May 10, 2022

What is a p card? Definition, how to use one, and how they compare to traditional business credit cards

Finding the right card to empower employees, while also saving time and cutting back on unapproved purchases, can be a difficult task for businesses. Desiring more control and flexibility than traditional solutions have to offer, many businesses are beginning to embrace purchase cards (or p-cards) as a smart alternative.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what a p-card is, why it might be a wise addition to your business’s purchasing process, and a p-card alternative we know you’ll love. 

What is a p-card (purchase card)?

A p-card, also known as a purchase or procurement card, is a type of corporate charge card used by employees to purchase goods or services on behalf of a business. Unlike traditional corporate credit cards, p-cards allow employees to bypass the usual purchase request, invoicing, and approval process. This makes the procurement of essential items less costly and time-consuming, thereby making it more efficient.

In addition to reigning in transaction costs and streamlining the purchasing process, purchasing card programs give employers the ability to optimize bill payments, control spending, and limit transactions to pre-approved vendors. This model gives businesses better oversight over how and where money is being spent, and removes the burden on employees to justify individual purchases and submit expense reports

P-card vs corporate credit card

P-cards and corporate credit cards function very similarly, but there are differences.

P-cards are predominantly used for their admin & expense management expedition features, while corporate credit cards are traditionally used for a wide range of business activities.

Key differences include:

  • Primary purpose: P-cards help businesses to improve the purchase process (as well as vendor management), and often have multiple spend restrictions in place. Corporate credit cards, however, streamline the accounts payable process while facilitating all kinds of business spend (and not being restricted to vendors only).
  • Budget limits: P-card programs often work off of a pre-determined budget, especially when it comes to procuring new equipment and software. Corporate credit cardholders, on the other hand, typically enjoy budget-free expenditure capabilities (within corporate credit card policy, of course).
  • Reporting capabilities: P-cards tend to generate monthly reports for finance teams to review. Corporate credit cards allow instant access to spend statements. Such easily accessible usage insights are a core reason as to why these cardholders benefit from looser spend controls over p-card users.

What are the benefits of p-cards for business?

P-cards can be transformative to an organization’s overall purchasing process, and provide a number of unique advantages for both business owners and employees. Here are three distinct benefits to consider: 

Empowered employees and smarter spend 

Employees often need to make purchases on behalf of the company, but chances are they weren’t hired specifically to spend hours filling out purchase requests and expense reports. The purchasing process should accommodate an employee’s daily workflow, not serve as a roadblock. And when employees know that they’re being trusted to make smart spending decisions, they tend to work more confidently. 

Safe and controlled spending

An inability to effectively control spending can be a serious issue for many businesses. Between zombie spend—or recurring charges on unused software or office supplies—and frivolous purchases made on poorly monitored company credit cards, the costs can add up quickly. 

P-cards remove many of the hurdles to effective spending control, such as faulty or non-existent approval processes, unrestricted purchasing power, and lack of real-time transparency into employee spending. Instead of trying to control different aspects of the purchasing process in silos, p-cards allow businesses to streamline transactions through the use of controlled and intuitive spending parameters. 

Streamlined bill payments

Traditional purchasing processes not only rob employees of their time, they also make the work of accounting much more complicated than it needs to be. When finance teams need to review manual reports and fish for emailed purchase orders and receipts, it can result in operational inefficiencies and leave companies vulnerable to missed payments or accounting errors. 

P-cards are designed to streamline the accounting and bill payment processes. When an employee makes a p-card transaction, all of the relevant details (receipts, invoices etc.) are updated to the company’s books and flow seamlessly to those in charge of bill pay and financial management. 

How to choose a p-card provider

When it comes to choosing a p-card provider, there are a number of aspects that can and should be considered. For starters, a business should look at if the p-card provider has a credit limit and, if so, what that credit limit is. 

Additionally, they should investigate the interest rate of the p-card provider as well. There are other aspects that a business should look into. For instance, does the p-card provider carry unique benefits, such as virtual cards for business or a reward system? 

Also, what types of software is compatible with a provider’s p-cards. Each business has their own unique wants and needs, and they will want a p-card provider that fits their goals.

3 best practices when using a p-card for business

Controlling vendor costs is essential, but it can often be difficult to keep track of exactly where the money is going and how much is being spent. That said, p-cards can give you access to robust spend controls that can help you keep track of spending. Here are some best practices to keep in mind if you’re considering making the switch to a p-card from a traditional business credit card. 

Provide cards to all employees

Employees shouldn’t need to seek access to a corporate card every time they need to make an essential purchase. By providing an employee with a p-card that streamlines approval and has predetermined allowances and restrictions, it removes the need for employers to actively micro-manage which items are purchased from different vendors.

