Disbursement and Reimbursement: Understanding the Difference

5 min read

Disbursement vs Reimbursement: Understanding the Difference

In the world of finance, the terms "disbursement" and "reimbursement" are commonly used but often misunderstood. Both are essential aspects of managing financial transactions, but there are important differences between them. Ensuring accurate accounting practices requires an understanding of these differences.


Disbursement refers to the process of paying out or distributing funds from one party to another. Disbursements are typically made to fulfill a financial obligation. It can occur in various contexts, including loan disbursements, payroll distributions, or payments to suppliers.

Examples include:

  • A bank disbursing a loan to a borrower
  • A company disbursing salaries to its employees
  • A government agency disbursing grants or subsidies


Reimbursements are repayments made to an individual or entity for expenses they have incurred on behalf of another party. It is a common practice in organizations where employees pay for work-related expenses and later submit expense reports to be reimbursed by the company.

Examples include:

  • An employee being reimbursed for travel expenses incurred during a business trip
  • A company reimbursing a client for a product return or a refund
  • A health insurance company reimbursing policyholders for medical expenses

How Disbursements and Reimbursements Differ

Although disbursement and reimbursement both involve the transfer of funds, they differ in several ways:

  • Purpose: Disbursements are made to fulfill financial obligations or financial agreements. Reimbursements are repayments to someone for expenses they have already incurred on behalf of another party, typically the person or organization making the payment.
  • Timing: Disbursements typically occur before or during the process of fulfilling an obligation, such as paying a supplier or distributing a loan. Reimbursements are made after the expenses have been incurred and documented.
  • Documentation: Disbursements generally require documentation outlining agreed-upon terms of payment, for example, invoices or contracts. Reimbursements require proof of expenses incurred before funds are repaid. Receipts or expense reports are commonly used as proofs of purchase.
  • Recipients: Disbursements are made to a wide variety of individuals and organizations, and for an equally wide variety of reasons. Some examples of disbursement recipients include employees, suppliers, borrowers, and government agencies. Reimbursements are made to individuals or entities who have incurred expenses on behalf of another party, such as employees or customers.
  • Nature of the Transaction: Disbursements are often planned and scheduled transactions, such as loan distributions or payroll payments. Reimbursements are more unpredictable, as they are dictated by the timing and nature of the expenses incurred.

Understanding the differences between disbursement and reimbursement is essential for maintaining accurate financial records and ensuring compliance with accounting standards. By recognizing the distinctions between these two terms, you can better manage your organization's finances and avoid potential misunderstandings or discrepancies in financial reporting.

Nicky Minh

CTO and co-founder

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