individual employee.

Meals are commonly filed on expense reports. This is especially true with employees whose jobs require that they travel or spend a great deal of time away from the office. Employees who work in sales often spend a lot of time on the road, and in many cases, the employers reimburse them for meals while they are traveling. Other instances where meals can be considered an expense include meals where actual business is discussed or in cases of client entertainment.

Other types of expenses that often show up on an expense report include lodging, gasoline, and laundry services. Transportation costs, such as airline tickets, train fare, and automobile rental are also commonly documented. Usually, most any type of goods or services necessary while an employee is in the process of conducting business could be eligible for reimbursement.

Most companies carefully monitor expense reports. They look for spikes in spending or other indications that an employee may be mismanaging funds. In some cases, employers may set spending limits on certain items. For instance, the employee may have a cap on the amount of money that can be spent per night for lodging. Any funds spent beyond that allotment would be the responsibility of the employee.

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