Is a Retainer Fee a Deposit?

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    As a photographer, one of the best practises you can follow is to establish your policy regarding deposits and retainers within the terms and conditions of your contract. A photography company that is going to be successful needs to have a contract policy that addresses deposits and retainers.

    Have you ever been told by a client that they would have to send you the money later or that they would not be able to attend the session as scheduled? If you have ever been in the same position as we was when we first started operating my photography company, then you absolutely have to take the time to read this post on my blog.

    Contract policies that include a definitive deposit or retainer plan are essential to the operation of a prosperous photography business. You are well aware that time is money! Almost every photographer has had a terrible experience with absentee clients, procrastinators, or no-shows; with these clients, you have most likely lost out on other business opportunities – you know, the family that you had to turn down because you were booked? Almost every photographer has had a terrible experience with absentee clients, procrastinators, or no-shows. They wanted to show up for that session that you had just ghosted at but you were unavailable.

    Establishing a policy for deposits and/or retainers in your contracts is one of the most important things your photography business can do to help protect you as a photographer. It would be beneficial if you could locate a refund policy that is suitable for your needs. This not only helps the client realise that your time is valuable, but it also provides them with a financial incentive to appear at the shoot when it is scheduled. We haven't had a single person cancel on me since implementing this into my business, reschedule due to illness? Sure. But cancel and lose their retainer money? Nope. If you need advice on your wedding photography, check out our photography packages and services at Wild Romantic Photography.

    The question now is, what distinguishes a deposit from a retainer in this scenario? A retainer is a fee that is paid to you in advance and guarantees that your client will be able to use your services when they are required. This fee is paid by the client. Generally speaking, retainers are non-refundable payments. You have a certain amount of time to use them before they expire, or else you will lose them. A payment that is made by your customer as an indication of good faith that they intend to complete his end of the transaction, with the balance of the payment being made at a future date, is referred to as a deposit. The most important distinction is whether or not a deposit is eligible for a refund. Deposits can either be refundable or non-refundable.

    FAQs About Photography

    A Retainer and Deposit Are Not the Same.

    Is a Retainer Fee a Deposit?

    A retainer is a fee that is paid in advance in order to hold goods or services for a certain period of time. A payment that is made towards the purchase of goods or services and is typically returned after the purchase has been made is referred to as a deposit. It is therefore extremely important to be aware of the distinction; according to this definition, the payment should be referred to as a retainer if the fee is not going to be refunded.

    What is a Retainer Fee?

    A client who retains the services of a professional advisor, consultant, lawyer, or freelancer, for example, will pay an up-front fee known as a retainer fee for those services. It is common practise for attorneys to charge their clients a fee in exchange for being hired to provide legal services. This fee is used to guarantee the commitment of the service provider, but it does not typically represent all of the fees that will be incurred throughout the process.

    Additionally, a retainer fee does not guarantee that the final output will be successful. After the payer and the receiver have come to an agreement regarding the work that needs to be done, the price is sometimes deposited into an account that is separate from the receiver's performance in order to guarantee that it will not be used for any other reasons.

    Clarity is the Key: The Difference between a Retainer and a Deposit

    One must pay careful attention to the significant difference between a retainer and a deposit. Despite this, the two are frequently mixed up with one another, and the terms are frequently used synonymously. The terms "retainer" and "deposit" do not mean the same thing and should not be used interchangeably.


    A retainer is a fee that is paid in advance to a service provider in order to secure the right to have that person's services whenever they are required. This fee is known as an engagement fee. One illustration of this would be the situation in which a client gives a retainer to an attorney in exchange for the client receiving the attorney's services for a predetermined amount of time or until the retainer is depleted.

    Generally speaking, retainers are non-refundable payments. You have a certain amount of time to use them before they expire, or else you will lose them. However, you may want to think twice about using the term "retainer" in your photography contract because this definition has frequently been interpreted by the courts as having a meaning that is specific to the practise of law and does not carry over in any meaningful way to the photography business. Specifically, the courts have held that the term "retainer" refers to an upfront payment made to an attorney.

