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When I travel on business, my employer pays for my meals by reimbursing me at a statutory "per diem" rate. Often this exceeds the amount I actually spend on meals. How should I account for the excess in a double-entry accounting system? I use Gnucash.

Currently I am recording the excess as income, but I am not sure if this is correct.

As an example, suppose I take a 3-day business trip to Gotham City, for which the per diem rate is $50 per day. So my employer pays me $150 as a "reimbursement" for my meals. However, suppose I actually spent only $90 on meals during the trip. I want to know how to account for the extra $60.

Here is how I am currently recording this in Gnucash.

  • I create an Asset account for this trip to record reimbursable expenses. Expenditure of $90 on meals is a transfer of $90 from the Liability account Liabilities:Credit Card to the Asset account Assets:Reimbursable:Gotham City. (I understand it would also be possible for the latter account to be of type Accounts Receivable.)

  • When the reimbursement payment is made (direct deposit to my checking account), I enter a split transaction with a credit of $150 to the Asset account Assets:Checking, a debit of $90 to Assets:Reimbursable:Gotham City, and income of $60 from an Income account named Income:Excess Reimbursement.

This balances the books, but it seems a little peculiar for this reimbursement to be "income". (For one thing, to the best of my knowledge, it is not taxable income in my jurisdiction.)

Even if it is properly considered income, is there a better term than "excess reimbursement"? It seems to me that this might look odd or suspicious to someone examining my books.

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I've been in a very similar situation to yours in the past. Since the company is reimbursing you at a flat rate (I assume you don't need to provide documentation/receipts in order to be paid the per diem), it's not directly connected to the $90 in expenses that you mention. Unless they were taking taxes out that would need to be reimbursed, the separate category for Assets:Reimbursable:Gotham City serves no real purpose, other than to categorize the expenses.

Since there is no direct relationship between your expenses and the reimbursement, I would list them as completely separate transactions:

  • $90 in transactions between Liabilities:Credit Card and Expenses:Restaurants with a memo stating "Gotham trip lunch" etc.
  • A single income transaction from Income:Company:Travel Reimbursement to Assets:Bank for $150 with a memo "Gotham trip per diem".
  • Pay Liabilities:Credit Card as normal from Assets:Bank, with an optional memo mentioning Gotham trip (but not needed).

Later, if you needed to locate all of the associated expenses with the Gotham trip, gnucash lets you search on memo text for "Gotham" and will display all of the related transactions. This is a lot cleaner than having to determine what piece of the per diem goes to which expenses, or having to create a new Asset account every time you go on a trip.

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