What is Retainage?


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Retainage, also known as retention, refers to a portion of a contractor’s payment that is withheld by the project owner or general contractor as a safeguard against incomplete or unsatisfactory work. It’s commonly used in construction contracts and other large-scale projects to ensure that the contractor completes the project according to the agreed-upon terms and standards. Once the project is satisfactorily completed, or certain milestones are met, the retainage is then paid out.

The main objectives of retainage are to:

  • Ensure Completion: It motivates the contractor to fully complete the job, knowing that a certain percentage of their payment is withheld until completion.
  • Protect Against Deficiencies: If there are issues or defects in the work, the funds in retainage can be used to fix those issues.
  • Provide Financial Protection: If the contractor fails to complete the job or goes bankrupt, the retainage provides the project owner with some financial cushioning.

Typical retainage amounts range from 5% to 10% of the total contract value, though the exact percentage can vary based on the nature of the project and the terms negotiated between the parties.

It’s worth noting that while retainage serves as a protective measure for project owners, it can pose cash flow challenges for contractors, especially if the retainage amount is substantial and the project duration is long. As such, the terms of retainage, including the percentage withheld and the conditions for release, should be clearly specified in the contract. In some regions, legal limits are set on retainage percentages to ensure fairness for contractors.

Example of Retainage

Let’s walk through a hypothetical scenario involving retainage:

Scenario: ABC Construction Company enters into a contract with XYZ Developers to build a commercial complex. The total contract value is $1,000,000. The terms of the contract stipulate a retainage of 10% until the completion of the project.

Step-by-Step Retainage Process:

  • Initial Payments: As ABC Construction Company progresses with the work, they send monthly invoices to XYZ Developers. For each invoice, XYZ Developers pay 90% of the amount and withhold 10% as retainage.
    • For instance, if ABC Construction Company sends an invoice for $100,000 for the first month’s work, XYZ Developers would pay $90,000 and retain $10,000.
  • Subsequent Payments: This process continues with each subsequent invoice. If the second month’s invoice is again $100,000, XYZ Developers would retain another $10,000, making the total retainage $20,000 and so on.
  • Project Completion: Once the project is nearing completion, ABC Construction Company completes the final touches, rectifies any defects, and meets all other contractual obligations. They then request the release of the retained amount.
  • Final Inspection and Release of Retainage: XYZ Developers conduct a final inspection. If they’re satisfied with the work, they release the retainage amount.
    • In this example, over the span of the entire project, XYZ Developers would have retained a total of $100,000 (10% of the contract value). Upon satisfactory completion, ABC Construction Company would receive this $100,000.

This example showcases how retainage works in practice. It provides assurance to XYZ Developers that the project will be completed to their satisfaction, while ABC Construction Company knows they’ll receive their full payment once they fulfill their obligations. The specifics can vary based on contract terms and the nature of the project, but this illustrates the general concept of retainage.

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