The Purchasing Card (PCard) is a university-issued, university-liability credit card created to offer an expedient way of purchasing items that are needed right away or, like food or other small dollar occasional business purchases, are not available through Amazon Business or SmartMart Catalog Suppliers.  

For example, a staff member might use a PCard to pay for photocopies needed for an event, purchase books for a department library, or renew a subscription or professional membership for a faculty member. Each PCard purchase must have a clear benefit for Stanford and cost $4,999 or less.

The PCard is a useful tool to ensure the continuity of work at Stanford and support Stanford’s mission. While the PCard is convenient, however, like all credit cards it can be vulnerable to fraud and abuse. PCard purchases do not go through a financial review and approval process prior to the completion of purchase. Suppliers for PCard purchases are not vetted by Stanford, and Stanford’s standard terms, which ensure timely delivery of and refunds for purchases, may not apply to PCard purchases.

The financial verification and approvals happen after the PCard purchase, which saves time on the front end but leaves room for heightened risk. Before using the PCard, consider whether another method may be more appropriate and, if not, take steps to ensure that the purchase is approved and meets university policies for expenditures.

As the PCard has gained popularity, there has been an increase in its use for non-permissible purchases, such as transactions where contracts or insurance are required (such as consulting services and event venues), purchases with restricted purchasing methods under university policy (such as computers, software, mobile devices, and related services), and purchases requiring regulatory compliance (such as hazardous materials).

Even small dollar purchases can have an impact on the university’s ability to demonstrate excellence in financial stewardship. To continuously support the community’s efforts in stewarding the university’s resources, FMS has updated and clarified AGM 5.3.3: Purchasing Cards, and the related Fingate pages, to ensure that cardholders and custodians know when it is appropriate to use a PCard and when to select another method. Key clarifications emphasize:

  • The use of the PCard only for small dollar amounts ($4,999 or less)
  • How the use of iProcurement for small dollar amounts protects and benefits the university
  • The 10-day recommended timeline to verify a PCard purchase
  • Which categories of expenses are permissible and non-permissible on a PCard
  • The roles and responsibilities of PCard cardholders, custodians, verifiers, financial approvers, and others

Stanford Procurement Services offers a variety of purchasing and payment methods to best support the university’s mission as efficiently as possible while ensuring that the university meets its compliance requirements.

Amazon Business and SmartMart Catalog Suppliers, which are available in iProcurement, are the preferred purchasing methods, because they offer built-in protections. iProcurement’s pre-purchase approval process ensures that purchases are appropriate, aligned with university and department policy, and drawing from the appropriate funding source. SmartMart Catalog purchases meet Stanford’s standard terms and conditions, use Stanford-vetted suppliers, and often have pre-negotiated pricing agreements. Amazon Business purchases offer a range of goods, free shipping, Amazon-vetted suppliers, and robust customer service.

The PCard may still be used for small-dollar purchases if the item is not available on iProcurement, or if there is a substantial benefit to purchasing the item with a PCard rather than iProcurement. A substantial benefit to justify the use of a PCard can include:

  • A significant cost savings
  • The need to fill an urgent request
  • The need to purchase an item from a specific merchant not available through iProcurement
  • The need to pay for an item with a credit card because the merchant only accepts credit card payment and does not accept purchase orders.

If you have any questions about the PCard, please submit a support request to the Card Services team.

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