Direct Costs – Overview

Click here to access the Direct Costs section of the Post-Award Sponsored Projects Guide on page 23.

Direct Costs

According to Uniform Guidance, a direct cost is one that can be identified specifically with a particular sponsored project, or that can be directly assigned to a particular sponsored project, relatively easily and with a high degree of accuracy. A direct cost is one that is of distinct and genuine benefit to the project. In order to charge a cost directly to a project, the goods or service must be:

  • Used on the project
  • Permitted by the sponsor
  • Incurred during the period of performance
  • Treated as a direct cost when incurred for the same purpose in like circumstances.


The following list provides a sampling of costs that are not normally allowable as direct costs on a sponsored project because these costs are normally incurred as indirect costs:

  • Salaries and benefits of administrative and clerical staff
  • Office supplies
  • Postage
  • Local (basic) telephone expense
  • Cell phones
  • Membership dues
  • General purpose

It is not permissible to charge a project for goods or services that were never used on the project, or for a goods or services that were used on the project but are not allowed according to the terms of the award.

Purchases Near the End of the Award Period

Goods and services not received during the project period do not benefit the project and therefore may not be charged to the project. Similarly, when goods and services are ordered and received near the end of the project, it is the responsibility of the Principal Investigator to demonstrate that these goods and services directly benefited the project. If this cannot be substantiated, the costs for such goods and services may be disallowed. For example, it can be difficult to justify that equipment ordered during the last six months of a project will directly, and substantially, benefit the work of the project.