Purchasing Card

Note: Effective 5/1/17, gifts valued up to $100 are allowed for employees and nonemployees. Gift certificates/cards remain prohibited on the PCard.

Policy Statement

Harvard Purchasing Cards (PCards) are University-liability credit cards issued in the names of authorized, trained individuals to purchase certain eligible goods and services in support of Harvard University.  Only eligible direct University business expenses may be charged to the PCard; personal purchases are strictly prohibited.  All PCard transactions must be supported by a detailed business purpose and by proof of purchase documentation.  All transactions must be reviewed in the PCard Settlement system before they are swept by a person other than the cardholder. Improper use of the PCard, including use of the PCard for personal purchases, may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.

Reason for Policy

The PCard’s efficiency and ease of use reduce administrative burdens on the University but also expose the University to risk. Potential risks associated with the PCard program include inappropriate card use, internal and external fraud, inappropriate general-ledger-coding allocation, non-compliance with IRS rules, and reputational damage to the University. This policy ensures that sufficient controls are in place to mitigate these risks.

Who Must Comply

All Harvard University schools, tubs, local units, Affiliate Institutions, Allied Institutions and University-wide Initiatives must comply.


See full policy PDF for detailed procedures


Responsibilities and Contacts

PCard Holders:  Cardholders are responsible for all charges made on their card. PCard holders must read, understand and follow this policy and accompanying procedures.  Pcard holders are primarily responsible for purchasing only eligible commodities as described in this document; for obtaining the required supporting documentation; and for ensuring charges to restricted gifts, restricted endowments, and sponsored funds are in accordance with the terms and/or conditions of the fund.  Cardholders with questions about whether certain expenditures are allowed on restricted funds must direct questions to their local sponsored administration office or tub financial dean’s office, as appropriate.  Cardholders must ensure all transactions are familiar and reasonable, perform a detailed review or delegate detailed review to a designee, and provide all receipts to a reviewer before the transactions are swept.

PCard Reviewers:  Pcard reviewers must read, understand, and follow this policy and accompanying procedures.  PCard reviewers are primarily responsible for reviewing PCard transactions in the online PCard settlement system and for ensuring the accuracy of the general ledger coding and the detailed business purposes required for each transaction.  Reviewers must review and retain original documentation in accordance with this policy while monitoring the use of Missing Receipt Affidavits.  When coding to a sponsored or other restricted fund, reviewers must contact their local sponsored administration office of tub financial dean’s office if they are in doubt about whether an expense meets the terms and/or conditions of the fund.

PCard Local Administrators:  Pcard local administrators must read, understand, and follow this policy and accompanying procedures.  Local administrators are primarily responsible for establishing a network of PCard reviewers in their areas, for reviewing cardholder applicant qualifications, for monitoring local PCard transaction activity and for generally ensuring local compliance with this policy and with local Pcard policies and procedures.  PCard local administrators are the first point of contact for cardholders and reviewers with questions on this policy, to ensure local administrators are aware of such questions and to ensure consistent guidance is provided within each tub.

Tubs:  Tub financial deans or equivalent tub financial officers are responsible for ensuring that local units comply with this policy and accompanying procedures, principally by appointing local administrators to monitor PCard reports and establish local procedures  supporting this policy.  These local procedures include establishing a network of PCard reviewers with PCard settlement system access, and annually reviewing that network for appropriateness of privileges.  Local units must also identify individuals who, based on job requirements, have an appropriate business need for a PCard.  At their own discretion, tubs may impose greater but not less control than required by this policy.

Reimbursements & Card Services (RCS) within Strategic Procurement, is responsible for maintaining the University’s PCard policy, for developing formal PCard training in conjunction with the Center for Workplace Development, for monitoring PCard program compliance with University policies and IRS regulations, and for supporting PCard local administrative units.  Contact: Reimbursements and Card Services Office:
T: (617) 495-7760, option 1 or http://cardservices.harvard.edu/home

Risk Management and Audit Services (RMAS), within the Office of the Vice President for Finance, is responsible for performing departmental audits, which include reviews of PCard transaction data and documentation. RMAS provides PCard compliance evaluations to local units and University Financial Services. Contact: http://rmas.fad.harvard.edu/, or T: (617) 495-3642.



Entertainment expenses: charges for outings to venues such as theaters or sporting arenas when a business discussion takes place during, immediately before, or immediately after the event.

Proof of purchase documentation: another term for “receipt,” which is defined below

Receipt: a paper or electronic document that contains:  the transaction date, the name of merchant, the transaction details (what was purchased), the form of payment used, the amount of purchase, and indication that the amount was paid

Reviewer: an employee assigned by a Local PCard Administrator to ensure tub compliance with PCard policy. Reviewers are primarily responsible for ensuring that PCard transactions are properly supported and reviewed in the settlement system by someone other than the cardholder.

Settlement System: Harvard’s web-based PCard reconciliation system.

Sweep: a process that takes transaction information (including business-purpose and account-coding information) from the settlement system and imports it into Harvard’s general ledger.  Sweeps are usually run once a week, on Thursdays, though weekly sweep schedules change due to holidays, fiscal-year end, and other factors.

Related Resources

Card Services’ PCard Page

PCard Training

PCard Application Form

Harvard University Credit Card Services

Independent Contractor Classification

ROPPA Policy

ROPPA Training

Missing Receipt Affidavit

Employee Gift and Celebratory Events Policy

Fellowship Payments and Reimbursements for Students and Non-employee Postdocs/Fellows

Fellowships Toolkit

Revision History

12/5/2016: added procedures for Local PCard Administrators, clarified procedures for other roles, allows use of PCard for certain travel expenses and for campus restaurants; removed restriction on purchase of animals; added definition of receipt and proof of purchase documentation

6/30/2013: updated format and treatment of Massachusetts meals tax; allows copies, scans or faxes of receipts if originals are not available.

12/5/2014: updated name change procedures


Appendix A: Common PCard Related Situations and Information

Appendix B: Quick Reference - Suggested PCard Procedures







See also: Policy, Payment