Work-related travel expenses on my personal credit card?
January 30, 2006 11:37 AM   Subscribe

Is it unreasonable for me to be unwilling to put work-related travel expenses on my personal credit card?

My company's process involves asking employees to put travel and lodging fees on their own credit card, and then file for reimbursement (which takes no less than a month).

I am not sure I will be working here much longer, the travel they want me to book would be expensive, and I just feel like asking me to finance it personally is a huge imposition, and a crossing of a line between my employment and my personal life.

Am I being ridiculous?
posted by macinchik to Work & Money (34 answers total)
If the reimbursement process is so slow that you incur finance charges on your personal card, then your objection is certainly reasonable. Is there a way you can at least put the big-ticket travel expenses (e.g. airfare) on a company card or have them paid with a travel advance?

I actually like charging travel expenses on my personal card because I have a frequent flyer rewards card and can pile up lots of miles quickly. My employer is also pretty quick on reimbursements, though.
posted by brain_drain at 11:42 AM on January 30, 2006

I don't think you're ridiculous. But my boss gave me a card that theoretically can't go over $1,000 and is linked to his main account , but I book all my travel on his main card, and my card is for marketing stuff, buying food while I'm traveling (which, admittedly, I don't do a whole lot) and picking up the odd meat and cheese tray for the staff. I guess I'm lucky.
posted by bilabial at 11:43 AM on January 30, 2006

As long as your employer agrees to pay the finance charges, I don't really see a problem. Like brain_drain, I always prefer to pay for my own travel arrangements and then file for reimbursement: the frequent flyer miles are worth far more to me than an extra $5-10 dollars in finance charges.
posted by nathan_teske at 11:49 AM on January 30, 2006

And, if like my company, your company is paying full-fare business class from Minneapolis to Hong Kong, you end-up with the ability to buy and sell people with airline miles
posted by nathan_teske at 11:51 AM on January 30, 2006

I work for a large university and it takes up to 60 days (sometimes even longer) for a reimbursement to take place. My pay isn't great, so it can be a significant hit if I put it on my own card. In my case it isn't reasonable.

However, I think you can simply state that you will not put it on your personal card for the reasons you state above. Your employer should not (and probably cannot) force you to use your own card. The leg you have to stand strongest on is the fact that reimbursement takes over a month from what you say - you should not have to foot the company's finance charges...

If your company won't budge on this, one solution to avoid job-stress would be to buy pre-paid cards from MasterCard or Amex (I think they sell them) to avoid finance charges.
posted by sablazo at 11:52 AM on January 30, 2006

What if your employer wants to send you to London for a week, flying business class and staying at a 4-star hotel? A trip that would cost at least $7000. And you only $3000 credit total?

This happened to me a few years ago and after a couple of days of extreme stress I admitted to my boss that my credit was piss-poor I wouldn't be able to put the $5000 flight on a credit card. He agreed to charge the flight for me but I find it ridiculous that companies expect employees to pay for large work-related expenses out of their own pockets.
posted by EiderDuck at 11:57 AM on January 30, 2006

I too vote for putting work related expenses onto your personal credit card with monthly reimbursements. I travel extensively for work and I would LOVE to be able to charge on my own card simply for (as previously mentioned) the air miles/frequent flyer miles/points that can be got for free. Sure, here in Canada they are talking about taxing these rewards miles, but I don't think that is happening yet (although, perhaps you should go see your accountant to find out the ramifications of the free trip to Hawaii that you just earned). Unfortunately I am forced to use the company card for all of these expenses and not only is it just as much work cataloging and submitting receipts as it would be submitting expenses for reimbursement on a personal card, but I don't get rewards miles. Using your personal card for work expenses can be a benefit to you!
posted by heybate at 11:59 AM on January 30, 2006

Nope, not unreasonable, but I've been put in that position too in the past, and for a while complied, like brain_drain wanting the points/miles.

However it can really screw with your budgeting, potentially put you in the humiliating position of having to beg a company accounting person for money you need for personal expenses, and the slippery slope can lead to being responsible for larger and larger charges (I once was asked to cover an $8,000 printing bill. I refused). I've since always said "no" quite firmly and most people are accepting of this.

I think this is one of those "give em an inch . . . ." situations where the company knows people will comply because they son't want to rock the boat. They can't force you to hand over your credit card details, after all.

I have worked with people who have told accounting they don't have credit cards to avoid this kind of thing.
posted by jamesonandwater at 11:59 AM on January 30, 2006

Welcome to the world of Sarbanes-Oxley! Gone are the days when companies can just buy stuff willy nilly without appropriate documentation. (Even companies who are held to SOX frequently decide to follow it because it looks good--'hi, we're not Enron/Tyco/Worldcom, etc.')

