Washington State University

Revised 11-16
Sponsored Programs Services

Incentive Payments to Research Participants

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WSU often conducts research that includes small payments of incentives or compensation for time, effort, or expenses for research participant recruitment. The WSU Institutional Review Board (IRB) determines the appropriateness of payments to research participants and the related protocols before a study is conducted.

The grant proposal and budget must specifically allow payment of incentives. (See also 40.02 and 40.23.)

Once approval is obtained from the IRB and SPS, a department may process incentive payments using one of the following methods. In all cases, the department is responsible for maintaining a payment log, as well as collecting and submitting tax reporting information to Accounts Payable where required.


The following definitions apply to this section:

Appropriated Funds

Appropriated funds are funds delegated to WSU by the state for a specific purpose. Appropriated funds may not be used for any purpose other than that for which the funds are designated.


Crowdsourcing is an arrangement in which a separate third-party entity (such as Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk)) pays a large, normally anonymous, group of people to perform a task or provide information online. Crowdsourcing does not include cases where the participant is known and compensated directly by the researcher, even when the compensation is distributed as an electronic gift card.

Departmental Research Account

A departmental research account is defined as state allocated funds and dedicated local funds used to support departmental research in the form of start-up or seed funds. In order to identify such funds as allocated to research, the department must move the funds to a program 10 account.

Gift Card or Certificate

A gift card or certificate is a card or certificate entitling the recipient to receive goods or services of a specified value from the issuer.

Incentive Payment

An incentive payment is defined as a payment of instruments and/or goods given to an individual to encourage her or his participation in a research study.

Research Advance

A research advance is a cash advance of funds to a researcher for payment of authorized research expenses. A research advance includes a requirement of after-the-fact reporting on the final distribution and use of the funds. See 40.21.

Gift Cards and Cash Equivalents

See 70.44 for the policy regarding gift cards and other cash equivalents. Gift cards issued directly to participants by electronic means are also subject to the gift card policy.

Departments may purchase gift cards by University purchasing card (see 70.08) or from research advance funds (see 40.21) only.

Gift Card Supplier

WSU has authorized use of a supplier that supports purchase and distribution of a wide variety of gift cards online. There is no service fee. Departments may directly establish an account with the supplier. See the Accounts Payable website for details at:


Departments may purchase gift cards from the supplier with purchasing cards (see 70.08) on a pay-as-you-go basis, which prevents excess inventory of gift cards.

Cash Payments From a Research Cash Advance

WSU faculty and staff may pay research participation incentives in cash from research cash advances issued against accounts in allowable programs only, in accordance with 40.21.

Employees must obtain e-mail authorization from SPS to use research cash advances for cash distributions to research participants. Send e-mail requests to:


If SPS authorizes cash incentive distributions, the employees follow the procedures in 40.21 to request disbursement of cash advances.

Payments by Checks Issued by Accounts Payable

Departments may make payments directly to research participants by checks issued through Accounts Payable. It is recommended that departments process payments through Accounts Payable that are in excess of $250 only.

To request a check payment, the department:

Payments Through Online Crowdsourcing Services

Crowdsourcing services such as Amazon MTurk are not approved for vendor payment or use of the University purchasing card. Therefore, currently, researchers must individually contract with the service, pay with personal funds, and then seek reimbursement.

Researchers must obtain e-mail authorization from Sponsored Programs Services (SPS) to allow online disbursement of the incentives to research participants. Send e-mail requests to:


Payment to Participants

Individual payments may not exceed $10 and payments should be commensurate with the value of the participants' effort. Keep in mind, for instance, that a $10 payment to complete a survey expected to take 10 minutes to complete is equivalent of compensation at the rate of $60 per hour.

Reimbursement Request

To request reimbursement, researchers submit completed State of Washington Invoice Vouchers to Accounts Payable. (See 30.45.2.) Researchers must attach documentation to the invoice vouchers itemizing the payments to each participant. Accounts Payable completes reimbursement to researchers after the funds are fully disbursed to the participants.

Tangible Personal Property

Departments may present gifts of tangible personal property, such as WSU logo items, to participants. Tax reporting using a Substitute W-9 is required for items valued at more than $50. See 45.53.7.


The following funding sources may be used for research participant incentive payments:

Sponsored Programs (Programs 11 through 14)

Sponsored program accounts (programs 11-14) are allowable funding sources for incentive payments if human study subjects are an integral part of the research and incentive payments are included in the project proposal (see 40.02 and 40.23).

Donated Funds (Program 17A)

Donated fund accounts (program 17A) are allowable funding sources for incentive payments if such use is in accordance with the organizational mission and donor intent.

Appropriated Funds for Department Research (Program 10)

Appropriated funds in conjunction with departmental research accounts (program 10) only are allowable funding sources for incentive payments. Researchers receiving departmental seed money should establish research accounts under program 10. Contact General Accounting; telephone 509-335-2013.


Incentive payments to a research participant totaling $600 or more annually are tax reportable. Single payments may also require tax reporting. See Tax Reporting for more information.

In all cases, the department must maintain a log of incentive payments.

Reporting Forms

To facilitate reporting, departments are encouraged to use the following PDF forms to collect essential information:

Substitute Forms

The forms listed above are available to assist fund custodians in adhering to policy. However, fund custodians may use substitute forms. Such substitute forms must collect, at a minimum, the following information:

Payments to Minor

When the study participant is a minor, the fund custodian may collect information for tax reporting purposes from either the minor or the minor's legal guardian.

Tax Reporting

One-Time Payment of $50 or Less

If a one-time research participant incentive payment is $50 or less, the requirement to obtain a social security number is waived. However, the University strongly encourages researchers to request social security numbers for all research participant payments.

Payments Totaling $600 or More in Calendar Year

If payments to a single recipient total $600 or more in a calendar year, the departmental custodian of the funds is responsible for reporting the payments. The fund custodian must submit a completed Substitute W-9 to Accounts Payable by January 5th of the following year for inclusion in the University's 1099MISC reporting. The report must include all of the information listed under Substitute Forms.

Obtain copies of the Substitute W-9 by completing and/or printing 45.53.7.

Payments to WSU Employee

Research participant incentives paid to a WSU employee, when completely unrelated to work performed in her or his capacity as a WSU employee, may be treated as a payment to any other participant. If the payment is in any way related to the employee's work for WSU, contact Payroll Services for instructions.

Payments to Nonresident Aliens

Due to tax withholding requirements, research participant incentive payments to nonresident aliens may be paid only by check through Accounts Payable. Such payments are subject to 30 percent tax withholding and are reported on IRS Form 1042-S. A completed IRS Form W-8BEN is required.

Safeguarding Information

Departments are to collect and maintain taxpayer information with a high level of security. Departments are to make such information available for review by state or internal auditors and provide the information to Accounts Payable if required for tax reporting purposes.


Complete and/or print the PDF master forms as needed:
45.53.6: Distribution Log for Payments of Cash, Gift Cards and Other Cash Equivalents, and Tangible Property
45.53.7: Record of Distribution and Request for Taxpayer Number and Certification (Substitute W-9)