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Construction Accounting Basis - What are Accounts Payable?

Updated: May 16

As a seasoned contractor, you understand the complexities of running a construction business. It's not just about managing projects and crews; it's about ensuring your financial health through smart accounting practices. Today, we delve into the core of construction accounting, focusing on a critical component: Accounts payable. Whether you're using QuickBooks for Contractors, Sage 100 Contractor, or other accounting software, mastering this area can significantly impact your business's financial success.

Table of contents:

What are Accounts Payable?

In construction accounting, 'account payable' is the money that a construction company has to pay to the people and businesses it buys things from, like suppliers and subcontractors. This happens when the company buys stuff on credit, which means they get the materials or services now but pay for them later. This way, the company can keep working on projects without needing to have all the cash upfront.

In construction, accounts payable plays a crucial role. It not only influences a company's cash flow but also impacts the overall financial health and the ability to manage ongoing projects effectively. Proper handling of accounts payable ensures that projects progress smoothly without financial hiccups.

Types of Accounts Payable in Construction

1. Supplier Invoices:

When construction companies get materials from suppliers, they receive bills called supplier invoices. It's really important to handle these bills well. Paying them on time keeps a good relationship with the suppliers and makes sure the company always has the materials it needs.

2. Subcontractor Payments:

These are the payments made to subcontractors. Subcontractors are people or companies that provide special services for construction projects. Paying them on time is super important because it helps keep a good working relationship with them, and they'll want to keep working with the company.

3. Other Common Types:

This includes things like the bills for electricity or water used on the construction site, the cost of renting equipment, and other expenses that come up while working on a project. Just like with supplier invoices and subcontractor payments, it's important to keep track of these costs and pay them when they're due.

Managing Accounts Payable in Construction

When it comes to handling the bills and payments in construction (what we call 'accounts payable'), there are a few really important things to do:

  1. Pay On Time: Make sure to pay bills when they're due. This keeps everyone, like suppliers and workers, happy and helps avoid late fees or bad relationships.

  2. Keep Good Records: It's super important to keep track of all the money that needs to be paid out. This means recording every bill or payment detail accurately, so you know exactly what you owe and to whom.

  3. Talk Clearly with People You Owe Money To: This means always being open and clear with suppliers and subcontractors about when and how you'll pay them. Good communication helps prevent misunderstandings and keeps business relationships strong.

  4. Stay Organized: Keeping all your bills, invoices, and payment records in order is helpful. It means you can quickly find information when you need it and make sure you don't miss any payments.

  5. Use Technology: There are lots of computer programs and apps now that can help manage accounts payable more easily. These tools can do things like automatically handle bills (so they sort and record themselves), schedule when payments should be made, and keep an eye on all the money you owe in real-time. This tech can save a lot of time and make sure you don't make mistakes with your payments.

Using these best practices can make managing money in construction a lot smoother and more reliable. It's all about being timely, accurate, and organized, and technology can be a big help in achieving that.

The Impact of Accounts Payable on Cash Flow

Account payable directly affects a company's cash flow. Proper management ensures that sufficient cash is available for necessary expenses and investments, keeping the business solvent.

Strategies include negotiating longer payment terms with suppliers, taking advantage of early payment discounts, and regularly reviewing payable processes to identify areas for improvement.

Accounts Payable vs. Accounts Receivable

Key Differences:

In simple terms, in construction accounting, accounts payable and accounts receivable are like two different financial buckets. Accounts payable are money that the construction company owes to others, like the bills it has to pay for supplies or services it received on credit. Think of it as the company's list of unpaid bills. On the flip side, accounts receivable is money that others owe to the company. This is usually money that clients will pay the company for the construction work it has done. So, while accounts payable is the money going out, accounts receivable is the money coming in.

Balancing Both in Construction Accounting:

Managing these two – the money coming in and going out – is super important for any construction company. It's like making sure there's enough money in the bank to pay the bills, while also making sure there’s money coming in for future projects or needs.

For example, a construction company might try to work out a deal with its suppliers to pay them later, giving the company more time to get paid by its clients. Or, it might try to get its clients to pay faster, which helps to have cash on hand to pay its bills. This balancing act is crucial because it keeps the company running smoothly without running out of money or getting into debt. It’s not just about keeping track of dollars; it’s also about smart planning and making sure the business runs like a well-oiled machine.

By carefully looking after these two areas – what they owe and what they’re owed – construction companies can make sure they always have enough money to keep their projects going and grow their business. It’s a key part of being smart with money and planning.


Getting a good handle on accounts payable is really important in the construction business. It’s more than just paying off what you owe. It's about smartly handling the money coming in and going out, building good relationships with the people you owe money to, and using technology to make things more efficient.

As the construction world keeps changing and growing, understanding accounts payable gets even more important. Companies that are good at this part of their finances are more likely to do well and grow in this busy industry.

Knowing the ins and outs of construction accounting, and especially accounts payable, is key to doing well in your business. You can take care of a lot of it on your own, but sometimes it's a great idea to work with experts. Firms like Construction Cost Accounting are pros in this area. They offer custom help and use tools like QuickBooks and Sage 100 Contractor to really improve how you manage your money. They can help take your business's financial management up a notch.


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