The company I work at, if we spend more than $500/year on travel for work, we are encouraged to get an American Express card--we do pay it ourselves but are reimbursed and it does not affect our credit rating. Does your company offer something like that?

As for your current situation, if travel is part of your job and reimbursement is company policy--you're a bit stuck. If the travel options have been dictated to you and you find them costly, ask to find your own plane fares and hotel rates.

It can't hurt to go to your manager and explain, politiely, your hesitation but just understand that putting your foot down with a 'no way, Jose' is apt to bring you trouble down the line--particularly if you leave and look to these folks for a reco.
posted by gsh at 12:04 PM on January 30, 2006

My husband and I both work for a large university, and he travels pretty regularly. It can take upwards of two months to get things refunded, and they DO NOT pay financing charges or interest. You can get airline tickets prepaid, with enough planning time, but hotels, registration and meals all have to be paid by the employee upfront. It really does suck, but there's basically no way around it--I'm not sure what would happen if you claimed not to have a credit card, though...
posted by handful of rain at 12:06 PM on January 30, 2006

I've wondered about this too, especially when working for a start-up or a tech firm that might disappear overnight. I don't see how it's fair. Although I pay off my balance monthly, it seems unfair for people who don't pay off the whole balance to be paying interest on the employer's portion. (Even if the employer reimburses you for their portion, you pay interest on the entire balance if you don't pay off the entire balance.) Also, the employer is gaining an interest-free loan from the employee.

Still, it seems to be the way things are. My suggestion is to document everything and even get some sort of contract that says such expenses will be reimbursed. That way, you can be a creditor if the company goes belly up.
posted by acoutu at 12:09 PM on January 30, 2006

Best answer: I would refuse to put it on my personal card for the following reasons:
1. Finance charges
2. these charges create a spending history that is my employers, not mine, yet my credit history is affected
3. My credit card is a cushion for unforeseen emergencies. What if my pet needed emergency vet treatment but my credit limit was maxed out because I hadn't yet been reimbursed for a business trip?

Insist on a business credit card or have HR book your travel arrangements.
posted by luneray at 12:11 PM on January 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

macinchik: Do you have a contract? Have you checked your company handbook and/or with HR to see if there is policy on this? If you're going to be doing a lot of business travel, it's in your interest to determine exactly what the reimbursement and expense policy is. If there isn't a clause in your contract or in the company handbook, ask them to draft an attachment or a memorandum of agreement.
posted by nathan_teske at 12:15 PM on January 30, 2006

I do a fair amount of travel for work and we all have to put it on our personal cards and then get reimbursed (which can take months.) That's just how it is at my company, just FYI. But I got myself a rewards card and I'm happily accumulating a gazillion points, miles and free hotel stays.
posted by CunningLinguist at 12:15 PM on January 30, 2006

3. My credit card is a cushion for unforeseen emergencies.

I think luneray has it just right. "I'm sorry, but I use my credit card as a cushion for unforeseen emergencies, and don't feel comfortable maxing it out for a business trip. Please figure a way to prepay the trip as much as possible, or make other arrangements."

I'm sure you're not the first person to raise this concern. A company that requires use of a personal card for travel (rather than offers it, for frequent flyer types) is a company that doesn't respect its workers. Let's hope you don't work for one of those.
posted by mediareport at 12:23 PM on January 30, 2006

What you describe is the norm. Most companies will offer to pay for an AMEX or similar card for business travel, but it is still in your own name. If they refuse to reimburse you or went belly up and couldn't you would remain responsible for the charges. The trend is getting worse - putting monthly charges for corporate cell phones, blackberries, etc. on the employee's credit card. Next up will be your office telephone bill and monthly rental fees for your office computer.

If your company is a slow payer make sure you do everything you can to get paid in a timely fashion. For instance, you will be buying your airline tickets in advance of the trip. Don't wait until your trip is finished to submit that expense. It goes on your card when you buy, not when you fly. When you return, submit your expense report within days. Many people put off the chore of documentation.

Ask for a cash advance. Failing that, ask for a corporate credit card, even if it is in your name, or get another one on your own devoted solely to business travel so as not to trigger interest on your other charges because your employer hasn't reimbursed you. Watch out for cards where the low interest rate disappears with a late payment. This frequently applies to a late payment for any related credit cards as well. Your only other option may be to refuse to travel, which could possibly get you fired, but hopefully would not.
posted by caddis at 12:36 PM on January 30, 2006

I don't know about private businesses, but with universities, you can't submit the expense when buy the ticket: You need the boarding pass for reimbursement. Obviously with a University the travel is a little different. If I said I didn't want to put it on my card they would just say "*shrug* OK, don't go." It's not like they have any reason to care where or if I go.

