What is a Bail Bond & how do they work?


We’ve all heard on the news, “So-and-so has been released on $50,000 bail.” But what does this really mean? What is a bail? How does it differ from a Bail Bond?

When someone is arrested for a crime, they are held in jail until their court date, until the judge decides to let them go on their own recognizance, or until they are released on bail. 

*Please note that we (Surety Solutions) do not offer Bail Bonds. This post is meant to be an informational post.*

What is bail?

man with hands in handcuffs behind his back

Bail is a set amount of money that acts as insurance between the court and the person in jail (the defendant.) Defendants have the option to pay their bail in cash, but many cannot do this.

Since bail is often set at a high amount, most defendants are financially unable to post bail by themselves. They seek help from a bail agent, or Bail Bondsman, who posts a Bail Bond for them.

What is a Bail Bond?

Bail Bond is a type of surety bond provided by a surety bond company through a bail agent or Bail Bondsman that secures the release of a defendant from jail. There are two types of Bail Bonds:

  • Criminal Bail Bond: used in criminal cases and guarantees that a defendant appear for trial when called upon by the court and guarantees payment for any fines or penalties that are decided against the defendant.
  • Civil Bail Bond: used in civil cases and guarantee the payment of the debt, plus interest and costs, assessed against the defendant.

You can learn more about bail and Bail Bonds here.

How do Bail Bonds work?

A judge sets a bail amount. If the defendant cannot pay the bail amount on their own, they can seek help from a Bail bondsman in the form of a Bail Bond.

To post a Bail Bond, a defendant is usually required to pay a Bail bondsman 10% of the bail amount.

The Bail bondsman will then secure the rest of the bail amount in the form of collateral. If the defendant does not have enough collateral, the Bail Bondsman might seek out relatives and friends to assist in covering the bail.

Oftentimes, an additional cash payment plus full collateral is required for a Bail Bond to be posted.

What happens next depends on if the defendant appears in court after being released.

  • If defendant fails to appear in court: The Bail Bond is forfeited and the court requires the remaining 90% of the bail to be paid. The Bail Bondsman will use the defendant’s collateral (house, jewelry, stocks, etc) to pay the court the remaining bail amount.
  • If a defendant does appear for court: Upon conclusion of the court case, the Bail Bond is dissolved and the collateral is returned to the person who posted it. The Bail bondsman keeps the 10% cash fee as profit.

Bail Bond example

For example, John is arrested. The court set John’s bail at $10,000. John wants to be released from jail but he does not have $10,000 in cash, so he seeks help from a Bail bondsman to post a Bail Bond for him.

The bondsman requires $1,000 to post a Bail Bond for John, thus releasing him from jail.

For the other $9,000 of bail, the bondsman secures collateral from John and/or John’s family. Collateral could be in the form of a car, a house, jewelry, etc. 

  • As long as John appears at all necessary court dates, the Bail Bondsman requires no more money and the Bail Bond is dissolved at the conclusion of John’s case. John would get his $9,000 in collateral returned, but he would not get the $1,000 back; the bondsman would keep this as profit.
  • If John does not appear in court, though, the bondsman would have to pay the court the remaining $9,000 of bail. To do this, the bondsman would use John’s collateral.

If John had posted the $10,000 in cash, he would be entitled to a refund at the conclusion of the case, regardless of the outcome. 

If you would like more information on the Bail Bond process, check out this great post: “Frequently Asked Questions About Bail Bonds”.

How to get a Bail Bond

Most surety companies (including us, Surety Solutions, A Gallagher Company) do not write Bail Bonds because of the underwriting problems associated with them. Bail Bonds are among the most hazardous of bonds to write.

This is because if the defendant fails to appear in court, the surety bond company that issued the bond is liable for the full bond penalty.  Of course, due to the nature of surety bonds, the surety company would seek out compensation from the defendant in order to recover any penalty they had to pay.

Some states prohibit Bail Bondsman (Illinois, Kentucky, Oregon, and Wisconsin). These states still have Bail Bonds, but the 10% payment of the bond goes to the court and not a bondsman.

It is important to understand the risk involved in Bail Bonds. Underwriters will evaluate the total risk of posting a Bail Bond, including personal life, financial situation, family circumstance, and the case itself, before issuing a bond.

Approval is not easy and often requires other people to indemnify, or co-sign, for the defendant.

Helpful resources:

Picture of Crystal Ignatowski
Crystal Ignatowski

Crystal Ignatowski is a Marketing Content Developer. She writes and creates content for Surety Solutions, A Gallagher Company's blog and website.

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. If a person is TRULY innocent until proven guilty, what does anyone really need a bond for/from? Excuse me grime sounding naive but if I was arrested and brought to court in front of a judge, it seems I could simply and logically declare that since I am considered to be innocent at this point in the proceedings, I’ll kindly be on my way until my next court appearance.
    For people that post a million dollar bond and flee the country anyway, what good did the bond do in that scenario?

    1. Hi Gregory,

      Here at Surety Solutions, we are more of an insurance company and not legal professionals so we might not be able to answer all of your questions.

      The Bail Bond is meant to get someone out of jail when they cannot post bail by themselves, usually because they do not have cash on hand. Pending they appear for their scheduled court appearance and the court case closes, the bond becomes null and void. It doesn’t have to do with innocence per se, it has to do with our justice system and the safeguards we have in place to make sure individuals appear in court.

      If someone fled the country after posting a million-dollar bond, the bail bondsman would use the defendant’s collateral to pay the court the remaining bail amount.

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