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Question about partial payments

I have used Upwork as both a client and freelancer, and as a freelancer I was only paid partially for a project that I worked on. Does the system make this possible?


As a client I would like to of course pay my freelancer the full amount if he/she does a good job. However, it is possible to pay partially or in stages? 

Community Manager
Community Manager

Hi Tai,


Thanks for reaching out to us. You can create a Fixed-Priced contract with multiple milestones. Milestones are a way to divide your fixed-price job into a series of deliverables based on your needs. They let you break a larger contract into more manageable chunks. Kindly, follow up on our Help Articles about Milestones for Fixed-Priced Jobs and how to Add and Edit Milestones. Let us know if you need further assistance.


Thank you.

~ Aleksandar
Community Member

Tai An Z wrote:

I have used Upwork as both a client and freelancer, and as a freelancer I was only paid partially for a project that I worked on. Does the system make this possible?


As a client I would like to of course pay my freelancer the full amount if he/she does a good job. However, it is possible to pay partially or in stages? 

In stages: Set up milestones.

Partial payment of a fixed rate milestone: Both client and freelancer can release/request amounts that differ from those funded, either up or down, by editing the amount field during submitting or releasing the milestone.



re: "As a client I would like to of course pay my freelancer the full amount if he/she does a good job."


Tai An:

Below are general guidelines (NOT about your situation) about how a client should pay a freelancer with a fixed-price contract:


- Freelancer completes only part of the work:

Client should pay partial payment. For example, if the freelancer finished 50% of the work, the client should release 50% of the payment. Every honorable freelancer will accept and authorize this partial payment.


- Freelancer completes the task, and does a good job:

Client should release full payment. Client has the option to pay a bonus or pay extra, but is not obligated to do so.


- Freelancer completes the task, as specified, but the client doesn't like everything about the freelancer's stylistic choices, or the client thinks the freelancer "did a bad job":

Client must release full payment. Client may reflect his dissatisfaction in two key ways: By leaving honest feedback that reflects how he feels about the freelancer's work, and by choosing to not hire the freelancer again.


Freelancer completes the task, but really goes "above and beyond" in the job that she did, or did extra things that the client really needed:

Client must release full payment. The client IS NOT OBLIGATED TO PAY EXTRA, but the client probably should do so.



Question: If the freelancer completes all aspects of the task as specified in the original agreement, but does not "do a good job," can the client release partial payment to penalize the freelancer?


Answer: No. This is unethical and unprofessional. Also, it is not possible to do that without the freelancer's agreement.


Advice: As a client, if you really feel that the freelancer's work misses the mark in terms of quality or something like that, then the best thing you can do for YOU and YOUR BUSINESS is to not waste time trying to train the freelancer how to do better, and not waste time trying to teach the freelancer a lesson by paying less. The best thing for your business is to release full payment and then work with other people. If you are not in the business of training and tutoring people, then you will save money by hiring the right people rather than finding ways to penalize the wrong people.


If a freelancer does not "do a good job", and you really want to spend some of your own effort and time to pursue this, then you DO have options:

- You may ask for revisions, and continue to ask for revisions

- You may discuss this with the freelancer, explain your reasoning, and ask her to accept a partial refund

- You may file an official dispute, which will involve Upwork officially. Keep in mind that a dispute does not mean Upwork decides who is wrong or right. A dispute means that Upwork mediators intervene and encourage the freelancer and client to work out their differences

- If a dispute fails to bring the matter to a resolution, you may pay $291 (non-refundable) to take the matter to binding arbitration.

My client only wants to pay me for "milestone 1" of a project.  There were no clear guidelines for what "milestone 1" was, and it is less than the amount I am owed for the amount of work I completed for the project.  Can I dispute the amount of the partial payment?  The client only wants to pay me $150 for a job that should be $500.  How can I dispute a partial payment?

Hi Alexia,


I'm sorry to hear about the bad experience you've had. Please keep in mind that our Fixed price protection does not cover unfunded milestones or promised funds.

To learn more about how you're protected under our fixed price protection, check out this Help Article. Thank you.

~ Goran

re: "My client only wants to pay me for 'milestone 1' of a project."


There is nothing wrong with that.


If you did Milestone 1, and the client pays you for Milestone 1, that is fine.


re: "There were no clear guidelines for what 'milestone 1' was"


That is your fault.

Next time, don't make that mistake.


re; "and it is less than the amount I am owed for the amount of work I completed for the project."


I think you misunderstand how milestones and fixed-price contracts work.


Here is how it works:


- You agree to do a task for a certain amount.

- The client funds a milestone with a payment in escrow.

- You do the task

- The client releases the money in escrow to pay you for that task.


re: "Can I dispute the amount of the partial payment?"



There is nothing to dispute.

There is no partial payment.

The client funded a payment for a milestone.
You did the milestone. The client paid you what was agreed for that milestone.

This is over.


re: "The client only wants to pay me $150 for a job that should be $500. How can I dispute a partial payment?"


There is no $500.

The milestone was for $150.

There is no "partial payment."
You have been paid in full.


If at some point there was an amount of $500 that was discussed as the "budget" or as the "amount for the whole project," that doesn't matter.

The budget doesn't matter. Promises don't matter.


The only thing that counts is the amount of money funded in escrow.


I am sorry that this didn’t turn out as you had hoped. You have a right to be disappointed. But now you know.

I have read through your pasted responses here.  Can you please provide me with a link to the guidelines that define that the client must pay the freelancer even if they do not perform.  I had to end a contract with a freelancer because they were wholey incapable of performing the task and did not know how to run the specific software they were hired to work in.  This is typically known a non-performance.  Please show me where a client agrees to pay a freeelancer in the case of non-performance.  I would like to educate myself on this matter.  I have read the Fixed Price Service Contract Excrow Instructions and do not see that it is required to pay upon non-performance.  I do see where is says upwork encourages the client and freelancer to come to a mutual agreement and that a dispute can be filed by either party.  Thank you for your help in this matter.

Best regards,

Jason C Borland, NCARB RA


Thank you for your post.


To be clear:
When a client sets up a fixed-price contract, the client funds an escrow payment. That money is IMMEDIATELY charged to the client's credit card.


And the client has no way of getting that money back by unilaterally clicking a button.


The client has two options:

a) Release the money to the freelancer.

b) Request a refund from the freelancer.

If the freelancer chooses option (a), there is nothing that the freelancer can do about it.

And it does not matter if the work was done or not. The client can simply release the escrow payment to the freelancer at any time.


If the client chooses option (b), then the freelancer has the ability to say "yes" or "no" to the refund request. Keep in mind that there is no button that the client can use that says "Return Money to Client Due to Non-Performance."

There IS a buton that the client can click that says "Request Changes." This button BLOCKS money from being released to the freelancer. But it does NOT return the money back to the client.

This is how the user interface works. You are welcome to try it out for yourself or read about it, such as here:




Your post seems to be asking a sort of "legalistic" question, seeking information from Upwork ToS, such as:


Does Upwork's posted documentation address "non-performance"? Yes. Although I don't know if that word is used. Where? I don't know and don't care.

As a client, I have hired 178 freelancers. I know how the user interface works, and I prefer to use Upwork based on my ability to click buttons, without the need to wait on help from Upwork Customer Support and such. If there is some sort of "policy" somewhere that says that I can file a complaint and wait for people to get back to me and waste my time, that's fine. I'm simply not interested in all that. I would rather just fire a freelancer whenever I choose, without needing to talk to Support or wait for anybody's approval.


Short answer:
Physical user interface supersedes policy.

Because software source code can't read policy pages.

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