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There has been a significant increase in the number of honoraria payments and payments to human subjects, including related travel reimbursements, since university operations fully resumed following the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, from calendar year 2019 to 2022, the number of honoraria payments increased 30% and human subject payments increased 42% across all schools and units. 

Along with this increase in transaction volume, preparers of honoraria and human subject payments must comply with complex visa requirements, tax regulations, documentation procedures, and university policies. 

Some examples demonstrating this complexity include:

  • A department invites an international visitor to travel to Stanford to speak at a conference and would like to pay an honorarium for this engagement. What is the corresponding visitor category, permissible visa type, and available payment or reimbursement type (including tax implications and documentation requirements)? What if an international speaker participates in the conference through Zoom and does not travel?
  • A study administrator wants to pay human subjects in their study, but needs to understand the types of incentives for human subjects and the purchase process, tax implications, and documentation requirements for each option. 

Based on feedback from the university community expressing a need to better equip preparers and financial approvers to navigate these complex payments and reimbursements, Stanford Financial Management Services (FMS) recently clarified and completely reorganized guidance related to paying human subjects and honoraria, including clarifying when honoraria can be paid to international visitors as well as reimbursing their related travel expenses. 

A package of resources supports financial stewardship by addressing complexities

Over the past months, FMS took a multi-team team approach, engaging its business expense, vendor services, tax, and payment services teams to ensure that these key resources comprehensively covered the end-to-end payment process, tax implications, and related policy requirements for human subject and honoraria payments and the related, complex process of inviting international visitors to campus. FMS also invited employees from departments who frequently prepare honoraria and human subject transactions to verify that the most common use cases and complexities were addressed in this improved content. 

Transaction preparers and financial approvers are invited to explore this package of key resources, which provides departments with the guidance needed to meet key compliance policies and procedures to support financial stewardship. This package of resources includes:

  • Topic Overview: Paying Honoraria
    • Provides a clearer definition of when an honorarium payment is appropriate, how it should be offered, and when it cannot be paid
    • Reviews the payment process and tax implications for honoraria payments to Stanford employees as well as individuals not employed by Stanford
    • Covers comprehensive tax information for honoraria payments
  • Topic Overview: Paying Human Subjects
    • Provides an overview of the different roles and responsibilities related to paying human subjects (e.g., research administrators, study sponsors/owners, department and unit finance managers, financial approvers, and purchasers of the human subject incentive)
    • Covers the payment methods, depending on the purpose of the payment, the type of payee, and the dollar amount
    • Outlines the tax implications for human subject payments
  • Topic Overview: Inviting and Paying Foreign Visitors 
    • Provides guidance on the process of planning a visit from a foreign visitor, which involves:
      • Identifying visa requirements and payment options based on the type of activity the visitor will perform, such as attending a conference or collaborating on research as a visiting scholar
      • Identifying how the visitor will be paid or reimbursed, including the payment process, required documentation, and tax implications
      • Following a standard process to invite the visitor and book travel, including an updated letter template to invite visitors to Stanford

Reminder: Reimburse domestic travel expenses for these visitors quickly and efficiently with Digital Payments

Important: Effective May 6, the maximum reimbursement for Digital Payments increased from $1,000 to $5,000. Learn more about the change and related updates.

Departments can utilize the Digital Payments process to quickly and efficiently reimburse visitors who are U.S. citizens or non-citizen residents for domestic travel expenses of $1,000 or less. Visitors are reimbursed through Zelle, a secure nationwide digital payment network governed by U.S. banking regulations, or paid via an Automated Clearing House (ACH) bank transfer. This process saves time and effort for preparers, and ensures a faster payment for visitors. Refer to Topic Overview: Digital Payments to learn more. 

Related resources

Schools and units can also refer to these existing How-To resources that support honoraria and human subject payment transactions:

To get assistance

If you would like to submit feedback on any of the three updated topic overviews, utilize the “Submit feedback about this page" link after the content on each topic overview page. FMS will also be regularly posting common questions related to this content to its #stanford-fms-news Slack channel. For further questions on honoraria payments or payments to human subjects, please submit a support request to the Financial Support Center

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