Construction Accounting Methods

construction accounting methods

Regular production and short-term contracts lead to manageable cash flow cycles.Irregular. Retainage, slow payments, and high upfront costs lead to long, irregular cash flow cycles. Cash.Under cash-basis accounting, a construction business reports income when payments are received and deducts expenses when they’re paid. The percentage of completion method is a means of tracking revenue and expenses on a project and goes hand-in-hand with the cost-basis accounting method. Since construction contracts typically take place over long periods of time, payments may be made in periodic increments or at the time of completion on all work of the contract. In cases where payment is assured within that period, the percentage of completion method may be used to account for revenue and expenses.

A separate job is set up in the accounting system for each construction project, and costs are assigned to the project by coding costs to the unique job number as the costs are incurred. These costs are primarily comprised of materials and labor, with additional charges for such items as consulting and architectural fees. A number of indirect costs are also charged to construction projects, including the costs of supervision, equipment rentals, support costs, and insurance.

The Foundation for Construction Accounting

You can review other great options in our guide to the best small business accounting software. The use of Change Orders to document changes to the original bid can avoid disputes with customers—and the original contract or bid should spell out exactly how to handle change orders. Contractors should also establish a standard change order process with full documentation of the work and cost required for each requested change. Construction projects can often undergo changes from the original plan for which a quote, estimate, or bid was provided to the customer.

Under the completed contract method, contract revenue recognition doesn’t occur until the project is complete. In this method, it is critical to first implement cost-accounting methods to ensure that expenses are accurately recorded so the profits and losses of a given project can be accurately estimated. By tagging every transaction with information from the job cost structure, contractors are able to see a whole new dimension to their costs. They can look at how much each aspect of operations costs on a particular job and across the company as a whole. Along with expenses, they can track progress according to specific budget items, detect patterns, and report profitability or overruns for different production activities as they’re underway. Importantly, they can also identify costs shared between multiple jobs, like equipment, and calculate a fair way to distribute those costs, which is called overhead allocation.

What is a construction contract?

Even if you’re a truck manufacturer, it might be a longer term between the sale and delivery, or you may just deliver from a stock of inventory. Whether talking about billing, production or labor, contractors operate their business primarily around projects. Think of any other business, such as a chain of designer cupcake shops or a pneumatic-valve manufacturer. There, managers might treat each store, plant, product line, or the entire business as a “profit center.” For most industries, these are stable and predictable. A customer may withhold a specified amount from the contract price until satisfied with the completed work.

A fixed fee contract is used when the contractor commits to being paid a fixed amount by the client. In this situation, the costs incurred by the contractor have no impact on the price paid. This arrangement would appear to strongly favor the client, since there is no risk of paying more than the contract price. In fact, this arrangement is most common in a multi-party bidding scenario where a number of potential contractors are forced to bid against each other.


Additionally, the equipment they install might follow a standard markup table by item or price, such as “2x” for a disposable air filter. If the technician spent two hours on the dispatch and additionally replaced a $20 air filter, the contractor would bill the customer $100 for labor plus $40 for materials. It tracks these not only to each job but also within each group of job activities and each type of cost. For example, a contractor might “code” an invoice to Job 140 (Lake Ave. Remodel), Cost Code 100 , Cost Class “MAT” .

  • If control of all the performance obligations transfers at a single point in time, then all revenue and expenses are recognized at that point — as in CCM.
  • While it makes sense to only record revenue or expenses after a transaction is complete, the cash method of accounting can be difficult to maintain if there are unanticipated payment delays or disputes.
  • Although contract accounting deals with revenue the other items on the financial statements are just as important.
  • Between estimates, bills and purchase orders, builders can look at the estimated costs of a job, the actual costs and the receivables to run a variety of financial reports.
  • The purpose of retainage is to ensure that owners have some assurance that contractors complete the entire job rather than abandoning work after progress payments are made.
  • A residential contract differs from a home construction contract, which involves buildings with four or fewer dwellings and is exempt from having to use PCM.