Working on a home improvement project? Awesome! You did your research and are choosing a good contractor? Even more awesome! One of the first things you’ll want to discuss when choosing a contractor is payment.

Different contractors offer a variety of ways to pay, and have different requirements for partial up front payments. This is common. Most contractors have reasonable expectations on what percentage of payment to expect before starting a project. Before you write them a check, here are some things to consider:

Never, ever pay the whole amount up front.

If your contractor asks you to pay for a project up front, you need to find a different contractor. Asking for the whole amount up front is a sign of an unethical business. There’s a reason why the entire payment should not be made in full before the job is done - it keeps your contractor honest, and helps ensure they will complete the job on time.

If you pay your contractor up front, what assurance do you have that the contractor will pay their suppliers for material? When suppliers don’t get paid, they are legally able to put a lien on your house for the amount of the bill. You want to make sure to financially protect yourself as well.

Paying up front for materials is reasonable.

A contractor may ask that you pay the cost of materials up front, which is a reasonable request. Contractors will have to purchase materials to begin working on your project. As a homeowner, you have the option to pay the supplier directly for materials to avoid any complications.

Paying by credit card gives you added protection.

Even if you have cash, there’s a great reason to pay by credit card if you can. Most contractors accept credit card payments, and some actually prefer it over cash or check payments. For a homeowner, paying by credit card offers you an added layer of financial protection. Just like other purchases that come with fraud protection, your home improvement project is protected when you pay with your credit card. If you contractor does faulty work, breaks something, or commits some other type of fraud, you can appeal to your credit card company and dispute the charge. With debit card, cash, or check payments, your money gets taken directly from your account, and there’s little fraud protection to fall back on.

Generally, the initial payment should cover the supplies needed for the first parts of the project, usually 10-15% of the total. With luck and a little research, you can find an ethical contractor with reasonable down payment requirements quickly. Now that you know what to look out for, it’s time to get started on your project.