How to Use a Travel Expenses Claim Form for Business Trips

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A travel expense claim form is an important document to familiarize yourself with if you travel for work. There’s no standard version of this document, as each company has its own version, but it will usually have a spreadsheet with places to fill in all of your travel expenses.

These claim forms are typically used by companies that do not use credit cards to pay for travel and instead require employees to pay their own way and get reimbursed afterward. Even if your company has credit cards for travel, it may still require you to keep track of spending with an expense claim form.

Another question many people who travel for work have is whether or not they can claim these expenses on their tax returns. For most people, the answer will be no, as they’re an employee of the company, and employees cannot deduct expenses this way. However, self-employed and contract workers can deduct travel expenses employers don’t cover. Keep reading to learn the full rundown of using travel expense claim forms.

Know Before You Go

Before setting out on your business trip, clarify some important parts of what is and is not covered for reimbursement. This is especially important if it is your first time traveling for this company, as different businesses have different policies and expectations.

The first thing you’ll want to find out is what is covered. Hotel, fuel and meals may be covered to some extent, but you’ll want to know how much the company will cover. After all, you don’t want to order a steak dinner if all that is covered is a burger at a fast-food joint.

Likewise, some businesses with a substantial number of employees traveling will have programs with certain companies, such as hotels. If this is the case, they may take care of the reservations and payment beforehand, so you don’t have to worry about it.

If your employer does not have someone handling reservations, make them as soon as you reasonably can. In addition to your hotel stay, book a flight and rental car if needed.

What to Do While You’re Traveling

While you are traveling, it’s critical that you keep up with the amount you’re spending. Jot expenses down on a notepad or add it to the notes on your phone. This will not suffice for proof of your spending that you’ll submit at work, but it will help you keep track and double-check how much you spent. Choose a tracking method that you’re likely to stick with so you don’t forget to add each expense.

In the event that you drive to your destination in either a company car or your personal vehicle, it’s wise to keep up with mileage, too. This is pretty straightforward, but it’s an important part of claiming your expenses. Some businesses reimburse based on mileage instead of paying for fuel if you’re using your own car, which could work out better for you as it addresses wear and tear on your vehicle.

Next to mileage, keep track of your receipts. These serve as your proof of how much you spent as well as exactly what you purchased and when. Your employer may either want copies of these receipts or to keep the originals for tax and accounting purposes.

Getting a receipt is where many people make a mistake, particularly at places like gas stations or toll booths where it can be an inconvenience to ask for one. However, it’s your responsibility to get one, and your request for reimbursement may be denied if you fail to get a receipt.

If at any part during your trip you end up having problems, contact the person at your company who made the arrangements. It is common for miscommunications to occur, particularly with hotels and paying for extras like parking. Taking a moment to check on the situation can save time and headaches later.

Filling Out the Paperwork

After you’ve returned, it will be time to sort through all your receipts and see what you need to be reimbursed for. Start by taking out receipts for any personal expenses.

Next, sort out your receipts into different categories, such as food, fuel and lodging. After this, you can begin filling out the appropriate travel expenses for your company. This form may be separated by category, but even if it isn’t, you should still try to keep similar expenses together. Be sure to ask your accounting or other appropriate departments any questions you may have. 

A common misconception by employees is that they can deduct their travel expenses from their tax return if it comes out of their pocket. Although you could previously deduct mileage and you can still deduct for a couple of other limited expenses such as uniforms, these would still require you to itemize instead of taking a standard deduction.

What About Contract Workers?

Contract workers also commonly travel for work and may even have part of their trip covered by their employer. This is an important determination because a self-employed or contract worker is able to deduct relevant business expenses on their personal tax return.

Examples of business deductions while traveling include fuel, lodging and a portion of meals. There are also other aspects of your trip that may be deductible if they are required as part of conducting business, but you should discuss specifics with your accountant or tax professional.If you are working as a contractor, you will fill out Schedule C on your personal tax return, which will include any other business expenses you incur throughout the year. Keeping your income and expenses in order throughout the year can make filing much easier.