What’s the Difference Between Bail and Bond? The Beginner’s Guide

Hollywood and the media toss around the words ‘bail’ and ‘bond’ almost interchangeably. While the concepts are related, they aren’t the same thing. And your experiences with jail and the pre-trial system will differ based on what you use.

Do you know the difference between bail and bond? Here’s what you need to know if someone you love has been arrested and wants to get out of jail.

What is Bail?

Bail is a part of the justice system in most states. It is the money or actions a defendant must take to get out of jail before their trial. 

Many people think of bail as a punishment, but it’s not meant to be. The motivation behind the money bail system is to prevent people who haven’t been convicted of a crime from spending unnecessary time in jail. It is also a way for the court to attempt to guarantee that if a defendant will return to court and abide by certain rules if they get out of jail. 

The process is not dissimilar to using collateral for a loan: the collateral attempts to guarantee that you’ll pay the loan back.

Bail is often a financial sum of several hundred to up to millions of dollars. The amount set usually depends on:

  • The severity of the charges
  • Defendant’s history
  • Flight risk

The median bail amount in the U.S. is around $10,000. If you post cash bail, and you complete the requirements set by the judge, then you can ask the court to refund the bail after your case concludes. Again, bail is meant to be a guarantee — not a punishment.

If you violate the terms, you lose the bail you posted.

However, there is also a growing trend that sees court systems moving away from cash bail. In August 2018, California passed legislation to get rid of the practice. Many other cities and jurisdictions have also passed some type of bail reform to limit the number of people in pretrial detention and ensuring innocent people’s lives aren’t ruined because they can’t afford bail.

What Happens if You Can’t Post Bail?

Although the median bail amount is $10,000, there are many Americans who find themselves unable to bail themselves out of jail with much lower bail amounts — even $250.

If you can’t afford bail, then you have two options. You can ask your attorney to request that the judge reduces the bail amount. Alternatively, you may be able to seek out a bail bond from a bail bond company.

The Difference Between Bail and Bond

Because the average person doesn’t have $10,000 to give to the court to get out of jail, many Americans rely on the bond system.

A bail bond is a way for the defendant to post bail without providing the full amount to the court.

Defendants get bail bonds from bail bond companies. These companies ask for a nonrefundable premium in exchange for posting full bail for the defendant. The bond company signs a surety bond with the court, which says that the bond company must pay the full bail if the defendant violates the terms of their bail.

Premiums may be as much as 15 percent of the total bond. The bond company may request the premium up-front or through property or via a payment plan.

Because bond companies want their money back, they may have extra stipulations on top of what the judge requires. They may require a defendant to check in with the company on a certain day of the week or consent to monitoring. The company even accompany the defendant to court to ensure they appear.

Additionally, if the defendant fails to pay back their premium, the bond company can also remand them back to jail, even if the defendant didn’t violate the judge’s orders.

Can You Get a Bond Refund?

Perhaps the biggest difference between bail and a bond is that a bond premium isn’t refundable regardless of the circumstances.

If you post cash bail with the court and meet the requirements, you can ask for a full refund minus court fees. If you post a bail bond, then the premium paid to the bond company isn’t refundable to the defendant or their family.

What Happens if a Defendant Skips a Bail Bond?

If a defendant violates the terms of their bail, the judge and the bond company can send them back to jail to await trial.

However, if this happens, the bond company also loses their money. That means the defendant and any co-signers are on the hook for the full bail amount.

Is a Personal Bond the same as Bail Bond?

A personal bond is a type of bail that’s managed by the — not a bail bond company. If a judge assigns you a personal bond, it means that you must comply with the terms or face additional criminal charges on top of your existing charges.

Personal bonds have nothing to do with the cash bond system.

Do You Know the Difference Between Bail vs a Bond?

The cash bail system is still the primary system used across America’s court systems. When a judge grants you bail, then you need to both pay the amount required and follow the rules to leave (and stay out of) jail.

Although the cash bail system should keep innocent people out of jail, many people can’t afford to post the full amount at a moment’s notice. So they use the bail bond system.

The difference between bail and bond is that a bond is posted by a bail bond company in exchange for a premium. If you use a bail bond, your premium isn’t refundable, and you need to follow extra rules set by the bond company.

Was someone you loved arrested but granted bail? Get in touch for a free consultation with a licensed bail agent to help get your loved one out of jail.