In this article, we will go through some basic fundamentals of expense reporting. Once you fully understand the nature of an expense report, you’ll be sure to make the most of it and improve your business’s productivity and internal control.
Being in business is all about making a profit. But that profit isn’t only about your sales numbers. How to effectively control and minimize expenses is just as important as how to boost sales to achieve the ultimate goal: generate maximum profit.
Caught between limited financial resources and the pressure to maintain competitive pricing, small businesses these days need to stay more proactive than ever to stay on top of their expenses. One of the most commonly used practices for managing costs among small enterprises is the expense report.
What is an expense report for businesses?
An expense report is a document filled out by an employee or a partner so they can be reimbursed for professional expenses. They are also used to track company spending.
Expense reports are generally presented as forms, whether in a paper or a digital format. The report can be prepared using accounting software or using a template in Word, Excel, PDF, and so on.
With the advent of new technologies, several solutions now exist to automate the expense management process. The purpose of these solutions is to free time up for everyone involved in the process, streamline expense reports management, and increase profit.
What is an expense report used for?
A small business sometimes has their employees pay for work-related expenses out of their own pockets then later, the business owner would make reimbursement for those expenses. This process is carried out by an expense report with 3 simple steps:
- The employee fills in an expense report and lists all the business-related spending such as gas for vehicles, accommodation, or meals. Receipts should be attached to the document.
- The employer checks the expense report for accuracy and validity.
- The requested amount is paid back to the employee.
Sometimes, the process can be reversed in which the companies make advance payment for staff. The employee still needs to submit an expense report to detail expenditures. However, there won’t be any reimbursement. Instead, the employer will just deduct the expenses from the advances and have these transactions recorded in the bookkeeping system.
An expense report is also a great tool to help small businesses keep track of their spending periodically (on a monthly, quarterly, or yearly basis). By reviewing expense reports, enterprises can examine their financial health, determine if they’re spending over or under budget, then analyze the causes and come up with immediate solutions to improve expense management.
Many business expenses are deductible that can be subtracted from a company’s income before it is subject to taxation. Expense reports are the legal documents to prove just that. Creating an expense report allows you to monitor deductible costs that may not yet be shown on your company bank account, making it a lot easier to write such expenses off at tax time.
Expense reports are valuable evidence for both internal and external audit activities. Unnecessary and fraudulent reimbursement claims are not, unfortunately, an uncommon theme in many workplaces. These reports can help with business audits by providing visibility into what funds are coming in and out of the business. By properly processing these expense reports, owners can examine the details and audit their current businesses’ financial and managerial health.
As we’ve just mentioned above as well, expense reports are vital for deducting tax. They can be requested for submission as supplemental documents, in addition to reporting total applicable costs on tax forms when submitting taxes with the revenue service at any time.
What does an expense report look like?
Small businesses usually create expense reports using templates in Word, Excel, PDF, etc, or have them automatically prepared by accounting software. No matter how an expense report is made, it typically should contain these elements:
- Employee’s information: name, department, position, their manager, or details of who submits the expense
- Date: when expenditure was incurred (a receipt showing the same date should be attached)
- Vendor: where a product or service was purchased
- Description: the nature of the expense such as taxi fee, meal, or hotel
- Account: where the expense should be charged to
- Amount: the total sum of the expense (this amount should also be on the provided receipt)
- Subtotal: the amount for each type of expense listed
- Subtraction: adjustments when there are any prior advances paid to the employee
- The grand total: the final amount of reimbursement requested
- Note: an extra explanation for any unidentified or unclear type of expenses.
Sometimes, an expense report may also include a brief summary of the company’s policy regarding which kind of expense is not reimbursable. It’s a good way to remind employees before they submit their expenses, saving time for employers and also raising awareness of spending policies within the enterprise.
An expense report may look different among small companies, depending on its nature of business as well as each company’s own preference. However, it should always tell you how much the expense is and what it was used for.
Business expense categories
One of the most important functions of using expense reports is to help small businesses collect data and categorize business expenses, many of which can be written off in a company’s taxes. Some of the most common expense categories include utilities, travel, office supplies, and rental expenses, but there are many more that small businesses, freelancers, and sole proprietors should pay attention to.
According to the IRS, as long as an expense is “ordinary and necessary” to running a business in your industry, it’s deductible. That’s why we suggest you should follow the categories listed in the Schedule C form from the IRS for your expense report if you run a sole proprietorship. Developing categories that match your business and a tax return file can make the tax filing process easier, smoother, save you time, and make sure you get all the deductions that you can.
