Consider the scenario where a tutor is charging a student $100 for solving an assignment.

So the tutor takes $50 as a token before starting and rest $50 when it’s done.

A way to communicate this to the student is:

  • You can transfer a token of $50 to me.
  • I take token amount of $50 for this.

What are the alternatives ways of communicating the same? I looked at the synonyms for token but couldn’t find an appropriate word. Also, is the above use of word token correct or appropriate?

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    A part payment taken in advance is often called a deposit. Nov 20, 2020 at 13:29
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    I would not use token here. A token is a small item representing something else (like a subway token representing a subway fare). You wouldn't normally speak of $50 representing $100.
    – rajah9
    Nov 20, 2020 at 20:43
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    Alternatively, a token is a payment so small as to be negligible. A person who gives a nickel to a charity drive has made a token donation. Half the fee is not token.
    – Mary
    Nov 21, 2020 at 0:40
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    While it's not directly related to your question, I feel ethically obliged to point out that the scenario you gave as an example (a tutor selling assignments to a student) is considered academic dishonesty in Western educational systems.
    – nick012000
    Nov 21, 2020 at 4:42
  • “Token” might be, imperfectly, considered a placeholder. So someone might pay a single dollar as a sign that they accept the exchange is a “pay for service” arrangement and not a gift or similar. Once “real” amounts of money are involved “token” will confuse the reader. $50 might be a token of intent if one were buying a car but not for a $100
    – jwpfox
    Nov 21, 2020 at 20:54

8 Answers 8


"Upfront" is the word I most commonly see used for this. You can use "upfront payment" if you're looking for a noun.

Upfront: paid or obtained in advance

Cambridge Dictionary

As in:

So the tutor asks for $50 upfront and the remaining $50 upon completion.


So the tutor asks for an upfront payment of $50 and the remaining $50 to be paid upon completion.

This is a bit informal and may seem somewhat out of place in a contract or formal agreement, for example. In such cases I would probably expect to see something like "initial payment" or the details of when it should be paid written out without any single word or term used to describe it (e.g. "$50 to be paid prior to the commencement of the service").

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    I agree on the usage and examples, however upfront is an adverb (1st example) / adjective (2nd), and OP seems to be looking for a noun.
    – walen
    Nov 23, 2020 at 9:13

Such a payment made in advance of an anticipated complete transaction is often termed an advance

Advance = money paid before something happens

Cambridge dictionary

The term has slightly less formal contractual overtones than the equally useful and very similar

Deposit = to pay someone an amount of money when you make an agreement with that person to pay for or buy something, that either will be returned to you later, if the agreed arrangement is kept, or that forms part of the total payment

Cambridge dictionary

  • I think "advance" usually carries some assumption of a nonguaranteed percentage of, say, sales that "deposit" does not. If your contract calls for a royalty of 1% of sales, and you get an advance of $1,000, then you won't seen any royalty payments until sales exceed $100,000.
    – chepner
    Nov 23, 2020 at 17:49
  • I'm shocked deposit isn't the clear/obvious choice.
    – TCooper
    Nov 23, 2020 at 19:17

Would you please transfer $50 to my account, as a prepayment?


A 50% prepayment is required for this service.

  • prepay - "to pay for (something) before you receive or use it : to pay (something) before you are required to pay it."

  • prepayment also pre-payment - "the act of paying for something before you receive it, or the amount of the payment" "Send your order with pre-payment by cheque".

Certain establishments (hotels, travel agencies, hospitals, car rentals) would require a deposit, which is slightly different from prepayment.

