How to Write an Expense Report:
17 Best Practices

Master the art of efficient expense management.

Abstract image showing a businessman creating expense report

Uncover key strategies for streamlining the expense reporting process, ensuring accuracy and compliance. Learn from industry experts about innovative tools and techniques that can save time and reduce errors. Whether you're a small business owner or part of a large corporation, our practical tips will help you optimize your expense report workflow and make financial management a breeze.

Key Takeaways

In the fast-paced world of business, keeping a close eye on expenses is vital for maintaining financial health. Whether you’re a seasoned financial manager or occasionally find yourself grappling with the complexities of expense reports, these documents are an integral part of corporate life. While they provide valuable insights, they can also pose challenges.

In this guide, we will discuss expense reports within the business context. We’ll demonstrate how mastering them can empower your organization to take charge of its finances and make more informed financial decisions. So, prepare for the journey ahead – let’s embark on a comprehensive exploration of corporate expenses!

What is an Expense Report?

An expense report is a document or form used to record and track expenses incurred by an individual or an organization during a specific period, typically for business purposes. It serves as a detailed record of expenditures and is an essential tool for financial management and tracking.

Expense reports typically include the following information:

  • Date: The date when the expense was incurred.
  • Description: A brief description of the expense, such as the purpose or reason for the expenditure.
  • Amount: The total cost of the expense.
  • Category: Expenses are often categorized to help with budgeting and analysis. Common categories include travel, meals, office supplies, transportation, and entertainment.
  • Receipts: Supporting documentation in the form of receipts or invoices, which validate the expense.

Expense reports are used by employees, business travelers, and professionals to seek reimbursement from their employers or clients for money spent on behalf of the organization. These reports help ensure that expenses are properly documented, within budgetary guidelines, and comply with company policies and tax regulations.

Additionally, for businesses, expense reports play a crucial role in financial planning, budget tracking, and evaluating spending patterns. Many organizations use specialized software or apps to simplify the process of creating and managing expense reports, making it more efficient and accurate.

What is an Expense Report?

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How to Create Expense Report

Creating an expense report is a systematic process that involves documenting and summarizing your expenditures for a specific period, often for business purposes. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to create an expense report.

Gather Receipts and Documentation

Collect all receipts, invoices, and other supporting documents related to your expenses. These documents serve as evidence of your expenditures.

Select a Template or Format

Depending on your preference or your organization’s requirements, you can choose to create your expense report using spreadsheet software like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets. Alternatively, you may use specialized expense management software or apps if available.

Create an Expense Report Header

Start your report by adding a header that includes essential information such as your name, the reporting period (e.g., month, quarter, or specific dates), your employee or account number, and any other pertinent details required by your organization.

List Expenses

Create a table or section to list your individual expenses. Include columns for the date, description of the expense, category (e.g., meals, transportation, lodging), and the amount spent for each expense.

Enter Expense Details

For each expense, fill in the relevant information in the respective columns. Be clear and concise in your descriptions to ensure easy understanding and verification.

Calculate Totals

Sum up the total amount spent for each category and for the entire reporting period. Include a subtotal for each category and a grand total for all expenses.

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Calculate Totals

Attach Documentation

Scan or attach digital copies of your receipts and invoices to the expense report. Ensure that the receipts match the expenses listed in the report. If there are any exceptional circumstances or additional explanations required for specific expenses, include comments or notes to provide context.

Review and Verify

Carefully review your expense report to check for accuracy, completeness, and compliance with your organization’s policies and guidelines.

Submit for Approval

Once you are satisfied with the accuracy of your report, submit it for approval according to your organization’s procedures. Typically, you’ll need to forward it to your manager or the relevant department for review. Retain a copy of the completed expense report for your records.

If necessary, follow up on the status of your expense report and ensure that any approved reimbursements are processed accordingly.

Creating an expense report may vary in complexity depending on your organization’s requirements and the tools you use. Following these steps will help you maintain an organized and accurate record of your expenses for reimbursement or financial tracking purposes.

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Expense Report Template

Creating an expense report template can simplify the process of recording and tracking expenses for individuals or businesses. Here’s a basic expense report template you can use as a starting point. You can customize it to suit your specific needs:

Expense Report for [Month/Year]: ______________

Employee Name: ___________________________

Employee ID: ______________________________

Department: _______________________________

Expense Category   Date   Description   Amount ($)


  1. [Category] [Date] [Description]       [Amount]
  2. [Category] [Date] [Description]       [Amount]
  3. [Category] [Date] [Description]       [Amount]
  4. [Category] [Date] [Description]       [Amount]
  5. [Category] [Date] [Description]       [Amount]

Subtotal [Category 1]: $__________________

Subtotal [Category 2]: $__________________

Subtotal [Category 3]: $__________________

Total Expenses: $_______________________

Receipts Attached: [Yes / No]

Additional Notes or Comments:




Instructions for Using Expense Report Template

  • Fill in the top section with your name, employee ID, department, and the month/year for the expense report.
  • In the table, list your expenses in rows, providing the following details for each expense:
  • Expense Category: Specify the category of the expense (e.g., meals, transportation).
  • Date: Enter the date when the expense occurred.
  • Description: Briefly describe the expense (e.g., lunch meeting with client).
  • Amount ($): State the amount spent for that particular expense.
  • Use as many rows as needed to document all your expenses for the reporting period.
  • Calculate subtotals for each expense category by summing up the respective expenses within that category.
  • Calculate the «Total Expenses» by adding up all the expenses.
  • Indicate whether you have attached receipts to the report by marking «Yes» or «No.»
  • Provide any additional notes or comments as necessary.

