Television and movies often make bail seem relatively straightforward—the judge places a bail amount, and you either pay the money or stay in jail. Unfortunately, the real world can be a little more complicated. It's common for people who find themselves behind bars for the first time to be confused by the terminology, which can make securing a bond more challenging than it needs to be.
The good news is that these terms are relatively simple to understand, and learning a little about them can help make securing bail or working with a bond agent much easier and less stressful.
Coming to Terms with Bail and Bonds
Is there a difference between bail and bonds? In practice, most people will use these two terms interchangeably, but there's technically a difference between the two. "Bail" is the dollar value you must provide to the court as collateral to secure your release. If you need to provide $10,000 to the court for your release, you have a $10,000 bail.
On the other hand, a bond is the actual collateral you provide to the court. In the above example, you'd need to pay the court $10,000 for your release. You receive this money back when your case ends, either due to sentencing, acquittal, or dismissal. As you'll learn shortly, this is known as a cash bond, but it's not the only option available to you.
Distinguishing Between Cash, Surety, and Property Bonds
Cash bonds are the most straightforward option for covering bail, but they're far from the most common. A cash bond requires you to have money on hand for your entire bail amount, which is often a fairly tall ask. The two typical alternatives are property bonds and surety bonds, both of which offer a more flexible and often more accessible way to cover our bail.
Unsurprisingly, property bonds involve using real estate to cover your bail amount. This approach can sometimes make it easier to cover a large bail, but it's also risky. Just as you forfeit your cash bond if you fail to make a court appearance, you will also forfeit property that you choose to use as collateral. For many people, these risks are too great.
Surety bonds are a safer and lower-cost way to cover your bail. You purchase a surety bond through a bond agent (or "bondsman") by paying a percentage of your total bail. Unlike a cash or property bond, you don't receive this payment back when your case concludes. However, the total upfront cost is far lower than covering your entire bail with cash or property.
Choosing the Best Option
There's no single bond option that's correct for all circumstances. However, surety bonds are often the quickest, safest, and most convenient way to cover bail, especially if you don't have access to a high-value property or substantial cash savings. Using a surety bond helps reduce your risk while also minimizing the amount of money you need to pay to the court.
For more information, contact a local bail bondsman.