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My employer says I misused corporate card they approved; am I liable for it?

Check your employer’s guidelines for business expenses to see if you’re responsible for the expenses

Summary

Depending on the purchases, you could be liable to pay back what was spent. Employees may not always know what an employer would consider a reasonable expense, so make sure to avoid misunderstandings over gray areas.

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Dear Your Business Credit,

If your employer says you are misusing your credit but they approved it and have all the receipts – are you liable to pay it back? – Karen

Dear Karen,

It sounds like there has been a miscommunication between you and your employer about how the card may be used.

Many employers who approve the use of a company credit card for a general purpose – like going on a business trip – expect employees to follow specific rules on exactly what can and can’t be purchased on a company credit card.

Check out all the answers from our credit card experts.

Ask Elaine a question.

See related: Corporate credit cards: How they work, benefits, drawbacks

Employee rules for using corporate cards may vary

For instance, they may agree to cover employees’ hotel rooms for business trips but set a limit on how much the hotel rooms may cost.

Maybe they’ll pay for the Hilton but not the Ritz-Carlton. Or they may authorize the office manager to purchase refreshments for the office party but limit the beverages to nonalcoholic options.

Sometimes when employers – including small businesses – issue a company credit card, they’ll offer written guidelines so there are no misunderstandings about how it may be used.

Employees may not always know what an employer would consider a reasonable expense, so this will help avoid misunderstandings over gray areas.

For instance, if a $250 hotel room is OK but a $275 one is not, employees may not automatically intuit that. The employer needs to be specific.

Unsure about your employer’s expense rules? Ask

That said, if your employer hasn’t put written guidelines in place, it’s important to step up and ask questions about what you can and can’t put on the card – before you swipe it.

You and your employer are part of a team, so it’s important to put yourself in the shoes of your boss – who may have to justify the charges to higher ups.

Ask yourself how you would feel if asked to pay for a charge in a given situation. Buying a couple of bottles of Dom Pérignon for a toast when a beloved employee is retiring might be OK but purchasing 10 bottles for the weekly office happy hour probably would not be.

The context for most purchases is important to consider each time you use the card.

Are you liable for corporate card charges? It depends on your employer’s rules

As to whether your employer can make you pay for charges considered a misuse of your credit card, it depends.

If your employer has a written policy on credit card use that bans the type of charges you made, then yes, it does look like your employer has a leg to stand on here.

If there are no policies, and the charges you made would generally be considered reasonable in context, you could potentially go back to your employer and say that you did not understand the charges were not allowed and ask that the matter be reconsidered.

If the employer does not pay the credit card bill, then it is possible the credit card company could pursue you for the debt, depending on the cardholder agreement you signed when you got the card.

Before you go back to your employer to ask that any charges be reconsidered, I’d suggest you look up the per diem reimbursement rates the government’s General Services Administration allows for meals and hotel reimbursement, if your charges fall into normal reimbursement ranges.

The rates are on the conservative side, so, if, for instance, you booked a room that costs the same as one the federal government would allow, many employers would consider them acceptable.

Personal charges on corporate card

I am assuming these were not charges for personal purchases, in which case it would be hard to make the case the company approved them.

It’s not reasonable to assume you can use a company credit card for something like going out to dinner with your spouse or shopping for clothes at the mall, or to make the case that you thought the employer was allowing these charges.

If you did make personal purchase on the card, then I’d suggest you bite the bullet and pay them. Making an issue of this could hurt your relationship with your employer, and it’s probably not worth putting your working relationship at risk.

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