This template offers a straightforward structure for recording expenses. You can tailor it to your specific requirements, such as adding more categories, including tax-related information, or adjusting the format to match your organization’s guidelines.

Using a consistent template makes it easier to manage and submit your expense reports accurately.

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Expense Report Approval Process

The expense report approval process is a structured workflow that organizations follow to review, validate, and authorize employee or business expenses before reimbursement. This process helps ensure that expenses are legitimate, comply with company policies, and are accurately documented. Here’s an overview of the typical steps in an expense report approval process.

Expense Report Submission

The process begins with the employee or expense submitter filling out an expense report. They document all incurred expenses, attach receipts, and provide any necessary explanations or justifications.

Initial Expense Report Review

The expense report is submitted to an initial reviewer, often the employee’s immediate supervisor or manager. This reviewer checks for completeness, accuracy, and adherence to company policies.

Expense Report Approval or Rejection

Based on the initial review, the manager can either approve the expense report or send it back to the employee for corrections or further information. If approved, it moves to the next step.

In some organizations, a secondary reviewer, such as the finance department or a higher-level manager, may conduct an additional review for compliance and budget considerations.

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Finance Department Review

The expense report, along with any approvals, is forwarded to the finance department or accounting team. They verify the accuracy of the expenses, ensure compliance with tax regulations, and allocate costs to appropriate budget categories.

Approval Hierarchy

Depending on the organization’s structure, there may be multiple levels of approval. Higher-value expenses or those requiring special authorization may need approval from senior management or department heads.

Approval Hierarchy

Expense Report Reimbursement

Once all necessary approvals are obtained, the finance department processes the reimbursement to the employee. The reimbursement can be made via direct deposit, a paper check, or another agreed-upon method.

Expense Report Archiving

A copy of the approved expense report is retained for record-keeping and audit purposes. Many organizations now use digital expense management systems to store and organize expense reports electronically.

Expense Report Audit and Compliance Checks

Periodically or randomly, organizations may conduct audits to ensure that expense reports are accurate, compliant, and in line with company policies. Audits can help identify any irregularities or issues.

The specific steps and approval hierarchy can vary between organizations and may depend on the complexity of the expense report and the industry’s regulatory requirements.

Automation tools and software are often used to facilitate and expedite the expense report approval process, reducing manual administrative tasks and improving accuracy.

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Expense Report Automation: How to Implement

Implementing expense report automation can streamline your organization’s expense management process, save time, reduce errors, and improve compliance with expense policies. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to implement expense report automation effectively:

  • Assess Your Current Expense Report Process: Start by analyzing your existing expense reporting process. Identify pain points, bottlenecks, and areas that can benefit from automation. Understand the specific needs and challenges of your organization.
  • Set Clear Objectives: Define clear goals for implementing expense report automation. These goals might include reducing processing time, improving accuracy, enhancing compliance, and reducing administrative costs.
  • Select an Expense Management Software: Research and select a suitable expense management software or solution that aligns with your organization’s needs. Consider factors like ease of use, integration capabilities with existing systems, mobile accessibility, and scalability.
  • Customize for Your Needs: Customize the software to match your organization’s expense policies, approval workflows, and reporting requirements. Ensure that it aligns with your specific business processes.
  • Data Migration: If you are transitioning from manual processes or an older system, plan for the migration of existing expense data into the new automation system. Ensure data integrity during the transfer.
  • Integration with Other Systems: Integrate the expense management software with other systems, such as accounting software, payroll, and HR systems, to streamline data flow and reduce manual data entry.
  • User Training: Provide comprehensive training to employees, managers, and finance teams on how to use the new expense management software effectively. Ensure they understand the new workflow and features.
  • Testing and Pilot Phase: Conduct thorough testing of the automation system to identify and resolve any issues or bugs. Consider running a pilot phase with a small group of users to fine-tune the process.
  • Communication and Change Management: Communicate the upcoming changes to all stakeholders. Emphasize the benefits of automation, explain the new process, and provide support resources for employees.
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  • Rollout and Go-Live: Once testing and training are complete, roll out the expense report automation system to all employees. Monitor the initial transition phase and provide assistance as needed.
  • Continuous Monitoring and Optimization: Regularly monitor the performance of the automation system and gather feedback from users. Make improvements, update policies, and optimize processes as necessary to ensure ongoing efficiency.
  • Compliance and Auditing: Implement automated compliance checks and auditing processes within the system to ensure expenses align with company policies and regulatory requirements.
  • Data Security and Privacy: Ensure that the expense data stored and processed within the automation system is secure and compliant with data privacy regulations, such as GDPR or HIPAA.
  • Reporting and Analytics: Leverage the reporting and analytics capabilities of the software to gain insights into expense trends, budget adherence, and areas for cost savings.
  • User Support and Helpdesk: Maintain a responsive helpdesk or support system to assist users with any questions or issues they encounter while using the automation system.
  • Feedback Loop: Continuously gather feedback from users to identify areas for improvement and make iterative enhancements to the expense report automation process.

