Should I Become a Bail Bondsman?
Bail bondsmen, or bail bond agents, lend bail money to defendants in exchange for a percentage of the bail amount. They can work independently as professional bondsmen or with the backing of an insurance company as surety bondsmen. It is important to note that commercial bail bonding is not legal in every state. Those who are self-employed may spend a significant amount of effort seeking new customers and avenues of advertising.
|Education Level||High school diploma or equivalent (minimum)|
|Licensure and Certification||Varies by state, some require a license|
|Key Skills||Business and money management skills, familiarity with local law enforcement agents, speaking a foreign language will improve job prospects|
|Median Annual Salary (2016)*||$32,000|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Professional Bail Agents of the United States (www.pbus.com), BailBonds101.com, *PayScale.com
Steps to Becoming a Bail Bondsman
The required steps to attaining a career as a bail bondsman vary greatly depending on what state you live in.
Step 1: Research State-Specific Requirements
State licensing laws vary. Four states - Wisconsin, Illinois, Oregon, and Kentucky - don't allow commercial bail bonds. Pennsylvania has no education requirement but asks that candidates know state bonds law. It also requires applicants to maintain premises with clearly visible business signs, a registered telephone number, and a designated person to accept service of process.
Prospective bondsmen must find out education, paperwork, and fee requirements from their state's insurance department website or office. An exception is Arkansas, which has a bail bond state board. All states require bondsmen to be citizens or legal residents and 18 years or older. They must submit to criminal background and credit history checks and get fingerprinted. Some states also require establishment of state residency.
Step 2: Pursue Any Necessary Education
Several states, including Washington and California, require at least 12 hours of education and training before candidates take a licensing exam. Training typically covers insurance guidelines and state bonds law. Exams are conducted by the insurance department or by an independent company.
Step 3: Obtain Any Necessary Licensure
Not all states require licensure. Some states require licensure for property and casualty insurance, rather than a license specifically for bail bonding. Licensure may entail passing an exam and submitting proof that a candidate has met all of the state-specific requirements. Licensure exams generally cover a number of topics and laws relevant to the profession, such as client rights, court jurisdiction, liability and surety bonds, legal ethics, and power of attorney. Licensure typically needs to be renewed annually.
Step 4: Research the Market and Make Law Enforcement Contacts
Aspiring bail bondsmen typically consider the demographics of the local area before starting a bail bond agency. Some factors to consider are the number of established competitors and personal connections to local law enforcement. When choosing a location, it is also important to research the number of people going to jail and the percentage released by commercial bail as opposed to court release programs like self-recognizance. One way to obtain this information is to establish good relations with the local law enforcement and legal communities.
Step 5: Accumulate Funds for Collateral or Get Insured
In order to maintain a bail bonding business, bondsmen must have access to a large amount of money to cover the costs of their clients' bail. Professional bondsmen deposit their own cash or approved securities directly with the clerk of court as security for the bonds they write. The bonds can be worth several times the amount of their deposit. The ratio of deposit to bond amount depends on local law. If a defendant skips bail, the court will take the bail amount from the deposit.
In contrast to professional bondsmen, surety bondsmen buy a policy from an insurance company, which grants them power of attorney to write bonds up to a certain amount. They have to deposit money in a special, FDIC-insured, Built Up Fund (BUF) as security. If a customer skips bail, the insurance company will pay the court the bail amount and deduct the amount from the BUF. A small sum from every bail fee goes into the BUF, which can eventually become a retirement fund. Insurance rates depend on the agent's credit rating, experience, community ties, and BUF amount. A bondsman should have an attorney vet the insurance contract before signing.
Step 6: Join a Professional Organization
Some states require bail bondsmen to continue their education for licensure renewal. Continuing education can help a bail bondsman stay current with state laws regarding bail bonding. Joining a professional organization, such as the Professional Bail Agents of the US, can provide a bail bondsmen with access to a variety of continuing education and enrichment opportunities, including seminars, conferences, and workshops. Additional benefits of membership include networking opportunities, legal advice, and business advice.
The career path for a bail bondsman can vary greatly because each state has its own requirements for the occupation, from education to training and licensing. And, bail bondsmen must also take into account the rate at which people in the area are granted bail when appearing in court and the extent of their own ability to network with law enforcement officers.