    One might argue that the definition of "retainer" is specific to the practice of law and does not carry over to the photography business; for this reason, that "deposit" may be the better choice of word for photographic services contracts. Our exclusive range of Melbourne wedding photography will help you not miss a thing on your wedding day.


    This is a payment made by the buyer to demonstrate that they have good faith that they intend to carry out their part of the transaction. It serves the purpose of a consideration on the part of the buyer to secure the provision of services or goods at a particular time and location in the future, with the remaining balance to be paid at a later date. There are two possible outcomes for deposits: refundable or non-refundable. It is for a particular position at a particular workplace at a particular time in the future. Because there is no prevalent practise in this area, it is up to you, as the proprietor of a photography studio, to devise a refund policy that is suitable for your organisation.

    It is essential to take note that in the event that the photographer breaches the contract with the client, it may make a difference whether the payment is referred to as a "deposit" or a "retainer."

    A retainer fee is money that a client pays to a photographer so that the client is guaranteed to have the photographer's services at some point in the not too distant future. When the photographer agrees to take this retainer, they also agree not to take any other clients who could potentially interfere with the future photoshoot with the retained client.

    In the event that the client decides to back out of the agreement, the photographer is allowed to keep the retainer as payment for any services rendered and expenses directly related to the job for which they were compensated (for example, hair and makeup fees already paid). They are only allowed to keep the retainer as compensation for lost business that they might have been able to book during the time period for which the retainer has been paid if, and only if, the signed contract specifies that this is what happens in the event that the contract is cancelled.

    A client may choose to make a deposit payment to a photographer in order to guarantee that the client will have access to the photographer's services at a particular time and location. Upon the photographer's acceptance of this deposit, the client has the photographer's agreement that they will not schedule any other customers for the specified date and time. If the client cancels the contract, the photographer is allowed to keep the deposit provided that the signed contract details the compensation for any preparation that the photographer may have done for the photoshoot on the specified day and time. Additionally, the cost of reserving the services of the photographer can be deducted from the deposit if the photographer is unable to find another client to take the place of the client who cancelled the contract.

    Know your Stuff to Protect Yourself 

    We strongly advise you to speak to an attorney in your area regarding state, local and federal considerations, but here are a few things you should know:

    • Let's say you've decided that the initial down payment won't be refundable under any circumstances. If this is the case, you are required to include language stating that the retainer is "non-refundable." Additionally, you are not permitted to refer to it as a deposit because deposits can be refunded. In the event that this is not the case, and in the event that the client breaches the contract, you will be required to return the money to the client, or the client can sue you to get the money back.
    • Even a "non-refundable" retainer could be returned to the client if the wedding planner breaks the terms of the agreement, which state that the retainer is non-refundable. Once more, be familiar with your laws.
    • Include a fee schedule, also known as a plan outlining how you wish to be compensated for your services. Is it expected that the retainer will be paid at the time of the initial booking, and then the remaining balance at the time of the final consultation? Should she make a deposit of fifty percent, then another twenty-five percent three months before the wedding, and the final twenty-five percent on the day of the wedding? You are required to state the payment amount and due date in a manner that is both clear and precise. Make sure that any late fees or penalties are included in the event that she does not pay on time.
    • Include a policy regarding refunds within your contract. Indicate that the retainer payment of XXX (25 percent, $500, or whatever the amount may be) is non-refundable, and then describe the process by which the remaining funds are refunded, if at all, in the event that the client decides to terminate the contract.
    • Always get a signed agreement from a customer, and I mean always. And make sure you get a retainer so that your hard work will be compensated even if she backs out of the deal.
    • When viewed from a different angle, the fact that the bride has more "skin in the game" in terms of the agreement makes it more likely that the courts will side with my position during a breach of contract lawsuit brought by the professional. In addition, having a contract that is written well is beneficial. Another way to look at it is that if a bride is only making a small financial commitment and is considering using the services of another provider, it will be much simpler for her to terminate the agreement she has with you. If she has a sizeable amount of money at stake, she is going to give your agreement a lot more thought before breaking it because she doesn't want to risk losing all of that money.
    • One last piece of advice concerning contracts is to ensure that brides sign them in physical form rather than electronically. He stated that in the event that there is a dispute and it is brought before a judge, an electronic signature might not be admissible.

