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There are many situations in which a service provider or a seller will need to incur costs on behalf of a buyer. Not just buyers and sellers, this may occur with partnerships and other types of agreements.

Cost reimbursement contracts make sure the person making the expenses knows how and when they’re getting paid. This guide looks at what cost reimbursement contracts are, the different types, and the most important elements.

Understanding Cost Reimbursement Contracts

A cost reimbursement contract is a type of contract in which the buyer agrees to reimburse the seller for allowable costs incurred during the performance of the contract. Unlike fixed-price contracts, where the price is predetermined and fixed, cost reimbursement contracts are more flexible and suitable for projects where the scope, requirements, or potential costs are uncertain or variable.

In a cost reimbursement contract, the seller is typically reimbursed for actual costs incurred, plus a predetermined fee or percentage of costs as compensation for their services. The reimbursement of costs includes direct costs (such as materials and labor) and indirect costs (such as overhead and administrative expenses), subject to certain conditions and limitations.

Differentiating Cost Reimbursement Contracts from Other Types:

  • Fixed-Price Contracts: In a fixed-price contract, the price is set and agreed upon in advance, regardless of the actual costs incurred by the seller. The seller bears the risk of cost overruns and operational inefficiencies. Fixed-price contracts provide cost certainty to the buyer, but they may not be suitable for projects with uncertain or changing requirements.
  • Time and Materials Contracts: Time and materials contracts combine elements of both fixed-price and cost reimbursement contracts. In these contracts, the seller is reimbursed for the actual time spent on the project (usually on an hourly basis) and the cost of materials used. However, unlike pure cost reimbursement contracts, time and materials contracts often include a maximum limit on costs and may have a fixed hourly rate.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Cost Reimbursement Contracts:


  • Flexibility: These contracts are ideal for projects with evolving or uncertain requirements, where costs are difficult to predict.
  • Collaboration: Cost reimbursement contracts encourage collaboration between the buyer and seller since they share the risk of cost overruns.


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  • Cost Overruns: The buyer may end up paying more than initially anticipated if the project’s costs exceed the estimates.
  • Administrative Complexity: These contracts require careful tracking and documentation of costs to ensure they are allowable and reasonable.
  • Reduced Incentive for Efficiency: Since the seller is reimbursed for actual costs, there might be less motivation to control costs or be efficient.

In conclusion, cost reimbursement contracts are used when projects have uncertain or evolving requirements and when the buyer wants to share the risk of cost overruns with the seller. It’s important to carefully define allowable costs, establish cost controls, and have clear mechanisms for reimbursement and fee determination to ensure a successful outcome for both parties.

Types of Cost Reimbursement Contracts

Cost reimbursement contracts come in different variations, each designed to address specific project needs and goals. Here are the three main types of cost reimbursement contracts:

Cost Plus Fixed Fee (CPFF):

In a Cost Plus Fixed Fee (CPFF) contract, the seller is reimbursed for allowable costs incurred during the project, and in addition to the reimbursement, a fixed fee is provided as compensation for their services. The fixed fee is predetermined and doesn’t vary with the project’s performance. CPFF contracts offer a degree of certainty to both the buyer and seller, as the fee provides a baseline compensation regardless of the project’s outcome.

Advantages: CPFF contracts provide the seller with a guaranteed fee, which can be attractive for undertaking complex or uncertain projects.

Disadvantages: The fixed fee might reduce the seller’s motivation to control costs or improve efficiency.

Cost Plus Incentive Fee (CPIF):

A Cost Plus Incentive Fee (CPIF) contract also involves reimbursing allowable costs, but in this case, an additional incentive fee is provided based on the seller’s performance against certain predetermined targets. The incentive fee is designed to encourage the seller to meet specific project objectives, such as completing the project ahead of schedule or under budget. CPIF contracts are a way to align the interests of both parties by rewarding efficient and successful project execution.