Sure, here in Canada they are talking about taxing these rewards miles

They're already taxed in the US if you get them from business travel. Not the miles, but the rewards that you buy with them. There was a court case a while back about the rate at which they should be taxed - the IRS wanted to tax for a full-fare airline ticket and the person argued it should be for the airlines lowest fare on the flight. I think the outcome was "lowest fare". My google-fu fails me for a citation.
posted by duck at 12:58 PM on January 30, 2006

If you're not sure you'll be working there by the time you'd be getting reimbursed, then putting expenses on your personal card would give your employer much more leverage if you should choose to leave.

I worked for a smallish consulting company once that didn't do the corporate card thing, and expected everyone to use their personal credit cards. It usually took about one month to get reimbursed. Then the company filed for bankruptcy, and merged with another company. I know a couple of people that got stuck with up to $3k in expenses.

Using your own card puts all the risk on you.
posted by Gamblor at 1:23 PM on January 30, 2006

duck, is that a recent case? The last I heard on the subject was in 2002, when the IRS said that personal use of frequent flyer miles obtained through business travel was not taxable.
posted by brain_drain at 1:26 PM on January 30, 2006

duck, is that a recent case? The last I heard on the subject was in 2002, when the IRS said that personal use of frequent flyer miles obtained through business travel was not taxable.

Not sure...It could have been shortly before or after. It wouldn't have been much before 2002. The issue was definitely what the appropriate fare comparison was, so at the time of the case it would seem that the taxability was undisputed, it was just amount that was at issue.

The link you provide suggests that the link was before the case because it says there's been "no guidance" on "issues relating to valuation". Also, note that it doesn't say they're not taxable, just that they won't enforce the issue because of the unresolved issues.

Based on that, if you forced me to guess, I would say the case is more recent than the newsletter. But if you didn't force me to guess, I would just say "I don't know when it was."
posted by duck at 1:34 PM on January 30, 2006

Every salesperson knows the phrase "Find the raincoat!" It's from an old joke. Told baldly, a salesman is unexpectedly sent somewhere wet and to keep from getting drenched he buys a raincoat. He later expenses it, but his report kicked back by accounting - they won't accept the coat's cost despite the fact that it was only purchased for business reasons. He resubmits his report without the raincoat, but with the exact same bottom-line figure. Attached is the note "Find the raincoat."

So if your organization isn't reimburse legitimate expenses, such as interest incurred because they don't pay travel charges promptly, one solution is to raincoat them. Taxis, meals, parking, mileage offer ways to offset your interest expenses and are typically lower than the minimum threshold for required receipts.

This is, of course, fraud, and thus is mostly likely unacceptable. But fact is, it is an option. It's also why organizations shouldn't fuck with their employees expenses. Fraud is a slippery slope.
posted by mojohand at 1:38 PM on January 30, 2006

Until I got the work-issued Corporate Amex card, I told them "look, I dont have enough slack on my cards for this stuff" and made my boss pay for things with her card. Not a problem at all.
posted by mrbill at 1:46 PM on January 30, 2006

Many companies will pretend that you must handle these things on your personal credit until you push back.

Where I work now, much of our travel is to China, sometimes for weeks. Air is handled through a travel agent (using your personal FF number, so the miles are yours), and you can expense your hotel and per diem or simply ask Accounting for a cash expense (not paycheck) advance (which I put in my checking account, using my check card as needed). The process is largely effortless, as it should be.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:51 PM on January 30, 2006

Definitely ask your company about a travel advance. If employees are expected to incur high travel costs, then the employer should offer either travel advances or corporate credit cards.

In addition, you should look into the possibility of having the hotel and car rental charges direct-billed to your company. Generally, that sort of arrangement can be set up in a matter of days; they may already have such arrangements but are keeping mum about it to cut down on the number of people using it.
posted by stefanie at 1:52 PM on January 30, 2006

I was sent abroad to a very far-away 3rd world location, the cost of which would run into the multi-thousands for tickets alone. I have piss-poor credit, and it won't improve for 5 or 6 years (however long it takes for credit to improve from stupid mistakes), and I refuse to accept high-rate credit cards.

I told the company I would not pay for the tickets with saved cash, and that I do not have credits to use for the purpose, and indeed that I would not apply for a credit card for the purpose.

They buckled and bought the tickets.

Push back.
posted by barnacles at 2:46 PM on January 30, 2006

Ask for a travel advance. They give you a check to cover the travel expenses, including per diems, travel, taxis, etc. This is what my company did before giving out company credit cards.