    You can decide to have a refundable or non-refundable deposit/retainer. Whichever option you go with, just make sure to write it into the contract that gets signed!

    When it is desired to have non-refundability, it is best to refer to the payment as a "retainer" or a "fee," even though non-refundability is an essential component of a contract. In general. However, you should give some serious consideration to whether or not to use the term "retainer" in your photography contract. This definition has frequently been interpreted by the courts as having a meaning that is unique to the practise of law, and it does not transfer over to the photography business in any meaningful way.

    As a result of the painful lessons we've learned the hard way, we strongly suggest that you consult a contract lawyer to find out the most effective way to safeguard both yourself and your company by utilising non-refundable retainers or deposits. If we are not paid in advance for a session or wedding, we will never show up to either of those events again.

    These days, the most standard procedure that I follow is to collect full payment for a session or wedding before my clients and I leave my home. In the case of weddings, the remaining balance is typically expected to be paid off one full calendar month in advance of the wedding date. In spite of the fact that we do not conduct as many family or senior sessions as we used to, we require full payment one week before the session.

    Just remember, you do what is right for you and your business–use common sense and common courtesy to make sure your clients know they are taken care of and that their selection of you as their photographer means the world to you. Life gives us lemons– illnesses and emergencies can (and will!) happen. Wild Romantic Photography has the best range of services of wedding photography Yarra Valley. Check them out here.

    So How Should Your Deposit/Retainer Policy Be Worded?

    Is a Retainer Fee a Deposit?

    It is essential that an explicit statement be made in the contract to the effect that a deposit is required from a customer in order to reserve a time slot with your studio. Your client will have a financial incentive to show up for the shoot in a timely manner if they are required to meet this requirement, which helps to foster an understanding on the part of the client that your time is valuable.

    Note: You can decide to have a refundable or non-refundable deposit/retainer. Whichever you choose, make sure it is included in the signed contract. 

    How Retainer Agreements Work

    When a client hires an attorney to represent them in a legal matter, the client is sometimes required to make an initial retainer payment before the attorney can begin working on the case. An attorney retainer agreement should be provided, outlining both the retainer fee and the next steps to take in the event that the retainer is exhausted. If an attorney bills a client at a rate of $200 per hour and the parties involved in the case believe that it will take a minimum of 30 hours to resolve, the client may be required to make a retainer payment of $6,000.

    After that, at the end of the month, the attorney will send an invoice to the client and then deposit the fee for the special account into his own account. If the case requires more work than what is covered by the retainer, the client will be billed for the additional hours worked by the attorney. If, on the other hand, the patient only needs a fraction of the time that was initially estimated, the attorney will return the difference to the client.

    The vast majority of bar associations forbid attorneys from charging retainer fees that are equivalent to more hours worked than a given case is most likely going to require. If a client is dissatisfied with their attorney at any point during the duration of the contract, they have the ability to terminate legal representation at any time without penalty.

    Once the agreement is terminated, the client may claim the retainer fee's balance after paying the attorney an amount equivalent to the number of hours worked. Therefore, clients should clarify with the attorney if they notice a "non-refundable" clause regarding retainer fees in the agreement. Starting to think about hiring a wedding photographer? Check out our range of Mornington Peninsula wedding photography here.

    Example of a Retainer Agreement

    When a client signs a representation agreement with an attorney that includes the retainer fee, the client is obligated to place the payment in a specific account. This obligation arises once the client has signed the agreement. When the legal representative works on the case, he keeps a log of the time he spends on it and sends an itemised bill to the client at the end of each month.

