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Types of Payments

This section explains the different types of payment methods available to student organizations. These payment methods facilitate purchases that support events and activities related to your student organization’s mission and that are aligned with the University's values.

Cash Advance

Some situations may require your group to complete a payment in cash. In these circumstances, you group may request a cash advance. Cash advances are granted on an exception basis and can only be requested by an executive board member of your student group who has completed Club ReFuel. Advances are approved solely to provide payment for operational expenses associated with an event or program and not for your own personal expenses. To obtain a cash advance, you must submit your request to your adviser at least four weeks before your event.

Some examples of when your group might need a cash advance include:

​Check Requests for Invoices​

If your group receives an invoice from a vendor, you can arrange payment via check or direct deposit. To cut a check from your student group's account, you must submit the invoice and an approved purchase request form to Administration and Planning, who will send the check on your behalf. Please coordinate with the vendor to confirm when they expect payment, and plan accordingly.

Note: If a vendor has never done business with Columbia in the past, your group must complete the vendor setup process at least four weeks before payment to the vendor is due. Learn more about vendor setup.

USL Preferred Vendors

Vendors on our USL Preferred Vendor List accept approved purchase request form as a direct form of payment for purchases of goods under $2,500 (excluding alcoholic beverages, gift cards, greeting cards, flowers, fruit baskets and personal items). USL Preferred Vendors already have Columbia’s tax exemption certificate on file, and they are familiar with Undergraduate Student Life’s billing processes. Therefore, this payment method is the simplest one your group can use.

Note: Other forms of payment, including P-Card, may not be used at USL Preferred Vendors.

How to Pay with a Purchase Request Form

For in-store purchases at a vendor’s location: Bring a copy of your approved purchase request form to the vendor to use as your form of payment for goods and/or services. No money changes hands.

For purchases via shipment or delivery: Contact the vendor and explain that you wish to arrange payment via purchase request form on behalf of Undergraduate Student Life. Some vendors may ask you to email the approved purchase request form prior to shipment or delivery, while others require a hard copy at the time of delivery. Please coordinate with the vendor to confirm how they would like to receive the purchase request form.

If your group would like to include a tip on a food bill, be sure to factor in this cost before you submit your purchase request form for approval. Your purchase cost may never exceed the amount indicated on your approved purchase request. The maximum tipping percentages allowed are:

  • 15% on food deliveries; and
  • 20% for dining in (when service is extraordinary)

Gifts and Prizes

Gifts and prizes cannot be purchased using out-of-pocket funds or with petty cash. If you wish to procure a gift for an event or program, please refer to the guidelines below. 

Note: Certain gifts and prizes must be reported to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and may be taxable to the recipient (including students). 

Non-Cash Gifts

If you wish to present a non-cash gift as a token of appreciation, you must provide a valid and documented business purpose in advance of the gift purchase. Gifts may not be lavish or extravagant and must comply with any funding source restrictions. Common examples of non-cash gifts include cards, apparel or merchandise from the Columbia Bookstore.

Before you purchase the gift, your student group must identify the recipient through our gift recipient form. In some cases, the recipient may also need to provide a W-9.

If a recipient cannot be identified until the event occurs, your group must complete the form at the event and turn it in to your adviser within two business days. 

Gift Cards

Gift cards are not an allowable purchase. Your student group may not purchase gift cards for Columbia-related events.

Prizes for Contests and Competitions

If your student group would like to provide monetary prizes during an event, such as a competition, you should request a meeting with your adviser for review at least six weeks prior to the event. Prize and award request approvals can be a lengthy process and the recipient must meet all eligibility requirements prior to a payment being issued.


An honorarium is a payment made as a gesture of appreciation to non–Columbia affiliated individuals who are invited on a one-time basis to participate in an activity or an event. Payments amounts are generally modest but will vary based on the recipient's experience, availability and notoriety.

Honorarium payments may not be made to businesses, corporations or partnerships. Additionally, honorarium payments may not be used to fulfill a contractual obligation to pay for services rendered, nor can they be used to pay for services that would typically require an invoice. Honorarium payments are taxable income to the recipient and may be reportable to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

In order to process payment, the recipient of an honorarium must meet all of the following criteria:

  • Individual must not be a student, employee or faculty member of Columbia University
  • Individual does not ask for or require payment to participate in the event or program
  • Individual may not negotiate the amount or ask for more than what was offered
  • Individual is not being represented by an agency or organization

Before you offer an honorarium payment to an individual, you must consult with your adviser to ensure this is the best method of payment. In some cases, a purchase order may be more appropriate. Additionally, because honorarium offers must occur in writing, your adviser can guide you through the proper language to use when you offer the honorarium. 

