Bail Bond Agent

Written by: Will Bond

Are you interested in a career as a Bail Bond Agent but aren’t sure where to start? This informative article breaks down everything you’ll need to know about this topic — from what a bail bond agent actually does to the process of getting licensed.

Whether you’re just starting out or are close to completing the licensure process, this article will ensure you have a clear understanding of the path that lies ahead.

What Is a Bail Bond Agent

A bail bond agent (or “bail bondsmen”, as they are commonly known) is an individual that provides the court with money for criminal defendants who can’t afford to post their bail, in exchange for a fee.

Bail bond agents form a central part of the criminal justice system, as they can help less fortunate defendants to be released from jail until their trials, and are also responsible for later making sure that these defendants appear in court on the relevant dates.

This is the situation in the majority of states, though there are a few exceptions where the for-profit bail system is banned:

  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Nebraska
  • Oregon
  • Washington DC
  • Wisconsin

In these states, commercial bail bonds have been banned and instead replaced with alternatives that don’t use third parties (e.g., direct court payments).

What Does a Bail Bond Agent Do

A bail bond agent usually charges a non-refundable fee equal to 10% of the bail amount as their compensation for covering the defendant’s bail. After receiving this fee, the bail bond agent then gives the court a surety bond in return for the defendant’s release.

If the defendant then goes on to appear in court, the bail enforcement agent will receive the full bail amount in addition to the 10% fee. However, if the defendant fails to appear (known as “skipping bail”), the agent retains the 10% fee but loses the money paid for the bail unless they can find the defendant and persuade them to return to court.

For this reason, bail enforcement agents must be selective in who they choose to represent, as untrustworthy clients may result in significant financial loss. To avoid this, they will often carry out significant background research into potential clients (and their family members) as part of their initial responsibilities.

How to Become a Bail Bond Agent

In order to become a bail bond agent, you’ll need to be licensed in the state you plan to work in. 

While the exact licensure process may vary depending on your jurisdiction, you’ll typically be required to complete the following five steps in order to become a bail bond agent.

Step 1: Meet Your State’s Eligibility Requirements

Before getting started with the licensing process, you’ll first need to confirm that you meet your state’s eligibility requirements for this career.

Most states will impose the following eligibility criteria:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Be a United States citizen or legal resident alien
  • Have obtained a high school diploma or GED

However, it’s essential to research these requirements beforehand as they can vary quite drastically from state to state.

Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to find the relevant prerequisites in your jurisdiction, as most of this information can be found on your local state’s Department of Insurance website by googling “bondsman requirements + (your state)”.

Step 2: Take a Bail Bondsman Course

After this, it’s a common requirement in most states for bail bond agent applicants to have to complete a “bail bondsman” pre-licensing education course.

While this will vary depending on the state you’re based in, states that require this compulsory education course will typically impose a minimum number of classroom hours as well, such as in:

  • California: 20 hours
  • North Carolina: 12 hours
  • Virginia: 40 hours

Additionally, you’ll often need to pass a practice test at the end of this course in order to receive a certificate of completion — though this is not always the case.

Even in the minority of states that don’t require this course, such as New York and Delaware, we recommend applicants take some form of pre-licensing education as it’s extremely helpful for both passing your state’s bail bond agent exam and laying the foundations for a successful career.

Step 3: Pass Your State’s Bail Bonds Exam

With your pre-licensing education out of the way, it’s time to move onto the next step: taking the bail bonds examination in your state of choice. Compared to other state insurance exams, these are often shorter — typically lasting an hour and containing around 50 questions.

Over the course of this exam, you should be assessed on:

  • Bail bond principles and practices (e.g., applying for and posting a bond, collateral security, and surety contracts)
  • The legal framework
  • General insurance regulation

In most cases, you’ll need to obtain a score of at least 70% in order to pass, though this can vary as some states (e.g., Hawaii) have adopted a “scaled scoring system” in which the passing grade will depend on the overall performance of the testing cohort.

Regardless of the grade you must obtain in order to pass, it’s important to move on with your bail agent license application quickly after passing, as it’s common for exam scores to expire after a certain period of time.

For example, passing scores in New Jersey expire 12 months after the date of your exam — if you haven’t completed the rest of your application within this timeframe, you’ll be required to retake the examination.

Step 4: Satisfy Any Final Licensing Requirements

The final step you’ll need to take before you can submit your application for a bail bond agent license is to ensure you satisfy any additional licensing requirements that your state requires to enter the bail bond industry.

The most common of these is the requirement for a state and federal background check that you must request by submitting a full set of your fingerprints to the Department of Insurance in your state — often through a third party provider such as IdentoGO or Fieldprint.

Once finished, the fingerprinting service will forward a comprehensive report to your state’s Department of Insurance — who will then decide whether or not they feel you’re eligible to become a bail bonds agent based on the results of these background checks.

Step 5: Submit Your Application

With all of the above steps completed, you’ll finally be ready to submit an application for your bail bonds license.

This is generally done online through platforms such as the National Insurance Producer Registry (NIPR) or Sircon and will cost between $150 and $200 to submit, depending on your state.

And that’s it!

If your application is in order, you should hear back from the Department of Insurance in your state within a couple of weeks and a few months with an email containing your license number and National Producer Number (NPN).

It’s important to be aware that in some states, such as Florida and Michigan, this step will take place earlier on in the licensing process — but this is the exception and not the rule.

Note: These processing times are just an estimation of how long it could take to hear a response back, but it could realistically take longer depending on how busy your state’s Department of Insurance is and whether you’ve submitted everything correctly.

Bail Bond Agent FAQ

What are bail bond agents sometimes called?

Bail bond agents are often referred to as “bondsmen” or “bail bondsmen”. These terms are interchangeable and both describe individuals who provide the service of posting bail for defendants. Similarly, the terms “bail bond business” and “bail bonding agency” are commonly used to refer to an insurance company that offers these services. Check out our Bail Bond Agent guide for more information.

Does New York have bail bondsmen?

Yes, New York does have bail bondsmen. Currently, the only states that have banned commercial bail bonding are Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Oregon, Washington DC, and Wisconsin. Outside of this, there are few restrictions on the states in which a bail bond agency can operate.

Which crimes have no bail?

While there’s no federal list of crimes that don’t have bail, some examples of crimes that typically have no bail include capital offenses such as murder (particularly if there’s strong evidence), and cases where the defendant poses a significant flight risk or danger to the community. With that being said, the decision is typically made by a judge based on the specifics of the case.

What are the responsibilities of a bonding agent?

The responsibilities of a bonding agent include assessing the risk of offering bail bond services, providing the necessary bail money for a defendant to post bail, ensuring that the defendants make court appearances, and sometimes tracking down and requesting an arrest warrant for individuals that fail to appear in court. In order to provide this insurance coverage to defendants, a bail recovery agent is required to pass through a strict licensing process.

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