I used the company credit card for a personal purchase

Admit mistake, pay what you owe and study policy on business credit cards

Your Business Credit columnist Elaine Pofeldt
Elaine Pofeldt is a journalist whose articles on entrepreneurship and careers have appeared in Fortune, Working Mother, Money and many other publications. She is a former senior editor at Fortune Small Business magazine and an entrepreneur herself, as co-founder of 200kfreelancer.com, a website for independent professionals. She writes "Your Business Credit," a weekly column about small business and credit, for CreditCards.com.

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Question Dear Your Business Credit,
I recently got a corporate credit card as I travel 50 percent of the time. The card is connected to my bank account and I need to forward receipts in order to avoid the credit card issuer charging me for the purchases made.

During my first trip owning the card I had to go to Asia, and there, on two occasions, my personal card was not accepted while making a personal purchase. The purchases are not over $150 in total. It has never been my intention to send an invoice to my company to get this amount covered by them.

While talking to a colleague on the finance team, I learned that we are not allowed to use the card for personal purchases. For this reason I have contacted both my manager and the finance team in charge of corporate credit cards to apologize, specify that I misunderstood the policy and ultimately tell them I would like to repay the company ASAP including any additional fee or commission they have encountered.

As you can imagine I am under plenty of stress for this and I am wondering what the consequences might be. Thanks. – Ciara

Answer Dear Ciara,
Your note is a good reminder to business owners to make sure employees who are given corporate cards understand what company policies are that govern them, and to put policies on credit card use in writing if you don’t have them in place yet.

Even better, I’d recommend having whoever handles human resources meet with each employee who receives a company credit card to make sure he or she understands how it may and may not be used, as a supplement to the policy that is in writing.

Many employees are new to using a business-issued credit card, and there is plenty of room for misunderstanding. You sound like a conscientious employee and yet you went on a business trip not fully grasping the rules governing the credit card your company provided to you.

“Employees are not psychic,” noted Rudeth Shaughnessy, who was director of human resources for a technology firm before becoming a resume editor, in an email. “It is the job of HR to train all employees, whether it be during onboarding or before trips, on the roles and limitations of company credit cards.”

Be upfront and rectify the mistake

As to what the consequences might be, I would not lose sleep over this.

From an outsider’s perspective, it looks like you made an honest mistake and made every effort to rectify the situation as soon as you realized you had violated the policy. I can’t imagine a reasonable company would penalize you.

It is not as if you tried to sneak a personal vacation to Aruba on your corporate card and pass it off as a work expense. You were the one who called the mistake to the company’s attention.

Going forward, I’d make sure you have a backup method of payment for personal purchases when you are traveling overseas. That may simply entail carrying some cash or, if you have an alternate credit card, bringing more than one card on your trip.

Now that you know the company policy, of course, it is your job to be proactive about following it. Based on the fact that you wrote to me about this, I have no doubt that you will be.

See related: Corporate credit cards: How they work, benefits, drawbacks, Handling employees' personal purchases on company cards, 6 questions to ask about your company credit card

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Updated: 01-24-2019