Administration and Finance

How Do I… Obtain and Use Debit Cards for Payments to Human Subjects?

Giving a bank debit card as an incentive fee to a human subject gives the recipient greater spending flexibility than a gift card.

To give other forms of incentives to human subjects, see How Do I... Pay Confidential Research Participants?


This guideline is addressed to you if you are a research investigator, project administrator, or have been designated to process payments to participants for someone doing research involving human subjects.

A brief overview:

  • The use of bank debit cards is the preferred means for giving money to research participants.
  • Bank debit cards should be used instead of petty cash funds, whenever possible.
  • Recipients can use the debit cards to make purchases and to withdraw money from ATMs.
  • NYU employees may obtain debit cards issued only by the Bank of America and only for incentive payments to research participants.
  • The debit cards are obtained from Accounts Payable.
  • The bank charges a purchase fee of $1.50 per card + $0.25 delivery charge per card.
  • There is a 7-10 day turnaround time for orders. (Allow 2-3 weeks for first-time requests.)
  • Groups of cards ordered must be reconciled prior to placing the next order.
  • The allotment of this cash equivalent vehicle is considered by the University to be a cash advance.

Fiscal Responsibilities

The Requestor is a full time (or equivalent) NYU employee who assumes responsibility for:

  • Ordering the debit cards in a timely fashion,
  • Keeping the debit cards separate and discrete for each research project,
  • Securing the cards within a locked box or safe within a locked cabinet in a locked office,
  • Maintaining a Debit Card Log,
  • Having the Debit Card Log available at all times for inspection by the University’s Internal Audit by Financial Operations and Treasury, and
  • Reconciling their use.

The Approver is the department or unit administrator. The research project’s Principal Investigator should not also be the Approver. The Approver is responsible for:

  • Authorizing debit card orders,
  • Ensuring the security of debit cards until distributed, and
  • Reviewing the Requestor’s tracking and reconciliation of debit card orders.


Arranging to obtain debit cards
  • Make a plan for their use:
    • Generally plan for cards to be issued and reconciled on a weekly basis.
    • Decide the number and dollar value of the cards needed weekly. If this will vary, project as accurately as possible. Indicate anticipated periods of higher and lower volume.
    • Cards are available in any denomination from $10 to $1,000.
    • Determine beforehand the chartfield to be used to pay the bank's $1.50 purchase fee + $0.25 delivery charge per card (a total of $1.75 per card).
    • More than one denomination can be ordered at a time.
    • Since these debit cards are cash equivalents, avoid payments of $600 or more to one individual within a calendar  year.
      • Otherwise, the recipient’s name, address and social security number (or "N" number if an NYU student) must be reported to the IRS.
      • The $600 annual total applies whether single or multiple payments were made.
      • Your department/unit administrator should contact Michael Wallace in Accounts Payable 2-3 weeks prior to submitting your first request.
        • Explain why you will be using cash debit cards and the plan for their use.
        • If feasible, designate an alternate Requestor and alternate Approver for times when the Requestor or Approver is away.
Ordering debit cards

Allow at least 7-10 business days (2-3 weeks for a first-time request) for orders to be filled.

  • Complete the Steinhardt Request for Advance Form (ADV3000). 
    • The Payee is the card requestor.
    • The Approver is the department/unit administrator. The Approver should not be the research project’s designated Principal Investigator.
    • Bring the form directly to the desk of Mike Wallace at:

      Accounts Payable
      105 East 17th Street, 4th Floor
  • The requestor will be notified by telephone when the cards are ready for pick-up.
  • At the time of card pick-up, the requestor will sign an acknowledgement form and receive a copy. The form has an advance number and reference number. Save it as it will be needed when the cards are reconciled (see below).
  • Cards must be accounted for by the requestor prior to requesting the next batch or within 60 days, whichever is sooner.
  • Note: This is the only purpose for which the Request for Advance (ADV3000) is used. All other advances are processed via AP Workflow.
Tracking debit cards

Maintain a Debit Card Log to track debit cards received, used and reconciled. 

Upon distribution of a debit card, complete a receipt. indicating:

  • Project
  • Date  card distributed
  • Card's value
  • Research participant's ID code (or name if not confidential)
  • Recipient's or researcher's signature
Reconciling debit cards

New debit cards will not be issued until the prior batch has been reconciled:

  • Use the Steinhardt Expense Reimbursement Form  to reconcile debit cards:
    • You are the payee.
    • Your department/unit administrator is the approver.
    • Separate chartfields may be used for the face value of the debit card and the purchase fee and delivery card. (Budgets for some sponsored projects may not include lines for debit card fees.)
    • Attach a copy of the debit card log as documentation and a copy of the gift card acknowledgement form.
    • Note: This is the only purpose for which the Steinhardt Expense Reimbursement Form is used. All other advances are reconciled via AP Workflow.
    • If a card is still on hand when you are ready to order the next group of cards, submit the reconciliation for the current batch, noting cards still held and that they will be accounted for once distributed.
    • Cards must be accounted for within 60 days of receipt.
    • Important: Cards must either be accounted for once given out or returned to Accounts Payable.
Missing debit cards

In the event of theft or loss of the debit cards before cards are given to research participants, immediately notify:

  • Your department/unit administrator
  • Office of Public Safety
  • Accounts Payable
    212-998-1111 or
  • David Wong
    Assistant Director, Administrative Services and Facilities Management
    Office of Administration and Finance
    212-998-5074 or

Record the date and any reference numbers assigned to any theft or loss reports (and get copies of the report). These reports will be needed to account for the missing debit cards.

Any loss or theft after a debit card has been given to a research participant is the recipient’s responsibility.

Still have questions?


  • Your department/unit administrator 
  • Phyllis Ginsberg


Revised November 12, 2015