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How Do Bail Bonds Work?

how do bail bonds work

Bail bonds are a fixture of American life and popular culture. Bail bonds in pop culture are full of myths, urban legends, and downright incorrect information, though. Unless you or a loved one has been arrested, you likely don’t know the real facts and processes around bail bonds.


Bail and bail bonds are not the same things, but most people use the terms interchangeably. Bail is the amount of money set by the court to secure a defendant’s release after their arrest. When the judge says, “bail is set at $5,000”, that’s the amount of money an arrestee must deposit with the court to be released from custody.

Bail often comes with conditions like attending required court appearances, avoiding re-arrest for another crime, and staying in the geographical area until the trial is over. If the defendant meets all of these requirements, the bail money can be returned at the end of the trial. If a defendant fails to meet all of the conditions of their release like missing court dates, getting additional criminal charges, or leaving the state, they will forfeit the full bail amount. Whether or not bail money is returned is not based on the trial’s outcome (guilty, innocent, charges dropped, etc.); it depends on whether or not the defendant has met all of the bail conditions. Even if your family member is found guilty at the end of the trial, he/she can still get the bail money back if all of the conditions set forth by the court are met.

Bail can be paid in cash (incorrectly referred to as “cash bond” sometimes), although most people prefer not to tie up their money for several years or don’t have the money to pay the bail to the court. Rather than pay their loved one’s bail in cash, most people engage the services of a bail bond agent.


A bail bond is a type of surety bond provided that is guaranteed by an insurance company and provided to the public through a licensed bail bondsman. A bail bond is really just a piece of paper that is a promise to the court that if an arrestee violates the conditions of bail, the bail bond agent will pay the full bail amount to the court. If the bail terms are not violated, the bail bond agent is released from his obligation when the trial is over or charges are dropped. The bail bond agent guarantees the money rather than the arrestee or his family putting up the cash to secure release.


The bail bond premium, or bail bond fee, is the amount you pay directly to the bail bondsman. This premium is usually 10% of the total bail amount and is nonrefundable. This 10% premium is how bail bondsmen make their money. They keep part of the premium to pay forfeited bail, cover overhead and provide reasonable compensation for services. They pay the remainder of the premium to the surety insurance company they represent and who reinsures the bond.

The bail bond agent assumes the risk that you might violate the terms of your bail, requiring him to pay the full amount of the forfeited bail to the court as a penalty. The bail bond agent sets aside part of the premium to cover the payment of forfeited bail to the court for any of its arrestee clients who violate the terms of their bail and cannot be found to return them to jail. The surety insurance company must pay any forfeited bail that its bail bond agents are unable to pay.


The short answer is no. When you engage the services of a bail bondsmen, the 10% premium is not refunded. While bail money deposited with the court (“cash bail”) is held by the court and is available for refund when the trial is over or charges are dropped, the bail bond premium is different.

The 10% flat fee premium to buy a bail bond is not bail; it is payment for services rendered by the bail bond agent and the surety insurance company he represents and to cover the payment to the court of bail forfeited by any of the bail bond agent’s arrestee clients. There is no money held by the court or anyone else that is available to refund to arrestees. Expecting a bail bond agent to refund the bond premium if you do not violate your bail terms is equivalent to expecting your car insurance agent to refund the car insurance premium if you don’t have an accident. It is not a reasonable expectation.

The premium paid for a bail bond is just one of the costs of being arrested. You may pay a criminal defense attorney, private investigator, expert witnesses or crime laboratory fees in conjunction with defending yourself against criminal charges. None of these fees is refunded to you when the trial is over.


Bob is arrested and taken to county jail on a felony or misdemeanor charge. Depending on where Bob is arrested and which crime he’s arrested for, there may be a bail amount already set by the time he’s processed into the county jail. This amount is set by the county bail schedule, a document that lists the bail amounts for specific crimes.

If Bob is charged with a crime that does not allow him to post bail immediately, he will have to go through a bail hearing, where the court sets the bail amount. At this hearing, the court will determine the bail amount by looking at Bob’s criminal history, potential flight risk, ties to the community, the risk to the community, and several other factors. Based on all these factors, the court will set the amount of bail required for Bob’s release or potentially deny him bail entirely. If the charge is minor enough and Bob is considered trustworthy enough to make all court appearances on his own, he could be released under his own recognizance. This is also known as a PR bond and is not usually granted for most criminal cases.

For this example, let’s say the judge has set bail for Bob at $10,000. If Bob or his family members have $10,000 in cash they can deposit with the court, Bob can use that $10,000 to secure his release until the end of his trial. If Bob doesn’t have $10,000, he can engage the services of a bail bondsmen.

The bondsman will require a $1,000 nonrefundable fee (paid by cash or credit card, or even cryptocurrency with some bondsmen) and may require some collateral as well. This collateral can be in the form of jewelry, cars, and even real property. Once the paperwork is completed and the premium paid, the bail agent will arrange Bob’s release from jail.

The responsibility of Bob showing up to future court dates is now on the bail bond agent. He will require Bob to check in regularly and follow the court’s bail conditions.

If Bob meets all of the conditions set by the bail bondsman and the court, he and the bail bonds agent part ways at the conclusion of his trial (guilty, innocent, or charges dropped). Bob does not get any money back.

If Bob stops checking in, misses a court date, or violates any of his bail conditions resulting in the issuance of an arrest warrant, the bail bondsman must return him to county jail. If Bob can’t be found, the bail bondsman can employ fugitive recovery agents (also known as bounty hunters) to find, arrest, and return Bob (most likely to the county jail). Bob or his family may have to forfeit some or all of their collateral if Bob is never found and returned to jail. Any friends or family members who pledged collateral or co-signed for Bob are required to reimburse the bail bond agent for the cost of locating and returning Bob to jail or paying forfeited bail.


If your loved one has been arrested, every day they spend in jail is another day that disrupts their personal and professional life.  A bail agent can get your loved one out of jail and back to life quickly.  Find a licensed bail bond agent in your area with Bail Agent Network.


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