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Freelancers, lawyers, and other professionals, can take work based on a retainer. However, the word "retainer" can be confusing, as it has differing definitions:

  • A retainer can be a upfront fee paid for x number of hours per month. If the number of billable hours logged is less than x, then the retainer is partially refunded, and if it is over x, then an invoice is sent for those additional hours.
  • Alternatively, a retainer can be non-refundable, so that if fewer than x hours are used in a month, no money is returned. But additional hours are charged through an invoice.
  • Alternatively, a retainer can be a fixed fee that is paid every month no matter how many hours are logged

I'm looking for a better word than "retainer", to make it clear what I mean from the get-go. Any ideas?

  • Hi Flimm, welcome to Freelancing.SE! The question is confusing, as you seem to be asking for a word other than retainer that means what you mean... What do you mean? can you edit your question to clarify what you are trying to achieve? – Canadian Luke Aug 8 at 2:11
  • Bullet 1 - Advance Payment against future invoices | Bullet 2 - Retainer or Deposit | Bullet 3 - Reoccurring Monthly Fee/Subscription Fee ---- I do not see your 3 bullets as referring to a "retainer". Only the second bullet describes a retainer in the common understanding of the word. Retainers are non-refundable. If you are refunding a retainer fee, then it's not really a "retainer". The difference between retainer and deposit for item 2 would be a one-time agreement (Deposit) or ongoing relationship (Retainer). – Scott Aug 8 at 21:14
  • @Scott Wikipedia seems to understand the word retainer in a different way than you: "Absent an agreement to the contrary, a retainer fee is refundable if the work is not performed." The fact that different people mean different things by a retainer is the reason why I'm looking for alternative terminology. – Flimm Aug 9 at 21:07
  • Well, wikipedia is edited by anyone so.... It's no different than asking a crowd and a baseball game for a definition.. you'll get different opinions on just about everything. Wikipedia is not really a valid source for definitive facts in my opinion - it's only good for a "general clue". – Scott Aug 9 at 21:14
  • But... much like deposits.. retainers can be refunded. Just like with deposits, the default position held by many courts is that they are not refundable, but an agreement can state a retainer is refundable. I do not believe there's a specific name due to this matter. Other than "refundable retainer" or "non-refundable retainer". – Scott Aug 9 at 21:33
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  1. Deposit / Upfront fee
  2. Customer service fee
  3. Monthly Customer service fee

"A retainer fee is an amount of money paid upfront to secure the services of a consultant, freelancer, lawyer, or other professional. A retainer fee is most commonly paid to individual third parties that have been engaged by the payer to perform a specific action on their behalf. These fees, almost always paid upfront, only ensure the commitment of the receiver. In addition, retainer fees usually do not represent the total final cost of the services provided." https://www.investopedia.com/terms/r/retainer-fee.asp

The most important thing is to have a service agreement where how fees are calculated (for anything that can apply to) is clearly spelled out. I would avoid getting into a situation where you're going to need to issue a refund often. It's extra work with no benefit to you.

If dealing with big clients or very experienced ones, consider saying SLA or Service Level Agreement and have one defined.

"A service-level agreement (SLA) defines the level of service you expect from a vendor, laying out the metrics by which service is measured, as well as remedies or penalties should agreed-on service levels not be achieved. It is a critical component of any technology vendor contract." https://www.cio.com/article/2438284/outsourcing-sla-definitions-and-solutions.html

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