Understanding Contractor Bonds

Guest Post By: Kristen Bradley

The U.S. boasts a huge contract bond market as federal, state and local government agencies all utilize contract bond law to regulate professionals who work in the construction industry. Inevitably, some contracting firms find themselves unable to qualify for these bonds because they do not have the financial stability needed to back them up. This denies them access to working on publicly funded construction projects.

Contractors who cannot find a surety provider that's willing to issue them necessary bonds might complain that contract bond requirements are too strict and difficult to fulfill. Their purpose, however, is to deter unqualified and financially unstable contractors from working on projects for which they might not be qualified. Contractor bonding helps stabilize the industry in a number of legally enforceable ways.

Contract Bond Protection

Contract bonds work to protect the best interests of the project owners and government agencies that fund construction projects, as well as the best interests of the public.

The Surety Information Office explains how crucial surety bonds are to the financial success of the construction industry:

"The use of corporate surety bonds makes it possible for the government to use private contractors for public construction projects under a competitive sealed bid, open competition system where the work is awarded to the lowest responsive bidder. Political influence is not a factor, the government is protected against financial loss if the contractor defaults, and certain laborers, material suppliers and subcontractors have a remedy if they are not paid, all without consequence to the taxpayer."

Bid bonds specifically work to keep the bidding process honest. When a contracting firm submits a bid bond along with a project bid, it makes a legal promise that it won't increase the bid after being selected to work on the project. For example, the city of Philadelphia frequently requires contracting firms to provide a bid bond that's 10% of the total bid amount. If the winning contractor raises the bid after being awarded the project, the city could collect on the bond to gain financial reparation.

Contract Bonds and the Surety Bond Process

Contract bonds function as do other surety bond types. Contractors and contracting firms purchase surety bonds to financially guarantee some aspect of their work. When a surety provider issues a bid bond to a contractor, the bond essentially acts as a legally binding contract among three entities:

1. the principal: the contractor or contracting firm that purchases the bond as a promise that the bid will not be increased
2. the obligee: the project owner that requires the bond to protect itself from potential financial loss
3. the surety: the agency that executes the bond, thus providing a financial guarantee that the contractor won't increase the bid

Although bid bonds are often used for publicly funded projects managed by the government, private project owners can also choose to take advantage of their protective benefits.

How Surety Bonds Affect the Bidding Process

When government agencies or other project owners require bid bonds, the contracting firm must purchase a bid bond and submit it along with its original bid. Bid bonds may not be purchased after a bid has been submitted, and surety providers will not execute a bid bond after a contracting firm has already submitted its formal bid to a project owner.

Contracting firms that want to bid on high scale public construction projects must have a high bonding capacity. Contracting firms can take a few approaches to increase their bonding capacities, such as

• making more investments
• taking their net cash position down to zero
• excluding net pension liabilities and construction credits in residential development co-ops

Although the effort required to secure bid bonds for high scale projects might seem unnecessary to some contractors, the stability they give the construction industry is irreplaceable. 

This article was provided by SuretyBonds.com, a nationwide surety bond producer.
SuretyBonds.com offers surety bond education to contractors who need to purchase contract bonds. The agency believes that contractors should understand the bonding market so they are prepared for the surety bond application process.
 

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