Advantages: CPIF contracts encourage efficiency and performance improvement, benefiting both parties.

Disadvantages: Determining fair and achievable performance targets can be challenging.

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Cost Plus Award Fee (CPAF):

In a Cost Plus Award Fee (CPAF) contract, the seller’s reimbursement for allowable costs is accompanied by an award fee, which is determined based on the buyer’s evaluation of the seller’s performance against certain predetermined criteria. Unlike CPIF contracts that focus on quantitative performance targets, CPAF contracts consider subjective evaluations of the seller’s performance, such as quality of work, responsiveness, and collaboration.

Advantages: CPAF contracts promote collaboration and a focus on quality, as the award fee is tied to subjective evaluations.

Disadvantages: Subjective evaluations might lead to disagreements over the award fee.

Each of these contract types offers different incentives and risks, allowing buyers and sellers to tailor their agreement to match project requirements and objectives. The choice of contract type should align with the project’s complexity, uncertainties, and the desired level of performance incentivization. Careful consideration and negotiation are essential to ensure that the chosen contract type suits the project’s unique characteristics.

Key Elements of Cost Reimbursement Contracts

A. Allowable Costs: Allowable costs are those expenses that the buyer agrees to reimburse the seller for in a cost reimbursement contract. These costs must be reasonable, allocable to the project, and consistent with the contract terms. Common reimbursable costs include direct labor, materials, overhead, subcontractor costs, and certain administrative expenses.

B. Cost Estimation and Budgeting: Accurate cost estimation before entering the contract is crucial to prevent surprises during project execution. A detailed and realistic budget should be prepared, taking into account potential risks, uncertainties, and variations in scope. Both the buyer and seller should do their due diligence to get a more accurate estimate of the expected costs.

C. Fee Structure: The fee structure varies based on the type of cost reimbursement contract. In CPFF contracts, there’s a fixed fee; in CPIF contracts, there’s an incentive fee tied to performance; in CPAF contracts, there’s an award fee based on subjective evaluations.

D. Performance Metrics and Evaluation: Performance metrics and criteria are used to evaluate the seller’s performance. These criteria can include timely completion, quality, adherence to specifications, and collaboration. Performance evaluations impact the fee or award the seller receives and are often a mix of subjective and objective metrics.

E. Change Management: Changes to the project scope, budget, or timeline need to be managed within cost reimbursement contracts. Clear change request procedures should be established to ensure that changes are documented, approved, and their impact on costs and schedule is assessed.

F. Reporting and Documentation: Sellers are typically required to provide regular cost reports and invoices detailing allowable costs incurred. Maintaining accurate and detailed documentation is crucial to support reimbursement claims and demonstrate compliance.

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G. Risk Allocation: Risk allocation outlines how risks and uncertainties are shared between the buyer and seller. Risk management strategies should be established to address potential cost overruns, delays, or unexpected events.

H. Contract Duration and Termination: The contract duration specifies the period during which the project will be executed. Termination clauses detail the circumstances under which the contract can be terminated, either by mutual agreement or due to specific conditions.

Understanding these key elements helps parties navigate cost reimbursement contracts effectively, maximizing the benefits while managing potential drawbacks.

Considerations for Both Parties

Buyer’s Considerations:

  • Proper Budgeting: Buyers must allocate sufficient funds for the project and plan for potential cost overruns. A well-prepared budget helps prevent financial surprises but it’s not foolproof. It’s always a good idea to add a certain percentage of the expected budget to be able to handle cost overruns.
  • Cost Monitoring: Monitoring project costs regularly ensures that expenses remain within budget and allows for early intervention if deviations occur.
  • Cost Control: Buyers should maintain control over project costs by setting clear guidelines for allowable costs, reviewing invoices, and ensuring that expenses align with the contract terms.
  • Performance Evaluation: Effectively evaluating the seller’s performance helps in assessing the value delivered against costs incurred.
  • Change Management: Establishing a streamlined process for managing changes to the project scope, schedule, or budget helps prevent disputes and ensures transparent communication.

