The Over and Under of Contractor Billings

Posted by Mike Sanders, AFSB

Large overbillings or underbillings can be an indication of problems that could jeopardize the stability of a contractor’s bond program. Generally Accepted Accounting Principals (GAAP) state that to be accurate, the best way for a contractor to report earnings is most often on the Percentage of Completion (POC) method of accounting. This method ties together what the contractor actually earned, with what they actually billed, showing differences as either assets or liabilities on the balance sheet.

For example, if a contractor is 50% complete with the costs on a contract, then they should only have billed 50% of the total contract price on the job. 

Billing concerns in the eyes of an underwriter:

  1. Large underbillings. This may be a sign of slow billing practices, and/or of unapproved change orders being included in the contract price.
  2. Large overbillings. An underwriter will look to see that any large overbilling amounts are offset on the other side of the balance sheet by a like, or greater amount of cash and receivables. A strong positive working capital position (Current Assets minus Current Liabilities) is important as well.

Job borrow:

Most contractors try to overbill at least a little when possible. Overbilling a job to the extent that the estimated costs to complete the job exceed the remaining unpaid contract balances can be a concern to a bond underwriter. This excess amount is known as “job borrow”. It is important for the contractor to realize that the cash flow for the remainder of the job will be negative, by the amount of the job borrow, and he/she must plan accordingly so that funds are available to cover remaining job expenses.

At Old Republic Surety Company, we can coach contractors and their trusted CPA adviser to understand what ramifications their billing practices could have on their financial statements. We also consult on ways a contractor can improve their balance sheet which will enable them to be more competitive and grow their business. Contact your independent insurance agent for more information about bond programs with Old Republic Surety Company.

Mike Sanders, AFSB

Mike Sanders, Senior Vice President of Underwriting, oversees the underwriting and operations of seven branch and regional offices. Since 1992, Mike has held responsibilities in a large branch office, working with both contract surety and commercial bond business, until taking a position at the Brookfield Home Office in 1999. Prior to joining ORSC, Mike launched his surety career with Aetna Casualty and Surety Company where has was trained and handled the marketing and underwriting of all lines of bond business. Mike has a Bachelor’s degree in Finance from Drake University. He also has a AFSB designation.