As with most occupations that were once suffixed by the word “man,” this has changed. Although the term, bondsman, still applies, it may be less offensive to refer to this professional as a bondsperson, bail bond agent, or bond dealer. Regardless of the name, the agent acts as a surety by pledging money for the release of the defendant from jail. In turn, the bond agent assures the court that this person will attend the scheduled court appearance.
An example better illustrates the process: John or Jane Doe is arrested and put in jail. Doe’s parent hires a bond agent to secure the release of their son or daughter. The court sets the bail at $5,000. Typically, the agent charges 10 or 15% for her/his services. There are allowable premium rates established by each state. Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, and Kansas are examples of states with no maximum bail charge.
The respective state sets the bail premium by statute. In those states without a maximum percentage, the bail bonds company needs to have an approved rate on file that is not excessive or unfairly discriminatory. This non-refundable fee represents the agent’s compensation for services rendered.
In addition, the agent requires something material to be held as a bond in the event the person does not keep the court date. The collateral could be a car title, jewelry, expensive artwork, credit card, or real estate. If the criminal fails to show for the appointed court date, the bondsperson has to pay the full amount of the bail ($5,000). According to statistics, up to 24% of released felons do not appear for their scheduled court appearance.
Nevada is one of the states that allow the arrested individual to use a residence for a bail bond. To satisfy the terms of the bond, the applicant registers a deed of trust and names the bonding agency as the beneficiary. The agent can only assume ownership of the property if the defendant fails to appear in court or fails to comply with all the court’s conditions of the bail.
When the felon fails to appear in court, the bonds person may take steps to apprehend the individual. The apprehension requires the service of a bounty hunter, or the bonds person may assume this role also. Bounty hunting of fugitives hit television screens in 2004 with – Dog the Bounty Hunter, based on the escapades of Duane “Dog” Chapman. However, not all states embrace bounty hunting. Some states, including Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia restrict the practice or prohibit it. The location of the fugitive governs which state laws apply. Some states require physical training and certificate before acting as a bounty hunter.
Thirty-seven states require a license to be a professional bail agent. Generally, the eligibility determinations are:
- Be 18 years old or older
- Have a high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED)
- Candidates must take a pre-licensing course
- Pass the state licensing exam if applicable to your state of work
- Provide proof of sufficient financial resources to meet all surety obligations
- You may need bond insurance from a surety company
As stated, a high school diploma is adequate; however, many agents have an associate degree or higher in finance, business administration, criminal justice, or related field. There could be a pre-licensing class where prospective agents study bail bond principles, laws, and practices pertinent to this line of work.
A state license is 50 to 60 multiple-choice questions with a one-hour time limit. In California, candidates must complete at least 12 hours of pre-licensing classroom instruction. Before the exam, candidates may need to pay for a fingerprint submission.
The Department of Insurance, Department of Financial Services, State Court, or Department of Criminal Justice regulates licensure for those states requiring licensure. Further information is available at the National Conference of State Legislatures site. In Texas, for example, bail agents are licensed by county agencies, not the state. In some counties of Texas, such as Jefferson County, agents must post a security deposit of $50,000.
Becoming a bail bondsman or agent is not a lucrative occupation. According to salary.com, the average wage is $39,084, with an upper range of $49,058. A master’s degree does not provide an increase in salary more than a bachelor’s degree. It is imperative, for financial reasons, that the bail bond agent protects himself/herself from the risk of the defendant skipping the court date. To be a successful moneymaking agent, you will need to use the right amount of oversight for each person you provide bail.