Seller’s Considerations:

  • Accurate Record-Keeping: Maintaining accurate records of all expenses and costs incurred is essential to support reimbursement claims and demonstrate compliance with the contract.
  • Cost Control: Sellers should implement effective cost control measures to ensure that expenses are reasonable and aligned with the agreed-upon budget.
  • Value Delivery: Sellers must focus on delivering value to justify the costs incurred. This includes meeting project milestones, quality standards, and addressing buyers’ needs.
  • Performance Metrics: Sellers should align their performance with the metrics and criteria established in the contract to ensure that they meet or exceed expectations.
  • Transparency: Transparency in reporting costs, changes, and project progress builds trust between the parties and reduces the likelihood of disputes.

Both parties must communicate openly, collaborate effectively, and fulfill their obligations to ensure the success of the project and the satisfaction of both buyer and seller. By adhering to these considerations, both parties can navigate the complexities of cost reimbursement contracts and work together to achieve their project goals.

Legal and Regulatory Considerations

When entering into cost reimbursement contracts, both buyers and sellers need to be mindful of various legal and regulatory factors that can impact the implementation of the contract. These considerations ensure that the contract is not only effective but also compliant with applicable laws and regulations.

1. Government Regulations:

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Many industries are subject to government regulations that dictate how contracts should be structured, reported, and executed. Depending on the industry, there might be specific regulations related to pricing, reimbursement, allowable costs, and reporting standards. It’s your job to do the research beforehand to ensure you’re compliant with all applicable regulations.

2. Compliance with Reporting Standards:

Cost reimbursement contracts often require detailed reporting of expenses, cost breakdowns, and other financial data. Compliance with reporting standards ensures transparency and accountability, and it may be necessary for audits or reviews.

It’s important to agree on how things will be reported beforehand and then maintain discipline as the project progresses.

3. Allowable Costs and Regulations:

Different industries have regulations that define what costs are allowable for reimbursement. It’s your responsibility to ensure costs claimed for reimbursement adhere to these regulations to prevent disputes or issues later. It may be a good idea to be upfront about the kind of costs that aren’t allowable – especially ones that may confuse.

4. Fraud and Misrepresentation:

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Providing false information or engaging in fraudulent activities during cost reimbursement contracts can lead to legal consequences. Ensure that all information provided is accurate, complete, and in compliance with legal requirements.

5. Intellectual Property and Licensing:

If the project involves intellectual property, licensing, or proprietary information, parties need to ensure that the contract specifies the ownership and usage rights. Generally speaking, the cost reimbursement contract is part of a larger work-for-hire contract where these ownership considerations are spelled out.

6. Termination Clauses:

Termination clauses must comply with legal requirements and should outline the circumstances under which the contract can be terminated.

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7. Payment and Taxation:

Tax implications of the contract, including deductibility of expenses and withholding tax, should be considered to ensure proper compliance.

8. Data Privacy and Confidentiality:

Contracts may involve sharing sensitive information. Compliance with data privacy regulations is crucial to protect both parties’ interests. With that being said, this shouldn’t be left to chance. An additional confidentiality clause may need to be included to protect your interests.

Navigating these legal and regulatory considerations is essential to ensure that the cost reimbursement contract is legally valid, compliant, and transparent. Consulting legal experts and staying informed about industry-specific regulations are key steps in addressing these considerations effectively.


Cost reimbursement contracts don’t need to be difficult to create or complex. This guide has broken down the major things to consider when it comes to cost reimbursement contracts and how to set yours up properly.

Choose the type of cost reimbursement method you want to go with and make sure all the key elements are in place. Once you’ve done that, you can confidently create and sign these types of contracts.

If you’re looking for a way to reduce your workload and create cost reimbursement contracts effortlessly, be sure you check out DoxFlowy – our document and contract automation solution.

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