Project Surety Bonding

What is a ‘performance bond’?

A performance bond , also known as a contract bond, is a surety bond generally issued by an insurance company in order to guarantee satisfactory completion of a project by the contractor.

A job requiring a payment and performance bond will usually require a bid bond, to bid the job; the ‘bid bond’ provides for monetary compensation to the owner, in a predetermined percentage of the bid proposal, in the event that the contractor failed to; 1) enter into contract for the bid amount, 2) provide performance and payment bonds as required, 3) was determined to have made false representations in the bid documents.  When the job is awarded to the winning bid, a payment and performance bond will then be required as a security to the job completion.

For example, the owner may require a performance bond to be issued in their favor from the selected contractor and pursuant to  contract for constructing a building, remodeling a building or otherwise providing an improvement to real property.  If the contractor fails to provide the service or perform according to the specifications laid out by the contract (most often due to the bankruptcy or general non-performance of the contractor), the client is guaranteed compensation for any monetary loss up to the amount of the performance bond.

Performance bonds are commonly used in the construction and development of real property, where an owner or investor may require the developer to assure that contractors or project managers procure such bonds in order to guarantee that the value of the work will not be lost in the case of an unfortunate event (such as insolvency of the contractor). In other cases, a performance bond may be requested to be issued in other large contracts besides civil construction projects.

Performance bonds are generally issued as part of a ‘Performance and Payment Bond’, where a Payment Bond guarantees that the contractor will pay the labour and material costs they are obliged to.

In the United States, under the Miller Act of 1932, all Construction Contracts issued by the Federal Government must be backed by Performance and Payment Bonds. States have enacted what is referred to as “Little Miller Act”  statutes requiring Performance and Payment bonds on State Funded projects as well.


Why do I want a ‘bond’ from my contractor?

The term ‘bond’ can mean several things.  A contractor may have a business card or truck placard that says ‘bonded’. This does not mean that owners, or your interests are protected.  There are three important types of bonds commonly used in construction:

  • Bid Bond- ensures that the contractor will honor his bid at the point of contract award. The Bid Bond will be in an amount corresponding to the proposal or bid total. For projects that are not issued by the Federal Government the amount is generally 5-10% of the total proposal.
  • Performance Bond- ensures that the contractor will execute the project as per the contract and specifications and complete the work on time.
  • Payment Bond- ensures that the contractor will pay all labor, materials, subcontractors and suppliers.


What forms should I use?

The American Institute of Architects also known as AIA has developed a commonly accepted format in the AIA a312. These forms are available online.


What should I check for?

  1. Is the surety admitted to conduct business in your State?
  2. What is the financial capacity or AM Best Rating of the Surety?
  3. Is the Surety Treasury Listed (see below for more information)?
  4. Is the ‘bond’ legitimate?
    1. Unfortunately there have been cases of contractors forging surety bonds; do some due diligence if you need some peace of mind. Call the agent and cross check phone numbers .
    2. Contact your State Insurance or State Banking Commissioner.


More Information on Bonds and Bonding

This article is an abridged version of Federal Publications’ February 1996 CONSTRUCTION BRIEFINGS entitled Surety Bond Basics, copyright 1996 by Federal Publications, Incorporated, written by Messrs. Donohue and Thomas.

A surety bond is a guarantee, in which the surety (often times an insurance or financial service company) guarantees that the contractor, called the “principal” in the bond, will perform the “obligation” stated in the bond. For example, the “obligation” stated in a bid bond is that the principal will honor its bid; the “obligation” in a performance bond is that the principal will complete the project; and the “obligation” in a payment bond is that the principal will properly pay subcontractors and suppliers. Bonds frequently state, as a “condition,” that if the principal fully performs the stated obligation, then the bond is void; otherwise the bond remains in full force and effect.

If the principal fails to perform the obligation stated in the bond, both the principal and the surety are liable on the bond, and their liability is “joint and several.” That is, either the principal or surety or both may be sued on the bond, and the entire liability may be collected from either the principal or the surety. The amount in which a bond is issued is the “penal sum,” or the “penalty amount,” of the bond. Except in a very limited set of circumstances, the penal sum or penalty amount is the upward limit of liability on the bond.



A bid bond guarantees the owner that the principal will honor its bid and will sign all contract documents if awarded the contract. The owner is the obligee and may sue the principal and the surety to enforce the bond. If the principal refuses to honor its bid, the principal and surety are liable on the bond for any additional costs the owner incurs in reletting the contract. This usually is the difference in dollar amount between the low bid and the second low bid. The penal sum of a bid bond often is ten to twenty percent of the bid amount.


A performance bond guarantees the owner that the principal will complete the contract according to its terms including price and time. The owner is the obligee of a performance bond, and may sue the principal and the surety on the bond. If the principal defaults, or is terminated for default by the owner, the owner may call upon the surety to complete the contract. Many performance bonds give the surety three choices: completing the contract itself through a completion contractor (taking up the contract); selecting a new contractor to contract directly with the owner; or allowing the owner to complete the work with the surety paying the costs. The penal sum of the performance bond usually is the amount of the prime construction contract, and often is increased when change orders are issued. The penal sum in the bond usually is the upward limit of liability on a performance bond. However, if the surety chooses to complete the work itself through a completing contractor to take up the contract then the penal sum in the bond may not be the limit of its liability. The surety may take the same risk as a contractor in performing the contract.


A payment bond guarantees the owner that subcontractors and suppliers will be paid the monies that they are due from the principal. The owner is the obligee; the “beneficiaries” of the bond are the subcontractors and suppliers. Both the obligee and the beneficiaries may sue on the bond. An owner benefits indirectly from a payment bond in that the subcontractors and suppliers are assured of payment and will continue performance. On a private project, the owner may also benefit by providing subcontractors and suppliers a substitute to mechanics’ liens. If the principal fails to pay the subcontractors or suppliers, they may collect from the principal or surety under the payment bond, up to the penal sum of the bond. Payments under the bond will deplete the penal sum. The penal sum in a payment bond is often less than the total amount of the prime contract, and is intended to cover anticipated subcontractor and supplier costs.


The Department of the Treasury maintains a list of corporate sureties approved to issue bonds for federal projects, Treasury Department Circular 570. Copies may be obtained from the agency. The circular also is posted in the Treasury’s computerized bulletin board at (202) 874-6817, and on Treasury’s Web site at Whenever a new corporate surety is added to the approved list, a notice is published in the Federal Register. Contracting officers are prohibited from accepting surety bonds issued by corporate sureties not listed in Treasury Circular 570. The circular lists the name and address of each approved surety and all states where each surety is licensed.

When approving corporate sureties, Treasury makes a determination as to the financial strength of the surety, and sets an underwriting limit, commonly called a bonding limit. The bonding limit is also stated in Circular 570. When an approved surety offers a bond on a federal project, the contracting officer checks to make sure that the surety has not exceeded the surety’s bonding limit. Because of these underwriting limits, surety bonds on very large construction projects, valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars, frequently are issued by several different approved surety companies, acting as co-sureties. The name of each co-surety will appear on the bond, along with its individual limit of liability.

Another way surety companies can stay within their approved surety underwriting limit, and spread their risk, is to obtain coinsurance or reinsurance, in which they essentially obtain a contract from another surety company to cover part of their risk on the bond they have issued. When a surety obtains reinsurance for part of its risk under a Miller Act bond, it must submit to the contracting officer a reinsurance agreement for a Miller Act performance bond and a reinsurance agreement for a Miller Act payment bond. The terms of both reinsurance agreements are stipulated in the regulations.