Honorarium requests must occur six weeks in advance of the event or program. Please prepare the following items with your honorarium request:

  • Approved purchase request form
  • Written confirmation (usually in the form of an email) that the recipient has accepted the proposed amount
  • Proof/documentation of the event, which can be in the form of a Facebook event, a flyer, a brochure, etc.
  • Completion of the vendor setup request process on behalf of the honorarium recipient, which includes a signed copy of the honoraria acknowledgement letter

Internal Transfer of Funds (ITFs)

An internal transfer of funds (ITF) allows you to send funds directly to and from Columbia departments and/or recognized student groups. Typically, your group will request an ITF if you wish to co-sponsor another recognized student group or if you receive a co-sponsorship from an administrative department.

ITFs also occur when a Columbia department charges your group a fee for services. A common example of this type of charge occurs when you request audio and visual (AV) services from University Event Management (UEM). Other departments that may charge fees include Columbia Dining and Catering, Facilities, Public Safety and Printing Services. All internal departments are paid through ITFs directly from your group account once you request services.

Internal charges can often take groups by surprise when they aren’t factored into the overall cost of an event, so please plan accordingly! Whenever possible, your student group should first secure a quote from the internal vendor in advance, then submit a purchase request form for approval with the quote included. Some internal service providers may not be able to provide a quote. In these cases, make note that you have requested these services for budget-tracking purposes.

Note: For work orders from Facilities, you may visit the Facilities website to access work order details and ensure your group's account was charged properly. 

MetroCard Requests

Members of recognized student organizations may request to purchase 2-trip MetroCards for approved programs and events. MetroCard requests require at least five business days to process, and are sold on a first-come, first-served basis. Therefore, we may require additional time to fulfill your request if there are not enough MetroCards currently available. You must upload a completed and approved purchase request form with your submission. Submissions without an approved purchase request form will not be processed.

Purchase Orders

A purchase order (PO) is a contractual document required to make specific purchases. Purchase orders protect Columbia’s interests and define the terms and conditions of the purchase.

Purchase orders are required for items that are not allowable on the P-Card and that are:

For purchases under $500, a purchase order is still required for:

  • On-site catering services (in which vendor serves the food)
  • Food deliveries if the vendor is involved in the setup (in which the vendor provides or lights sternos, sets the tables, etc.)
  • Contracted services (e.g. consultants and service providers, videographer/cinematographer, graphic/web designers, lighting installation and services, advertising/marketing, illustrators, interpreters, photographers other than Columbia students, etc.)
  • Education and training services (e.g. classes, seminars, workshops, coaching, facilitation, presentations)
  • Furniture
  • Major equipment and specialized supplies
  • Any case wherein the vendor requires a contract or agreement

If your purchase requires a purchase order, your group must begin the process six to eight weeks in advance. The work and/or services cannot take place before purchase order approval. Similarly, for on-campus services such as food trucks, Facilities and Public Safety will not allow the vendor onto campus if a purchase order has not been generated.

Purchasing Cards (P-Cards)

Purchasing cards (P-Cards) are Bank of America-issued Visa cards that allow cardholders to make purchases of goods and some services under $1,000 on student cards or $2,500 on staff cards. Your adviser has access to a P-Card to complete these types of purchases on your group's behalf. Learn more about P-Cards, approved and restricted purchases and policies for P-Card holders.


Student groups should not make out-of-pocket purchases and expect to be reimbursed. A reimbursement can only occur if you have discussed your circumstances with your adviser in advance, and the reimbursement request has been approved by Administration and Planning. Lack of preparedness or last-minute planning do not constitute grounds for reimbursement.

Travel Purchases

To book travel, your student group must first meet with your adviser to discuss details and secure approval. Because the travel approval process has multiple steps, we require that you notify your adviser as soon as you are considering travel, but a minimum of 4 weeks in advance of your departure date is required for domestic travel and 8 weeks minimum for international travel. Learn more about travel appointments.

Restricted travel card purchases include:

Wire Transfer

In some circumstances and with approval from Administration and Planning, you can transfer funds from your student group account to a vendor in a foreign country to complete a transaction or purchase. Please note that wire transfers are not commonly used or approved. Wire transfers are paid in the currency that is listed on the invoice or payment request, unless the payee has advised otherwise. Be sure to submit your request along with the required documentation at least four to six weeks in advance.

Required materials for a wire transfer include:

  • An approved purchase request form
  • An itemized invoice from the vendor
  • Completion of the vendor setup process

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