what is retainage in construction?

What Is Retainage in Construction?

Posted May 30th, 2024

Been pondering the question “What is retainage in construction?” without an answer? Read on. 

What is retainage?

Retainage is a common word all subcontractors and construction-related businesses need to be aware of AND account for in their cash flow statements. The meaning comes from the words root, retain, or to hold. With contracted work, it is very common for the project owner or their bank to hold retainage back from the GC’s contract and, therefore, for the GC to withhold or not pay out a percentage of the contracted price until specific milestones are met, or the project is fully completed.  When you think about the uncertainty in construction work from labor challenges, material shortages, and weather delays, this makes perfect sense as to why a portion of funds, retainage, would be held until the end of the project. This “security deposit,” if you will, ensures the contractor completes the work in its entirety and does it to the satisfaction of the GC and the overall scope of work outlined for the finished project. Generally, retainage ranges from 5-10% of the project’s contracted price. Oftentimes, payments are paid to the subcontractors in progress payments, of which retainage can be held out from each payment, OR one lump sum is held until the end of project completion. The GC and the subcontractor will agree upon the exact percentage ahead of time, and that amount will be stated in the contract.  

This covers the basics of “what retainage is in construction.” However, it is important to mention that there are some legal considerations based on state regulations for retainage rules. In the state of New Mexico, withholding retainage is not allowed, whereas in Texas, there must be a 10% retainage on all private construction projects. In the state of Florida, with regard to any contract for construction services,” a public business can only withhold a maximum of 5% of the payments as retainage. When determining what retainage to establish, be sure to check out your state’s laws. If contracts violate the local and state laws, then the contracted amounts can risk becoming invalid. Paying close attention to how retainage is designated within your contracts is extremely important. There have been a lot of lawsuits and manipulation when it comes to contractors and developers underpaying for work being done.  

How can retainage in construction affect my cash flow?

Retainage is common practice and therefore, contractors are aware roughly 5-10% of their payments will not be received until a later time. However, when not properly accounted for in their financial statements, this can create working capital challenges. For example, a plumbing contractor may finish work on their building, but the project will not be completed for another 6 months (sometimes even years!!), leaving 10% of their full contract value payments not hitting their bank accounts for a significant amount of time.  Consider this: 10% of the contract may be as much as 50% or more of the actual profit from this job. Meanwhile, the plumbing contractor needs to move on to other projects and oftentimes, they are short on cash, waiting on the retainage from prior projects to come in. This is why understanding the query “what is retainage in construction” while utilizing a cash flow template that is well structured in timing the inflow and outflow of cash on a weekly basis is imperative. Retainage must be accounted for on each project within cash flow statements. Let’s review how to properly account for retainage in your financials.

Incorporating retainage into your cash flow statement

When you have the cash flow of every project estimated and scheduled, you have a solid foundation on which to build your business’s profitability. When inputting data into your cash flow tracker, look for a tool that will auto-calculate each of your pay apps net of retainage. Otherwise, deduct your retainage percentage from every expected pay app when you are accounting for how much cash will actually be coming into your bank account. Your cash flow tool should have a function for when you will actually be paid by your customer.  Contractors include the full amount they are invoicing each month, including the retainage amount, but it is then deducted when determining the amount to be paid in cash for that invoice. In other words, it is earned at the time you invoice but then held till it is due when you meet the milestones. You GET retainage when you submit a FINAL invoice for retainage at the end of the project AFTER the project has met the requirements to invoice retainage per the contract. The moral of the story,  proper recording is key! Your cash flow tool needs to have the functionality to show when that money is coming into the business. Or you can just use the one that we created and have on our website for you (https://mobilizationfunding.com/cashflow/). Our tool keeps track of the percentage of retainage you enter and when you expect the retainage to be paid. It is important to update the dates you actually receive the funds. If the retainage payments are delayed, other project cash flows may also need to be re-estimated, especially if you are relying on the funds to get started on other projects. 

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