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For those frequently filing taxes — be it freelancers, small business owners, or even diligent employees — the concept of reimbursable expenses can be as perplexing as it is pertinent. When handled incorrectly, this type of financial management can lead to unintentional errors on tax returns, potential audits, or even penalties from the IRS. In this guide, we will demystify the treatment of reimbursed expenses and navigate you through the labyrinth of tax compliance.

Understanding Reimbursed Expenses

Reimbursed expenses are those costs that an individual has paid for personally but later are given funds to cover by an employer, client, or another entity. The most common types of reimbursable expenses include travel expenses, business meals, entertainment costs, and supplies or equipment. It is important to categorize these expenses correctly and understand the rules around their reimbursement to ensure they are accurately accounted for.

Tax Implications

Reimbursed expenses can become a tax issue when it comes to whether or not they count as income. Generally, reimbursements, when used for actual business expenses, are not considered income. However, you cannot "double-dip" and deduct those expenses as business costs, which is an important distinction.

Deductibility of Reimbursed Expenses

The IRS allows you to deduct business expenses that are ordinary and necessary. This means expenses that are common and accepted in your trade or business, as well as helpful and appropriate for your line of work. However, if you are reimbursed from your employer or client for an expense, you typically cannot also deduct that expense. This prevents the same expense from being deducted twice, once as a business expense and once as a loss to be recouped.

Accounting for Reimbursed Expenses

To properly account for reimbursed expenses, you must maintain meticulous records of all expenditures. This includes keeping receipts, documenting the date, amount, and nature of each expense, and being able to demonstrate that these were, indeed, business-related

Differentiating Between Personal and Business Expenses

One of the most essential parts of accounting for reimbursable expenses is ensuring that the costs are solely for business purposes. Although it sounds simple, differentiating between personal and business expenses can be quite complex. As a good rule of thumb, business expenses should not provide any personal benefit, only a gain to the business.

Reporting Reimbursed Expenses

When it comes to filing taxes, it's vital to report reimbursed expenses properly. Incorrectly categorizing reimbursed expenses can lead to trouble with the IRS, including penalties and interest.

How to Report on Tax Returns

Report your reimbursed expenses on the appropriate tax forms. If you are an employee who is reimbursed for expenses, your employer should report these amounts (if applicable) on your W-2 form. If you are a contractor or freelancer and are reimbursed, this amount would be reported as nonemployee compensation on Form 1099-NEC, for example.

Forms and Documentation

This reporting requires attention to detail and records maintained throughout the year. Be prepared to demonstrate the necessity and business purpose of each expense should the IRS ever ask for documentation.

Potential Consequences

Ignoring the rules around reimbursed expenses can lead to negative consequences, including being audited, paying interest on underpaid taxes, and even facing penalties. The IRS takes a hard stance on errors related to income reporting, so it's essential to understand the rules and apply them accurately.

Penalties and Audits for Mishandling Reimbursed Expenses

If the IRS finds that you have underreported your income, there is a risk of being audited. Penalties can range from minor fines based on the amount underreported, to much more significant penalties for substantial underreporting.


Understanding how reimbursed expenses are treated is crucial to tax planning and maintaining financial compliance. By staying informed and diligent with record-keeping, you can save yourself from potential tax headaches and ensure that your reimbursements are handled correctly. Remember, when it comes to tax law, ignorance is never an excuse. Consult a qualified tax professional who can provide personalized advice tailored to your unique situation.

Head of SEO, Ramp

Shaun Hinklein is the Head of SEO at Ramp. Prior to Ramp he built and executed SEO campaigns for Squarespace, Walmart, and Comic Con. Graduating from Rutgers University with a Journalism degree Shaun began his career at MTV News where he became responsible for maintaining Wordpress websites and gaining traffic to them. Learning SEO as a way to achieve that goal, Shaun built dozens of specialized websites for agencies, record labels, and nonprofits before starting his startup career at an incubator in Brooklyn. There he would accept the responsibility of leading SEO at , which would later be acquired for $3.3B by Walmart. When not solving SEO puzzles or building growth campaigns Shaun is scoring music for independent games from his home office in Red Bank, NJ.

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