    For instance, the attorney might estimate that he will need 10 hours to complete the case at a rate of $100 per hour, which would result in a retainer fee of $1,000. If the attorney works on the case for a total of four hours during the first month, he will deduct $400 from the retainer fee of $1,000, which will leave a remaining balance of $600. In the event that the attorney finishes the case in the second month after spending an additional three hours on it, he will deduct $300 from the remaining fee, leaving a balance of $300 in the client's account.

    The time spent preparing records, sending faxes, and making phone calls are all factored into the billing totals. In the event that all outstanding concerns have been resolved and there are no additional fees, the remaining $300 will be refunded to the customer.

    After the retainer fee is depleted, the attorney may bill the client in several ways. The first option is to enter into a contingency fee agreement with the client. A contingency fee agreement provides that the lawyer does not get paid unless he wins the case. If the case ends in favour of the client, the attorney takes a percentage of the court's amount awarded. Planning your dream wedding and don’t want to miss out on the special moments on your big day? Worry no more, Wild Romantic Photography has you covered.

    A choice like this one is typically used in civil cases involving torts and personal injuries, particularly those in which the client is demanding a settlement from the other party. The client and the attorney need to first come to an agreement about the payment plan in advance, and then the agreement needs to be written down.

    If the client believes they will require the services of an attorney for an extended period of time, they have the option of hiring the attorney on a retainer basis. In most cases, the retainer is a one-time payment of a predetermined amount that the client agrees to make to the attorney on a monthly basis in exchange for the right to work with him in the future on any legal matters that may arise.

    These types of agreements are made between multiple companies, such as tech companies, restaurants, and hospitals, all of which run the risk of having one of their customers file a lawsuit against them. Employing a lawyer on a retainer basis, as opposed to hiring an in-house attorney, is typically the more cost-effective choice.

    Earned Retainer vs. Unearned Retainer Fee

    The amount of money that is deposited into a retainer account prior to the start of the work is referred to as an unearned retainer fee. The sum is intended to serve as a guarantee from the client that they will pay the attorney once the agreed-upon work has been completed. The retainer fee cannot be claimed by the attorney until after the job has been finished and the client has been billed for it. If there is money left over from the retainer after the hourly attorney fees have been paid, it should be returned to the client.

    After finishing a task that was previously agreed upon, the earned retainer fee is the amount that is moved from the specific account to the operating account that is used by the attorney. The amount of money that will be paid to the attorney on an hourly basis is typically negotiated and agreed upon prior to the start of the work, and it is outlined in the retainer fee agreement.

    The portion of the earned retainer fee that corresponds to each month is paid out once the case has been resolved. Sometimes the attorney will be paid based on the milestones that he has reached in the case. For instance, the attorney might receive 25 percent of the total fee after the pre-trial process, 60 percent after the hearing, and the full 100 percent after the case has been decided and closed.

    Importance of a Retainer Fee

    The attorney receives compensation for his expertise and reputation in the form of a retainer fee. When looking to hire an attorney to assist them in winning a case, clients typically look for an attorney who has a strong reputation within the legal community. If the client is represented by an attorney who is up to the task, there is a chance that the matter will be resolved outside of court.

    In addition, the retainer fee is intended to safeguard the attorney against any unanticipated events that may occur in the future and make it impossible for clients to fulfil their commitments. Instead of having to ask the client for additional funds after the case has already begun, the attorney can deduct any costs from the retainer fee instead of having to do so.

    Suppose an unexpected event occurs during the court process that prevents the client from paying out more money. In that case, the attorney can receive some compensation for the work performed by having received the retainer fee. If you’d like to work with professional photographers for your wedding, book with us at Wild Romantic Photography.


    Generally, while non-refundability is a crucial contract inclusion, we recommend using the terms "retainer" or "fee" when non-refundability is desired. Be sure to check with your local attorney for advice on your circumstances!