We’ve listed below the most common 10 business tax expenses that you can deduct with brief explanations of what’s covered, what’s allowed, and what’s not.
You can fully deduct expenses related to promoting your business, including digital and print advertising, social media advertising, website design & maintenance, and the cost of printing business cards.
Business insurance and professional service
You can deduct the cost of your business insurance on your tax return such as business liability or workers compensation. Fees paid to an attorney, designer, architect, or other professionals directly related to operating your business are also tax-deductible.
You can write off office supplies including stationery, office cleaning service, drinks & snacks in the break room, and work-related software. Shipping and postage charges may also be deducted. Bear in mind that you may only deduct the expenditure of materials used in the current year.
Home office expenses
Small business owners who work from home cannot miss this information! Generally, you’d need a space that is regularly and exclusively used for businesses to be qualified for deduction. You can deduct $5 for every square foot of your home office which meets all the requirements, up to a maximum of 300 square feet.
The first and foremost condition to write off travel expenses is that the travel is qualified as a business trip. Here are 3 rules to help you know whether your trip is qualified or not:
- The trip must be primarily business-related.
- The trip must take you away from your tax home, i.e. outside the city or area where your company is located.
- As well as being away from your tax home, it must be substantially longer than a normal day’s work and it must require you to sleep or rest on the route.
A business interest expense is the cost of interest on business loans required to keep operations running. Your deduction is generally limited to 30% of adjusted taxable income while it was up to 50% in 2020 due to Coronavirus. However, this limitation is not applied to small businesses (with average annual gross receipts of $25 million or less over a trailing three-year period), farms, or real estate investment enterprises.
Cell phone and internet bills
You can deduct your entire bill if you have a dedicated business cell phone or Internet connection. It’ll be a little bit more complicated if you mix business with personal usage. In this case, you will need to calculate and deduct only the percentage used for work.
Wages and benefits
If you run a small business and hire people, you may deduct their wages, benefits, and vacation expenses. However, don’t include your own wages because they’re not allowed to be deducted by the IRS.
Tax-deductible donations must meet certain criteria such as the organizations you give charity to have to be qualified. Examples of qualified institutions include religious organizations, nonprofit educational agencies, museums, local volunteer groups, etc. There will be different guidelines depending on the nature of your donations such as cash, food, clothing, etc.
When you deduct depreciation, you’re usually writing off the cost of a tangible asset like a vehicle or machinery over the useful lifetime of that item, rather than deducting it all in one go for a single tax year. It’s best to deduct depreciation for costly long-term business investments, so you’re reimbursed for the expense over the entire lifetime of use of the item.
You can claim insurance premiums and you’re self-employed and pay for your own health insurance, you can deduct your health and dental care insurance premiums. You can also claim medical care expenses, including doctor’s fees, prescription drugs, and home care.
By designing your expense report template based on Schedule C, you’ll find it much quicker and easier when inserting data into tax forms.
So get organized and save time and money!
What is a monthly expense report?
A monthly expense report details company outlays paid over the course of a given month. These reports are not typically used for employee reimbursement, but rather to track company or department spending, allocate expenses to specific projects or clients and compare expenses to revenue to determine a company’s overall profitability. These reports are typically organized by category, or payee, and can be tremendously helpful for companies to coordinate planning, budgeting, and resourcing requirements. In times of financial difficulty, a monthly expense report can be used to check how costs can be cut or eliminated to improve profit.
What is considered an expense?
Not all costs are expenses. An expense is the cost of operations that a business incurs to generate revenue. It can be salary compensations for employees, train tickets fee, or rental for the office. The summary of all expenses is shown on Income Statements (Profit or Loss Statement) as deductions from the total revenue.
While businesses can write off many kinds of expenses, they are not allowed to claim their personal, non-business expenses as business deductions. They also cannot claim bribes, lobbying costs, penalties, fines, and contributions made to political parties or candidates.
There’s also a common mistake among businesses when they write off “capital expenditure” as an expense. Capital expenditure (CapEx) is used to acquire, upgrade, and maintain tangible assets such as property, buildings, or equipment. Businesses must capitalize those expenses or write them off slowly over time as depreciation. For example, if you acquire a new oven for your bakery business, the oven should be capitalized and recorded as your asset, instead of a business expense. Identifying the nature of an expense will help you do your taxes properly and precisely.
Essentially, companies should have strict rules regarding what can be considered a business expense. Employees should be informed thoroughly as well before submitting expense reports for reimbursement.
Expense reporting and analysis is an indispensable element of an effective cost management process. However, many small businesses struggle with keeping track of documents and receipts manually which ends up being time-consuming and unproductive.
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