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A Harvest How-to: Recurring or retainer?

Harvest has three types of invoices: standard, recurring and retainer. Each of them has separate functions, and each of them mean different things in different industries. In this post, I’ll explain how they were designed in Harvest.

Standard Invoices

Standard invoices are what you would expect: a straightforward invoice that you can send to your clients, and something that clients can use to initiate an online payment. They can be created based on time and expenses or as free-form invoices.

Invoices based on time and expenses will import time and expenses from billable projects according to the client and timeframe that you specify. Free-form invoices do not pull in any time and expenses, so you can create an invoice from scratch.

Recurring Invoices

Recurring invoices are free-form invoices that are created on the interval that you specify — daily, weekly, quarterly or yearly. You have the option to have the recurring invoice be automatically sent to the client or to be saved as a draft that you can review.

Recurring invoices are best used for products or services that are billed cyclically (weekly, monthly, etc) and when those products and services do not need a reconciliation against a number of hours worked. Things like general consulting and web hosting would be good candidates for recurring invoices.

Retainer invoices

When a client pays for part of a project in advance and those funds have to later be reconciled against the work that has been done, then it’s best to use a retainer invoice to start the project.

Once a funded retainer is recorded in Harvest, when a project or phase of a project is complete, you can create a standard invoice and Harvest will give you the option to draw from the retainer to pay for all or part of the standard invoice.

If the standard invoice exceeds the retainer funds available, then the balance will be reflected on the invoice that you can then send to the client. If the retainer funds exceed the amount of the invoice, then the difference will be stored on the retainer and can be applied to a future invoice.

Recurring or retainer?

If payment is required on a regular and repeated basis for products and services, then use a recurring invoice in Harvest. If a reconciliation is required between an advance payment and the work that is subsequently done on a project, then use a Harvest retainer.

For more help with Harvest, be sure to check out our Getting Started info and other help documentation at

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  • The retainer option saves me a lot of time! HAPPY

  • Have you considered a hybrid? Many of our customers are on recurring-retainer contracts. These three options are fine, but they do not seem to handle that situation, and as such, create extra work for our project managers. Whoever develops the hybrid solution of recurring-retainer projects/invoicing will be the one that wins our business.

  • Thanks, Nathan. We don’t have any specific plans for recurring retainers at the moment, but it is a current feature request that we’re keeping track of. If you’d like to add your vote to the list, please email us at Thanks!

  • You know we really love Harvest but have dropped for other systems. Trying to go back. IF you could generate an invoice that lists each matter and shows a header for each matter and aggregates the billings for that matter, we would switch back. Currently, for our law firm, we’re using CLIO. We’re a hair away from returning to Harvest based on the integration with BaseCamp but we need better invoice formats. Let me know if that’s possible. We’re launching several companies and hate to miss the opportunity to focus on the BaseCamp Harvest app but need better invoices and reports in Harvest … with emphasis on the invoices. Check out CLIO if you need more info.

    • Thanks, Ken. We don’t have subtotals per project on invoices, but we do have a Summary By Project option that will aggregate all time per project into one line per project on the invoice.

  • I need to have the possibility to make credit notes! Why don´t you have that option?
    That is a necessary for any business, I would think!
    (And you should not have the possibility to change an invoice once you have sent it to a customer.)

    • Thanks, Irene. We don’t have typical credit notes, but we do have a workaround using Harvest retainers. You can create a retainer for the amount of the credit note and then apply those funds to future invoices for that client. I hope that helps!

  • Jerome Wilson on October 31, 2012

    +1 for a recurring retainer feature

  • Thanks, Jerome. If ou’d like to make an official feature request, please email us at, so that we can add your email address to our notification list. Thanks!

  • Jerome Wilson on November 1, 2012

    Thanks Scott, done that now :)

  • Please make it possible to apply a retainer to ANY invoice. NOT just those that are created from Time.

    This is major pain. The only work around is to create a negative retainer invoice. Stuff like that makes me want to cry. Its ugly and stupid and worst of all its confusing to your customers.



  • I have a need for recurring EXPENSES. Any way to do that already? If not, it would be a handy feature, since I have a couple of expenses I bill to my client each month, and don’t want to have to manually add it as an expense each time.

    • Thanks, Cameron. We don’t have recurring expenses at the moment, but if your recurring items are the same price every month, would a recurring invoice for that same value work? I realize that this is not exactly what you’re looking for, but hopefully it helps!

      If you’d like to make an official feature request for recurring expenses, please email us at so that we can record your email address along with the request. Thanks!

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