  • deposit A deposit is a sum of money which you pay when you start renting something. The money is returned to you if you do not damage what you have rented.
  • Instead of saying Would you please transfer $50 to my account, as a prepayment? Can i say can you transfer 50$ as prepayment ? Is that correct english... or which one is better ? or polite Nov 20, 2020 at 17:51
  • Also is the original word token does it sounds good ? or its kind of old and gross ?? Nov 20, 2020 at 17:54
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    @Rohitsharma "Token" is a perfectly good modern English word, but it means the wrong thing. All the relevant meanings refer to a physical object, not to a money payment.
    – alephzero
    Nov 20, 2020 at 22:14
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    @Rohitsharma "a token amount" in your OP usually means a total payment that is much lower than the true value of an object. It does not mean the first part of a bigger payment. For example you might sell an old object to somebody for a "token amount" of $100, because you didn't realize it was rare and valuable and really worth $100,000.
    – alephzero
    Nov 20, 2020 at 22:18
  • "Deposit" doesn't necessarily refer to money that is returned to you. It's quite often money that is used to hold a reservation, and then applied to the rental. Nov 22, 2020 at 6:58

When an author is writing a book, she or he may receive an


When a publisher is interested in acquiring a book manuscript, it usually offers the writer an advance against royalties, or advance for short.

An advance is a signing bonus that’s negotiated and paid to the author before the book is published.

(Source: Writer's Digest -- How Book Advances Work - A Simple Explanation for Writers)


While not a single word, the term is regularly used as one:

  • down payment - "a part of the full price paid at the time of purchase or delivery with the balance to be paid later".
  • This typically refers to something bought using a loan. Nov 22, 2020 at 12:38

Advance and deposit, which appear in previously posted answers, are probably the best general-purpose terms for such payments, but some professionals, particularly lawyers, prefer to refer to them by the term retainer. A retainer can be either a payment for having the professional on standby, with an understanding that specific services will be paid for later, as they are rendered (a 'true retainer'), or a deposit for future services, from which the fees will be deducted as the services are rendered.

  • The word "retainer" is frequently used in conjunction with tutoring services. This is probably the best word in this scenario.
    – barbecue
    Nov 23, 2020 at 16:07

There are also the words "earnest" (no connection with other words so spelled) and "pledge". Maybe I would use "earnest" in this case, although these words are oftener used for a longer joint undertaking than an hour or twain of tutoring.

There is another case of early payment, in case of, say, a carpenter or plumber or such hired for a job, who also buys the material for it. For this, though, I would use the aforesaid expression "up front" and call it an up-front payment, payment up front for up-front costs.

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    usually earnest is combined with another word, such as "earnest money" or "earnest payment"
    – barbecue
    Nov 23, 2020 at 16:09

A fixed or contingent payment above the regular salary is also called a bonus. Although I wouldn’t normally use this term for a tutor, an extra incentive paid to a new employee is a signing bonus.

It’s not clear from the question whether this is an extra one-time payment on top of the regular hourly fee, which would be a “bonus,” or a $50 advance on their regular salary, paid up front. The latter would not be called a “bonus.”

Because some commenters claim that it sounds odd to them to say a tutor gets a bonus, I’ll give a few of many examples I found in a quick search. Here’s a tutoring company that offers new tutors a “$10 bonus” for signing up. Here’s a posting for a company calles Tutor Time Childcare that offers a “$2,000 sign-on bonus.” Here’s a tutoring company that says “our compensation is performance/bonus based.”

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    A quick web search shows many examples of independent contractors getting a “bonus.” Sometimes even a “starting bonus.”
    – Davislor
    Nov 23, 2020 at 1:05
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    In any event, what is described here is not a bonus.
    – Casey
    Nov 23, 2020 at 2:16
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    I think Davislor is looking at the description in the title and not in the body of the question. A signing bonus is certainly a commonly used term. However, the title is misleading and signing bonus is not at all what the OP us asking about. It is asking about an upfront or advance payment. And bonus does not work for that.
    – Jim
    Nov 23, 2020 at 6:03
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    @Davislor those links are describing payments to tutors from a tutoring company employer. The customer is not making these payments, the tutoring company is. OP describes a direct payment from a customer to a tutor, not the same relationship.
    – barbecue
    Nov 23, 2020 at 16:13
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    @davislor, In the links you provided, the wording is clearly describing an employer-employee relationship between a tutoring company and the tutors they hire. It's not describing a customer paying money to a tutor or tutoring company. The other example you provided mentions a yearly bonus, but again, that's not what the OP asked about. The question is asking about an initial payment from the customer to the tutor which retains the services of the tutor, and is applied to the final bill..
    – barbecue
    Nov 23, 2020 at 20:46

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