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Time and Materials Contract: What Is It?

A time and materials contract, or T&M contract, is a contract that's used to reimburse one party for the costs of the materials needed to complete a job, along with a predetermined hourly wage and other fees related to the service being provided. T&M contracts are typically used in situations where there is uncertainty or variability in project requirements, scope, or duration.

For some, this type of contract can sound like too much trouble to pursue. For others, the fact that this contract allows them to base how much they pay on work anticipated rather than having to know each aspect about the project before it begins gives them the ability to get started with ease. Understanding whether or not it's right for you begins with figuring out if you meet some of these basic guidelines.

Here is an article that defines this type of contract further and gives you a specific example in regards to its use in the construction industry.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Time and Materials Contracts

Every contract comes with pros and cons that are crucial to assess before you begin crafting the specific contract for the individuals or organization you're working with. But what are the advantages and disadvantages of time and materials contracts? Let's break each of these down to get a better overview of what to expect when choosing this type of contract over other options at your disposal.

Advantages of T&M Contracts

  • Provide you with the flexibility needed in your agreement as you're only paying a set amount for the materials and time taken to complete the project. However, the hourly wage and other fees are typically negotiated and agreed upon between the parties involved.
  • Make negotiating terms and conditions easy as these are established quickly when writing a T&M contract because both parties choose a fair rate (as long as you and the contractors are able to reach a mutual agreement and neither party try to negotiate terms that would only provide benefits for themselves).
  • Allow you to cap the maximum amount of hours for the project, which makes it so that you don't have to deal with clients who may take as much time as they want to make more money. For example, with a T&M contract, the contractor can bill for labor at rates that were already negotiated and the client can see what they are paying for. The contractor doesn’t have to worry about estimating the total cost of the project.

Whether there are delays or projects are finished faster than expected, there are few consequences when using this type of contract. Overall, T&M contracts allow you the flexibility you need when you simply can't estimate the scope of the project when you're enlisting the help of a contractor.

That being said, there are some disadvantages that come with choosing a T&M contract instead of a fixed-price contract, which is a contract in which there is a set date for completion and exact terms and conditions regarding the cost of materials and pay.


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Disadvantages of T&M Contracts

  • Without a not-to-exceed clause and maximum caps on costs, you may find yourself facing issues with negotiations or contractors taking advantage of these missing items. A not-to-exceed clause limits the total amount a client will pay, even if the actual costs exceed the estimate, so this can be helpful in the contract.
  • You have to deal with the extensive process of actively tracking the materials being used for the project as well as the billable hours, which can be difficult to achieve, especially as you're running your own small business. The level of involvement in a T&M contract is far more than that required in a fixed-price contract.
  • There's no established budget, which means total costs can far exceed what you anticipate having to pay initially.

Because there are a lot of unknown variables in the project that leads to a T&M contract, there are naturally many potential disadvantages that arise from these variables. It's important to carefully consider whether or not the disadvantages outweigh the risk. If not, you may want to take your time to do further research surrounding your project and consider a fixed-price contract instead.

To better understand the difference between T&M contracts and fixed-price contracts, read this guide on fixed-price contracts for a full overview of what it is and how it's utilized.

Time and materials contract

Image via Unsplash by markpot123

Should I Use a Time and Materials Contract?

Much like there are many unknown variables that lead to the development of a time and materials contract, there is no true guide that helps you define whether you should go with a T&M contract or not. Here are a few things to consider if you're not quite sure whether or not a T&M contract is right for you.

  1. Is it possible for you to determine a time frame and cost for the project either through experience or with the help of a third party? Some projects may have so many unknowns that it isn't possible to determine how long it will take or what the process will look like. However, if you don't have to leave the time frame and cost up to the contractors working on the project, it can be better to go with a fixed-price contract instead.
  2. Do you have the time to dedicate to tracking the cost of materials and hours? If you can't take care of this yourself or enlist the help of someone else to take care of this, it may be better to try to find a way to make a fixed-price contract possible.
  3. Are you prepared to deal with any changes in cost? If you want to have a strict budget you would like to adhere to so you don't end up overspending, this is not the best type of contract to go with for your project.

Approaching this type of contract can come with great risk. Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate these risks. If you plan on using a time and materials contract for a project, you can take fewer risks by enlisting the help of a contract lawyer. A contract lawyer who specializes in your industry can help you draft up a solid T&M contract that provides beneficial terms for you and the contractor, help ensure that you aren't missing any essential clauses that could prove damaging to your business later on, and help you negotiate terms and conditions with the signing party.

You can use this guide to learn more about the benefits of using a contract lawyer for your T&M contract needs.

In summary, a time and materials contract can be used when the entity hiring a contractor to work on a project is uncertain about the amount of time it'll take to complete the project, what the overall cost of materials will be, and what course the project will take as it is being completed. If you anticipate using a T&M contract or want to know whether or not it's something that your organization could or should utilize, use the guide above to dive deeper into time and materials contracts and consider enlisting the help of a contract lawyer to help you draft up a solid T&M contract today.

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