Controller's Department

Research Participant Payment Process


Iowa State University (ISU) balances its responsibility to maintain confidentiality of information about human research subjects with record keeping requirements of the State of Iowa, grantor agencies, and the Internal Revenue Service. In situations where confidentiality is not related to human subjects but it is in the best interests of the study to maintain confidentiality, the same processes outlined below will apply.

Cell phone and other communication bills may also be considered confidential when human subjects could be identified. Documentation required for payment processing and audit purposes should be identified as confidential on the voucher. Vouchers identified as confidential will be processed in a prescribed manner ensuring attached listings of phone numbers are not imaged and access to documentation restricted to ensure confidentiality.

Incentives versus Compensation


What is the difference between incentives and compensation? Incentives are low value payment instruments/goods given to participants to entice them to participate in the research. In order to be an incentive, the value of the payment/item must be $20.00 or less. In addition, in order to be considered an incentive, the payment/goods must be provided to all persons in the study, regardless of whether they choose to participate. How are incentives documented? Researchers must maintain lists of all persons in the study who received the incentive but are not required to obtain a receipt for the incentive.

Compensation is payment to research participants provided after participation in a research activity. Payments to individuals in research studies will be recorded in the form of compensation for services. Payment types may include, but are not limited to, checks, cash, gift certificates, personal property, and other items of value. Iowa State University has adopted the following procedures to ensure research participant payments are reported in accordance with state and federal income reporting requirements, while maintaining an appropriate level of confidentiality.

How do I Pay Research Participants?


All research participants receiving compensation are required to complete an Iowa State University Research Participant Receipt Form (RPRF). There are two RPRFs--One is to be used when making payments greater than or equal to $100.00 and the other is to be used when making payments of less than $100.00. The difference between the two forms is that for payments greater than or equal to $100.00, ISU requires the participant to provide a Social Security number and address. For payments of less than $100.00, this information is not required. RPRFs are considered confidential and are handled by employees in the Controller’s Department and Purchasing Department who have signed confidentiality statements. The University recommends Departments with staff involved in the processing of payments to human subjects and/or the retention of documentation require their staff to sign similar confidentiality statements.

Research Participant Receipt Form (RPRF) greater than or equal to $100.00

Research Participant Receipt Form (RPRF) less than $100.00

Research participants should be informed that information collected allows the University to meet government reporting obligations and precautions are in place to keep their information secure. Participants may be given the opportunity to participate without receiving payment if they do not wish to provide identifying information.

RPRFs are required as documentation for receipt of payment, regardless of the payment type or the amount of payment. Additionally, when payments are greater than or equal to $100.00, RPRFs are used to collect information in order to comply with IRS reporting requirements. If a research participant’s total compensation from ISU equals or exceeds $600, ISU is required to issue an IRS Form 1099, Miscellaneous Income. RPRFs are processed in a secure manner so the forms are not imaged with related accounting documentation and access to the forms is restricted to ensure confidentiality.

Expense Coding for Research Participant Payments


All payments to research participants should be use one of the following object codes:

  • 0332 - Subjects Fees Posts to sponsored project budget category “Honoraria/Services”
  • 0683 - Participant Incentives Posts to sponsored project budget category “Other”

Direct Payments by Check


Direct payments of less than $100.00 to research participants by check will be made by using the Simple Disbursement Voucher (SDV). Direct payments of $100.00 or more to research participants by check will be made by using the Disbursement Voucher (DV). The appropriate RPRF must be completed prior to payment processing and attached as documentation to the DV or SDV. To maintain confidentiality, departments do not need to complete the business purpose or itemization of costs on DV or SDV and should type in “See attached” and attach the RPRF. The RPRF will be detached from the DV or SDV following payment and retained in secure storage. When submitting a DV or SDV, it is crucial to properly identify non-resident aliens. If a payee is misidentified and we do not withhold the proper amount, your department will be assessed for the adjustment for withholding.

Direct Payments by Cash

Payments to research participants by cash will be made by requesting a cash advance using a Non-Check Disbursement (ND). Departments should follow the University’s outlined cash advance process. Research participants must sign an RPRF at the time they actually receive their cash payment. Departments will document use of their cash advance by processing a Distribution of Income (DI) to clear the advance and attaching the RPRFs. RPRFs will be detached from the DV or SDV following payment and retained in secure storage. As payments of $100.00 or more to non-resident aliens usually require 30% withholding for federal taxes, non-resident aliens should be paid by DV or SDV rather than in cash. This will allow the Accounting Office to properly handle the withholding. If a department pays a non-resident alien in cash, the department also will be assessed for the adjustment for withholding.

Payments by Procurement Card (P-Card) to Acquire Gift Certificates/Gift Cards or Other Property

If the PI elects to provide compensation using gift certificates/gift cards or other property, procurement of such items can be made by using the ISU P-Card. Purchases by P-Card must comply with purchasing card policies. The department must complete an RPRF for each gift certificate/gift card or property given. The RPRF(s), along with the original vendor receipt, should be kept with the P-card transaction records in the department. When indicated on the RPRF, it is necessary to forward a copy of the RPRF to the Controller’s Department for IRS reporting purposes. To ensure proper tax reporting and withholding, we strongly encourage you to pay by DV, rather than by cash or gift certificate, when the amount is $100.00 or more. Documentation will be retained in secure storage by the Accounting Office.

If gift certificates/gift cards or property cannot be procured using your purchasing card because of transaction limits, a vendor’s non-acceptance of Visa, or for any other reason, contact Purchasing for assistance.

Refunds and Cash Repayments

Any gift certificates/gift cards or other property that are not used must be returned to the store for credit within 30 days of the completion of the study. The unused portion of a cash advance must be reported back into the account from which it was originally charged within 30 days from when the cash advance was issued.

Questions regarding the processes for making payments to research participants may be directed to one of the following individuals:

Questions regarding implementing the requirements while maintaining confidentiality requirements for the IRB: