Tony Dobrowolski | Out of The Pages: Expense accounts and tax refunds


PITTSFIELD >> Imagine being an employer who receives an expense account that lists "a side of beef" or a "new car" as an item for compensation.

If that seems odd or a little far-fetched, it's not. It happens much more often than you think.

A recent survey of more than 2,200 Chief Financial Officers in more than 20 of the country's largest metropolitan areas found that the unusual, exotic and often thoughtless expense account request hasn't gone out of style.

According to the survey conducted by Robert Half Management Resources of California, 65 percent of the CFOs surveyed said they've seen no change in the number of inappropriate expense reports that have been submitted in the last three years. Only eight percent reported a slight decrease, and just three percent a significant decrease.

Here are a smattering of the unusual items that CFOs say have been submitted for reimbursement by employees. Some of them sound like items you could win on a game show: A new car; flat-screen TVs; doggie day spas; rental homes; vacations; taxidermy and dance classes.

And those aren't the most unusual ones. Try these: "A side of beef — somebody bought half a cow"; "a welder; and "somebody else's salary."

Other goofball submissions: cosmetic surgery; a trailer rental for a family reunion; losing a personal cell phone somewhere in the office and submitting the cost for a new one; and my personal favorite: a fine for crashing into a toll booth.

Some of these submissions are funny, obviously, but they're symptoms of a much larger and more serious problem. According to Robert Half Associates, one of the reasons employees tend to run amuck when they're on business trips is because their firms' policies on expense accounts are either vague or unclear.

Here's what Robert Half Associates recommends employees consider when they submit expense reports.:

• Review your organization's guidelines. Check with a manager or human resources representative if you have any questions regarding submissions.

• Clear any reuqests that could be interpreted as a personal expense with your manager beforehand.

• If you're not sure an item is appropriate or inappropriate think about what family members might say if you submitted it. If they'd be embarrassed by the submission, it's probably not a good idea.

Here's some advise for employers:

"Ensure your policies are clearly communicated and accessible to all employees," said Tim Hird, the executive director of Robert Half Management Resources. "Take a big-picture view of the program. Is it spelled out completely? Are you using the latest tools available? Removing ambiguity can help the number of problematic requests."

Refund mania

Last week, we wrote about the various scams that people are using this year to obtain illegal tax refunds. But what about the people who receive these tax refunds on the up-and-up? Do they tend to save them? Or they more likely to spend?

What people do with their tax refund depends largely on what demographic they fall into, according to a survey conducted by

Here are some examples:

• Non-voters are 33 percent more likely to save their tax refund than those who do vote. As far as the voters are concerned, 44 percent who save their tax refund are unregistered, 36 percent are Republicans and 32 percent are either Democrats or Independents.

• Those who said they planned to vote in the 2016 Presidential primaries are 30 percent more likely then those who didn't vote to spend a tax refund on loved ones rather than themselves.

• Members of Generation X, those born roughly between the early 1960s and early 1980s, are 30 percent more likely to use their tax refund to pay down existing debt (the exact number is 47 percent).

• Americans who report they never attend religious services are more than 25 percent more likely to spend their tax refund, rather than save or pay down debt, compared to those that attend services occaisionally.

• Those who believe we should be doing more to combat climate change are nearly 30 percent more likely to use their tax refund to pay down debt than those who believe we should do the same amount to address climate change.

• Here's some good news for advertisers: People who say their favorite part of the Super Bowl is the commercials (24 percent) are the ones least likely to save their tax refund. Those who like the halftime show best (42 percent) are the most likely to save, compared to 35 percent who tune in mostly for the game.

• Home owners are 40 percent more like to spend their tax refunds on themselves than renters.

• For those that do spend their refund, 81 percent prefer taking a weekend getaway; 19 percent would rather purchase a television or gaming system.

• People who support the federal legalization of medical marijuana are three times more likely to spend their tax refund on travel or recreation than anyone else. There's no word on what those travel or recreation plans consist of.

Tony Dobrowolski is the business editor of The Berkshire Eagle. He can be reached at


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