As a side note, I do NOT like having a company card because I am lazy. I am more inclined to submit the expense reports when it is coming out of my own pocket.
posted by _zed_ at 2:59 PM on January 30, 2006

What you describe is the norm.

Man, I really don't understand this. I don't understand how companies have the chutzpah to do it, and I don't understand why employees put up with it. Why not require all managers to personally pay the salaries of everyone who works under them and then apply to the company for reimbursement? Why not require the mailroom guys to personally buy the brown paper and postage machines? Hell, for all I know they already do. I'm glad I got out of the corporate world.
posted by languagehat at 3:15 PM on January 30, 2006

I used to have the same problem - not enough credit - and heavy business travel. The major problem, though, is not exactly paying for things (I was carrying $3-4K in cash sometimes) but renting cars, etc. We finally got Amex cards that we are responsible for - but - it does NOT show up on my credit report - which is a good thing, sometimes. We can be slow to reimburse at my company.

Possible solution?

Get a Diner's Club card. Every car rental, hotel chain, and most good restaraunts accept it. And the beauty of a DC is that you get 60 days on the card to pay the balances instead of the traditional 30. Oh, you get miles on it too. And no preset spending limit. Keep a Visa or M/C handy as backup.
posted by TeamBilly at 3:47 PM on January 30, 2006

Ask for the advance/prepay/company card if you feel you need to. If you are in a position that had known travel when you took the job this will be a little more of a problem. This is what the world is coming to and the employee has little control. I would not expect any of the people to deal with this if they asked although if they came in to a position that had significant travel expected that would be expected to be part of the package these days. My wife and I both travel quite often and what we did was get a card with 2 accounts so we can get separate listings and use them for nothing but business related charges and time our expense reports to pay them off each month. If the company is slow paying, which they have been (and we travel internationally so the balance is usually quite large) one way or another the finance charge gets covered. Another thing is a recent (within the last year) change that all the card outfits have done is to add 3% to any outside the US charges for some bullshit reason. Another place that your receipts and actual charges don't match which makes the business only card make sense so that it can become a receipt and not have to black out all the stuff that is not business.
posted by mss at 4:26 PM on January 30, 2006

Yay! I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks that reimbursement is ridiculous.

I've gone on a total of one business trip in my professional career, and thankfully, I had family in each city to stay with, so that I would not have to pay for lodging.

The company that I was consulting for paid for the airline tickets, and I had to pay for the rental car and the meals.

I was able to get all of the money I spent back, including the rental car upgrade. (The Ford Mustangs for fleet rentals suck.)

If travel is part of your job (as in the HR job description), I would push back on them to make ALL of the travel arrangements (accomodations, rental cars, etc) up front, and then you pay for meals (which should be reimbursed), or get a company card.
posted by Jim T at 5:54 PM on January 30, 2006

I personally have always found it to be ludicrous that my employer (worth untold hundreds of millions of dollars) would want me (worth untold hundreds of dollars) to lend them money for a couple months.

If my best friend came over and asked to borrow a couple thousand bucks for a month or two, it would be a big deal to me. I would do it, but only because they were my best friend, and I know that they would not ask unless there was no other choice for them than to do so. Do you have that kind of relationship with your employer?
posted by popechunk at 7:25 PM on January 30, 2006

Can you find a coworker who is obsessive about accumulating miles or points on their personal cards? They'd be happy to take on the huge expense if they can keep the points and if the company would let them submit the reimbursement on your behalf.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 7:35 PM on January 30, 2006

On a related note, I only recently read -- and then it was immediately obvious -- that employees are the biggest provider of revolving credit for companies.

Salaries are paid in arrears, after all. In some European countries where paychecks tend to be monthly, this means that you're giving them a whole month's of labor on loan. In some companies I've worked for here, my overtime hours would get paid one two-week cycle later, i.e. a month after I worked them. The rest of my work was on a two-week revolving loan.
posted by cps at 10:38 AM on January 31, 2006

One thing that no one has mentioned is that this potentially forces someone to HAVE a credit card. Many people have mentioned that they don’t mind doing this because of miles or credit card rewards. I however, don’t have a credit card and don’t want it. I’ve read that people with credit cards spend 20% more than people without. No amount of miles is worth the extra crap people tend to buy b/c it’s not cash…it is monopoly money! I’ve had the same problem at jobs that don’t offer a corporate AMEX (which at least has to be paid in full at the end of 30 days) before so I had to make sure to keep enough real money on hand to cover travel expenses. Total pain in the neck but sometimes the job is worth it. I always wondered if it was legal for a company to basically require you to have a credit card.
posted by hokie409 at 4:33 PM on January 31, 2006

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