RELATED: What CFOs Should Know About Financial Statements and Reports

Implementing expense report automation requires careful planning, coordination, and ongoing management. However, the benefits in terms of efficiency, accuracy, and cost savings can be substantial for organizations of all sizes.

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5 Expense Report Tips

Filling out your expense report doesn’t have to be stressful anymore. By following these simple steps, you can breeze through the whole process with ease.

Keep all your receipts

Before you can start filling out your expense report, you need to collect all your receipts. Whether it is a receipt from your flight or a dinner with colleagues, make sure you keep all of them safe. If you lose a receipt, chances are your expense might not get approved, and you may have to bear the cost yourself.

Categorize your expenses

The next step is to categorize your expenses. You can use the categories mentioned in your company’s expense policy or ask your manager if you are unsure. Some common categories include travel, meals, accommodation, and entertainment. Make sure you double-check the policy to know what is allowed and what isn’t.

Add all your expenses

Once you have all your receipts and categories sorted, it’s time to add up all your expenses. Use a spreadsheet or online tool to ensure you don’t miss a penny! Make sure you include all the relevant details, such as the date, location, and reason for the expense.

Include additional details

If you have any additional details, make sure to add them in the report. For example, if you took a client out to dinner, make note of who they are and why you were meeting. This information will help your manager understand the context and approve your expense faster.

Submit your report on time

Finally, the most crucial step – submitting your report on time! Make sure you submit the report as soon as possible after your trip or event. Most companies have a specific deadline, and missing it can lead to unnecessary delays in getting your reimbursement.

Remember to keep all your receipts, categorize your expenses, add all the details, and submit your report on time. With these tips, you can be sure to impress your boss with your impeccable expense report skills!

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What is an expense report?

An expense report is a document used to record and summarize expenses incurred by an individual or organization. It includes details of expenditures, such as date, description, category, and amount.

Why are expense reports important?

Expense reports are essential for financial management, as they help track spending, ensure compliance with policies, support tax deductions, and facilitate reimbursement processes.

How do I create an expense report?

To create an expense report, gather receipts and documentation, use a template or expense management software, list expenses, categorize them, calculate totals, and submit for approval.

What should be included in an expense report?

An expense report should include the date of the expense, a description, expense category, amount, and any supporting documentation, such as receipts.

How can I ensure my expense report is accurate?

To ensure accuracy, double-check all details, match receipts to expenses, review your organization’s expense policies, and seek clarification when needed.

What expenses can be included in an expense report?

Typically, business-related expenses like travel, meals, accommodation, transportation, office supplies, and client entertainment can be included. However, the specific expenses allowed may vary by organization.

What is the approval process for expense reports?

The approval process involves submitting the report to a manager or supervisor for review. It may also require additional approvals from finance departments or higher management, depending on the organization’s policies.

How long does it take to get reimbursed for expenses?

The time it takes to receive reimbursement varies by organization and can range from a few days to several weeks. It depends on the organization’s policies and processing times.

Can I use software to automate expense reporting?

Yes, many organizations use expense management software to automate the expense reporting process. These tools streamline expense capture, approval workflows, and reporting.

What happens if an expense report is rejected?

If an expense report is rejected, you may need to make corrections, provide additional information, or seek approval from a higher authority. It’s essential to address the reasons for rejection and resubmit.

Are expense reports subject to audits?

Yes, many organizations conduct periodic audits of expense reports to ensure compliance with policies, verify expenses, and prevent fraud.

Are there tax implications for expense reports?

Are expense reports subject to audits?

Yes, some expenses included in reports may be tax-deductible for individuals or eligible for reimbursement by employers. It’s important to consult with a tax professional for guidance.

Can I use my personal credit card for business expenses in an expense report?

In many cases, employees can use personal credit cards for business expenses and include them in expense reports. However, organizations often have guidelines and reimbursement policies in place.

What should I do if I lose a receipt for an expense?

If you lose a receipt, document the expense as accurately as possible in your report. Some organizations may accept alternative forms of verification, such as credit card statements or affidavits.

Can I submit an expense report for expenses incurred in the past?

The ability to submit past expenses may depend on your organization’s policies. Some organizations may have specific time limits for expense submissions.

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