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Retainage Payable and Receivable – What’s the Difference?

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Retainage or retention, in the construction industry, is an agreed upon portion of the contract price that is deliberately withheld until the work is substantially complete to assure that the contractor or subcontractor will satisfy its obligations and complete a construction project.  Retainage is often confusing all by itself, and then there is also a lot of very confusing terminology as well.  But there is a difference between Retainage Receivable and Retainage Payable.

Retainage receivable or PayableTo put it as simply as possible:

  • Retainage Receivable is money that is owed to you, while
  • Retainage Payable is money that you owe to someone else

Usually, if you are a General Contractor you will need to track both Retainage Receivable (for money due to your company) and Retainage Payable (money you owe to your Subcontractors).

As a Subcontractor, you would only need to track Retainage or Retention Receivable for the money that is due to your company; unless of course you hire lower-tier Subcontractors, at which point you would also need to track Retainage Payable.

To add to the confusion, QuickBooks (not even the Contractor version) doesn’t really handle retainage tracking automatically, like some of the more costly construction specific software.  You pretty much have to “make it” track it – especially if you want your books to be accurate.

Retention can be tracked in QuickBooks by using specifically created items in your Items List and specially created accounts in your Chart of Accounts.

For example, Retainage Receivable (money owed to you) should be set up as an Other Current Asset in your Chart of Accounts.  Retainage Payable (money you owe) on the other hand, should be set up as an Other Current Liability account.

From here it get’s a little trickier, mainly because there is not just one way in which to track the money that you are owed on invoices your submit for payment – or – money that you owe to your subcontractors.

If you would like to learn about various methods in which to track retention or retainage, contact me about some one-on-one consulting/training time to discuss your needs.

2 Responses to Retainage Payable and Receivable – What’s the Difference?

  • Hi Marcie
    I’ve had some experience with UDA – it’s a powerful program! But yes, it is frustrating that the two don’t use the same item.

  • I deal with retainage payable and retainage receivable on a regular basis. We use the contractor version of QuickBooks as well as an estimating software, UDA ConstructionSuite, which is used to generate the G702 and G703 Application for Payment. Billing for the final retainage is very frustrating as UDA and QB don’t work together by using the same “Item” when invoicing for retainage. I have to manually change the line Item from Retainage Received to Retention so that our company reports are accurate.

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About Your Host:

Nancy Smyth, Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor

Nancy Smyth, Sunburst Software Solutions, Inc.
QuickBooks Construction & Payroll Expert


I've been using and supporting QuickBooks products since the early 1990's. I've worked with thousands of contractors, assisting them with QuickBooks setup, Certified Payroll Reporting requirements, AIA Billing and Weighted-Average Overtime.


QuickBooks is a powerful product, but learning how to use it in your construction business can be difficult. I hope you find resources available here to be helpful.

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