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What is retention money, and how does it work?
Retention money, common in the building and construction industry, is money that is withheld from a payment and not paid in full until a job is finalised.
I like to refer to it as a building company’s cream.
A lot of small sub-contractors, or even medium-sized sub-contractors and businesses do not have a good understanding of how retentions work.
The basis of retention money is essentially a guarantee of sorts; it guarantees that your workmanship is ‘up to scratch’. If it is not, and your business does not rectify the fault, the retention money is used to get someone in who will. This cost will then be deducted from your retention monies, which illustrates the purpose of it being ‘retained’ - so the Building Company (the head contractor) will not be out of pocket to rectify things if necessary.
Otherwise, assuming there are no issues, you’ll get your retention money in full.
The important bit to remember is that sub-contractors usually have to ask for it. Most small businesses who don’t understand what retentions are, often do not ask. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. When not claimed by the sub-contractor, it becomes the ‘cream on top of the cake’ that the Building Company (the head contractor) made out of the deal.
How much is the retention amount?
The usual amount of retention is 10% of the contract amount, with the total retention monies typically being due 12 months after finalisation of the work.
On occasion, this may be broken down further, with 5% paid out after 6 months, and the remaining 5% 6 months after that.
Once a retention amount is agreed upon, an agreement can be made in writing or verbally - as a sub-contractor, you need to understand what the retention is, why it is charged, and when you will get this money that is rightly yours.
Entering it in AccountRight
from the perspective of the sub-contractor from whom the retention payment is being withheld
My approach differs slightly from the MYOB help page. I would recommend that you have a read through of the help page* as well, to see which method suits you best. Both ways are acceptable; it is more a matter of choice as to what serves your purpose and what you prefer on tracking. I have commented on why I use my method and the choice is then left to you.
*MYOB help: Receiving retention payments
The method requires the following accounts and cards to be set up:
1. Invoice the client for the total amount of work, not taking into account at this stage any retention monies.
This is because when invoicing on a progress payment basis, you will find that some builders will only take the retention monies out of the final progress payment, where others will take it from each progress payment. So for my client’s cash flow situation, I usually invoice for all that is due and hope for the best.
The invoice can be entered as either of the below examples:
2. Once the client makes the payment, taking out 10% for retention, record the Receive Payment transaction for the amount received and apply that to the invoice (i.e. in this case, $29,700.00 is received to the bank account).
3. Create a negative sale to the client for the amount of retention (i.e. $3,300.00), coded GST and allocated to the Asset/Liability clearing account.
4. Apply this negative invoice/credit note to the remainder of the invoice, which then clears out the debt.
5. Create another invoice for the client’s ‘retention’ card. This invoice is coded GST and allocated to the same clearing account that the negative invoice was allocated to.
Tip: For the client’s retention card, I found putting a ‘Z-‘ in front is sometimes better as it puts all retentions at the end of your accounts receivable report.
I prefer keeping my retention money due in my accounts receivable. This is because a lot of untrained/novice bookkeepers do not even look at a balance sheet – if they are ‘in your face’ on the accounts receivable report, if one bookkeeper leaves and another comes, at least it’s there on the accounts receivable report, for the business owner and the new bookkeeper to take note of.
Sample retention statement
Each month, (or bi/tri monthly depending on whether the balance has changed, or due dates are approaching), I send a retention statement to the client with the following letter.
ABC Building Company XYZ Electrical Contractors
1 Smart Street, 5 John Street,
Newtown WA 6151 Oldtown WA 6024
31st January 2016
Attached is your recent statement of your retention account.
The amount owing is represented by the following:
Contract No. Job Name Invoice No. Amount Due date
22105/66 5 West Street 3095 $2,200.00 Dec 2016
22561/99 224 Beaufort Street 3371 $3,300.00 Feb 2017
Total Retention Monies Due $5,500.00
Please advise the writer if you disagree with the above amounts owing or the due dates.
If payment has been made after the statement date this will not be reflected on the amount owing showing on the statement.
XYZ Electrical Contractors
Note: If you run on an accruals basis…
If you account for GST on an accruals basis, you’ll code the negative invoice/credit note (for $3,300.00 inclusive) as GST and code your retention invoice as Not Reportable (NR) for $3,000.00 (at this stage).
Once payment is received for your retention, you would need to process another invoice to the Retention-client’s account.
This invoice would be coded to the clearing account as negative for the retention amount ($3,000.00) coded Not Reportable and positive to the clearing account for the retention amount coded GST ($3,300 inclusive) coved GST - the end result of the invoice would be $300.00, making the total of $3,300.00 due.
This ensures that GST is paid once you receive payment of the retention amount, as per the ATO guidelines contained in Division 156.
I hope the above has helped with providing a better understanding as to what retentions are about and (hopefully) ensuring the ‘cream’ stays with the sub-contractor who’s actually earned it.
Julie Carter AIPA, BBus(Acctg),
MYOB Professional Partner, Registered BAS Service Provider
Associate Member of Institute of Public Accountants
Member Association of Accounting Technicians
ph: 0417 927 654 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Accurate Books Always (Servicing from Leederville to Pinjarra, Fremantle to Armadale WA)
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