Set clear spend limits

A spending limit can be an effective tool for establishing best practices and controlling vendor costs. Most traditional corporate cards, however, either don’t utilize spending limits or impose them with no underlying flexibility or attention to detail. P-cards, on the other hand, can be used to enforce flexible and individualized spending limits, and without hindering an employee’s ability to purchase what they need, when they need it. 

Block and approve purchases from certain vendors

Once employees have access to a p-card with an individualized spending limit, the overall purchasing process can be streamlined further by establishing which vendors should or should not receive payment. An ideal p-card will make the process of blocking or approving certain vendors easy and intuitive, and employees will spend less time comparing various products and seeking out approval. 

Ramp: combining the robust controls of a p-card with the convenience of a corporate card 

With the aim of introducing smarter, faster, and more cost-efficient solutions to managing corporate spending, Ramp has developed the ultimate solution to help businesses transform their purchasing process for the digital age. By integrating Ramp’s VISA corporate card and software, businesses can benefit from access to a range of powerful and easy-to-use features and card services, including:

Built-in spend management

No more zombie spending, vendor-hopping, or frivolous unapproved purchases. Ramp’s eliminates the need to manually control spend by providing an already controlled spending environment, built specifically to address a business’s individual needs. For example, Ramp analyzes merchant category codes (MCC) to determine whether attempted purchases fall within a card’s spend category restrictions.

Accounting integrations with Xero, Sage Intacct, Quickbooks and more

Businesses can save their finance teams time (and grief) by integrating employee purchases seamlessly into the broader accounting process. When transactions have been completed, they are immediately logged into the system alongside all of the relevant information to keep track of employee spending and streamline the bill paying process. 

Real-time reporting

Nobody’s perfect, and even the most attentive employees can fail to submit expense reports on time or cancel an unused software subscription. Ramp’s finance automation platform utilizes real-time reporting so that all transactions are immediately reviewable, and recorded sequentially to avoid confusion and costly oversights. 

Digitized receipt-matching

Tracking down paper receipts, or even manually collecting and organizing emailed invoices, are not sustainable practices for any business today. From collection to coding, Ramp utilizes end-to-end receipt automation to process receipts across dozens of popular and essential applications. Moreover, Ramp’s use of AI-powered verification removes the need to spend hours reviewing transactions for fraud or inauthenticity. 

With Ramp, businesses have the potential not only to empower employees and cut down on unnecessary costs, but also to completely transform the way they manage and spend money. If you want to learn more about how your business could benefit from integrating Ramp, check out our demo.

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What is the difference between a p-card and a credit card?

The primary difference between a p-card and a traditional corporate credit card is functionality and management. Whereas traditional credit cards simply provide purchasing power, p-cards allow businesses to customize how and where the card is used. Moreover, in addition to serving as a credit card, smart p-cards come with innovative and adaptable management tools, and can be integrated into the broader accounting process. 

How do p-cards work?

P-cards are issued to employees to make business-related purchases. Employers can then set individual spending limits and vendor restrictions to establish and maintain a strategically controlled spending environment. 

When should businesses use p-cards?

P-cards are a great choice for businesses looking to reign in unnecessary spending, bypass time-consuming request and approval processes, streamline bill paying, and cut down on transaction costs related to smaller purchases. 

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Learn more about Ramp

Streamline approvals.
Review requests, pre-approve expenses, and issue general expense cards in a few clicks – or directly in Slack. Delegate approvals and empower your team leads to spend on the things they need and control their team’s expenses.
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Issue instant cards.
Unlimited virtual and physical cards with built-in spend limits, instantly available for everyone in your team. Define spend rules and let your smart cards enforce your policies automatically. No more surprises or under-the-radar spending.
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See spend as it happens.
Stop waiting on monthly statements or manual spreadsheets. Find, browse, and download real-time transactions from any employee, department, or merchant – on any device.
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Close your books 5x faster.
An accounting experience by finance teams, built for speed and efficiency. Automate manual processes and start enjoying instant reconciliation – Ramp does all the heavy lifting.
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Trim wasteful spend.
Ramp analyses every transaction and identifies hundreds of actionable ways your company can cut expenses and alerts your team via email, SMS, or Slack. It’s like having a second finance team, laser-focused on cutting costs.
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Consolidate reimbursements.
Ramp makes it easy to reimburse your employees for any incidental out-of-pocket expenses. Review, approve, and pay employees back for anything that didn’t make it onto a card with the rest of your Ramp transactions.
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