How to Cover Corporate Travel Expenses When You’re Broke

Be smart about work financial demands.

The good news? Your boss selected you to attend a prestigious industry conference. The bad news? Your company expects you to cover the travel costs yourself upfront and won’t reimburse you for the expenses until you return. These tips from Barry Coleman, vice president of counseling and education programs for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, will help workers who don’t have corporate cards handle work charges, even if their budgets are tight.

Make a plan.

Some work expenses are predictable, like annual conferences and professional association meetings. If it’s possible for you to anticipate business costs associated with these regularly occurring events, you’ll be better able to set aside enough money to cover them. Coleman recommends looking at your work schedule at least six months in advance for any upcoming events to give yourself enough time to save up for them.

Open a separate account.

If you regularly have to float business trip expenses, consider opening a separate checking account dedicated to work costs, Coleman suggests. This will be helpful throughout the life cycle of your company expenses. Set aside money in the account before your trip, then use those funds to pay for airfare and hotel bills. When your company reimburses you, put that money right back into your separate account, so it will be ready for future work trips.

Find reasonable options.

If business trips inspire visions of first-class perks and luxury accommodations, you’d be wise to lower your expectations, especially if you’re on the hook for paying out of your own pocket. “Just because you’re being reimbursed for it, that’s not an excuse to find the most expensive travel options,” Coleman says. He recommends business travelers “use the same strategies as if it were their own money. To the greatest extent possible, find hotels and airfares that are reasonable.”

Beware of deposit fees.

Hotels and rental car companies often charge reservation deposits in addition to their advertised rates. Those deposits are usually returned to the consumer when the service ends, but they’re not insignificant and can cause trouble if travelers don’t check carefully before booking. “Some hotels will hold up to $100 per night for incidentals,” Coleman says. Workers “have to be sure they have enough money in their account to cover that while traveling.” To reduce the immediate burden these fees can cause, use a credit card, not a debit card, to make reservations if you can, Coleman suggests.

Take advantage of point opportunities.

There is a potential advantage to covering your own work expenses. Some workers manage to accumulate significant credit card points and airline miles from all of their business trips. “I would certainly suggest be enrolled in the points and miles programs, and if they have cards with points and miles attached, use those for expenses,” Coleman says.
Check out these hotel and airline travel rewards programs and travel credit cards.

Request reimbursement as soon as possible.

Don’t dally when it comes to submitting your reimbursement requests. Your company may have a limited window for accepting receipts and other paperwork, and you don’t want to be stuck with hundreds of dollars of company expenses because you didn’t act in a timely manner.

Pay off your balances.

When your company processes your reimbursement request, several hundred more dollars than usual may show up in your paycheck and land in your bank account. It may feel like a nice surprise — but don’t get too excited. Remember, that’s just your own money returning to you. “Don’t look at the reimbursement as some sort of windfall,” Coleman says. Workers should “be sure to apply those funds to the personal credit accounts they used to fund those expenses, as opposed to spending the money on something else.” Otherwise, your credit card balance could increase.

Talk to your boss.

If paying your own money upfront for work experiences causes real hardship, or if your company takes an excessively long time to reimburse you, talk to your boss or human resources representative about the situation and see if any changes are possible. You may be able to procure a corporate card. “The employer won’t know what the situation is unless the employee shares it with them,” Coleman says. “I don’t think it would hurt to have a candid conversation about the fact they have to use their personal funds frequently.”

Discover the best ways to manage corporate travel expenses.

When going on a work trip:

— Make a plan.

— Open a separate account.

— Find reasonable options.

— Beware of deposit fees.

— Take advantage of point opportunities.

— Request reimbursement as soon as possible.

— Pay off your balances.

— Talk to your boss.

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