What Is an Expense Report?

Expense Report Explained

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An expense report is a document used to track business expenditure. Employees and contractors often maintain and submit expense reports to receive reimbursement from their employers for business-related expenditures.

If you are a business owner, it’s important to learn how to use business expense reports to pay your employees and contractors efficiently. If you are an employee or a contractor, business expense reports can help you avoid paying for business expenses out of your pocket.

Additionally, maintaining business expense reports can help you file taxes efficiently. It can also help you track everyday expenditures and budget accordingly.

Definition and Example of an Expense Report

An expense report is a formal document used by employees and contractors to receive reimbursements for business expenses from their employers. For example, a contractor may include the price of meals eaten on the job, cost of the gas filled in the vehicle used for work, and internet bills incurred on a work phone on their expense report.

  • Alternate name: Travel and entertainment report, T&E report

Imagine an employee traveling for a business conference. They would use some means of transport, eat something on the way to/at the conference, entertain clients at a restaurant or a co-working space, and incur many such expenses to complete the assigned task. All of these may be included in an expense report. Depending on the company policies, the employer fully or partially reimburses these expenses based on a predetermined arrangement (contract).

Most companies don’t reimburse leisure activities like sightseeing with your family when you are traveling for work. It’s important to read your contract properly before submitting your expense report.

How an Expense Report Works

Companies typically have a fixed reimbursement policy, which is clearly stated in the contract employees and contractors receive before commencing work.

The contract will include specifics like what is the per diem (daily expense allowance), which expenses will and won’t be reimbursed, and how the expense report should be submitted. When it is time to file a reimbursement for business expenditure, the employee or the contractor will submit an expense report to the manager, employer, or the accounting department, depending on the size and type of company.

What an Expense Report Should Include

An expense report should include the following details for a hassle-free reimbursement process:

  • Date: When the business expense was incurred.
  • Expense details: Type of expense incurred (meals, tickets, fuel, etc.).
  • Employee/contractor details: Name, department, business information, contact details, type of work arrangement, etc.
  • Receipts: Proof of expense (invoices and bills).

If an employee plans to include an unspecified expenditure (one not agreed to in the contract) in the expense report, it’s helpful to provide an explanation for why the expense should be reimbursed by the employer.

Types of Expense Reports

Different companies have different reimbursement policies, so employees have to adjust their expense reports accordingly.

Below are two types of expenses reports used frequently by small-to-medium-sized businesses.

Recurring Business Expense Report

Regular employees who frequently incur a lot of business expenses follow a fixed template to submit business expense reports every month or weekly, depending on the company’s policy. These may include a daily fee or specific expenses such as travel and meals.

One-Time Business Expense Report

If an employee, or most likely a contractor, is filing for reimbursement in a single instance (not frequently), they use a one-time business expense report. The format for a one-time expense report isn’t fixed, as different contractors may incur different types of expenses. Such reports offer more flexibility but may require receipts for proof.

Templates for Expense Reports

Using a neat template with clearly demarcated sections for each piece of information can make the reimbursement process easier. Here are some websites and apps to access free templates for submitting expense reports:

While templates can be a good place to start, make sure they include all the details necessary for reimbursement before submitting the document to avoid delayed or stuck payments.

Key Takeaways

  • A business expense report is a form of document used by employees to track expenditure for reimbursement
  • Expense reports are based on rules mutually agreed on by the employer-employee or contractor/contractee.
  • One-time expense reports are used for reimbursement of the occasional business expense, while recurring reports are used by regular employees.