If you get arrested for a crime, you may be taken to jail pending trial. Fortunately, in most cases you won't have to stay behind bars until your court date. Instead, you'll have the opportunity to pay bail and post a sum of money to be released. The bail amount serves as a guarantee that you'll present yourself to the court for trial instead of making a run for it. If you show up, you get the money back. If not, you forfeit the money.
How Bail Works
After you are arrested and arraigned, a judge will set bail for your case. If you can pull together the cost of bail yourself, you can go free until your trial date with no complications. If you don't have the money for bail, you'll need to secure a bail bond. That means contacting a bondsman and paying a fee of roughly 10 percent of the cost of bail. You'll need to pay that fee upfront. The bondsman will then pay your bail and you'll be free to go until your trial. You won't get the fee you paid back, however. There are two types of bail bonds: secured bail bonds and unsecured bail bonds.
Secured Bail Bonds
A bail bond essentially is a loan that allows you to get out of jail. The lender, in this case a bail bondsman, wants to make sure he gets his money back. As a result, he may demand some form of security in the form of real property. If you fail to show up at court, you forfeit the security to the lender. For example, a bail bondsman might demand the title to your car as security. If you show up for trial, you retain your car. If you skip town, however, the bondsman gets to keep the title to your car. Other forms of security might include your house, a piece of valuable jewelry, or even stock in a company.
Unsecured Bail Bonds
An unsecured bail bond doesn't have any security backing it up. These sometimes are called "signature bonds," because the only form of insurance the bondsman has is your good name and promise to show up. Unsecured bonds are riskier for the lender, so they're not available to everyone accused of a crime. You'll be more likely to qualify for an unsecured bond if you've lived in the area for a long time, you have good credit, and you're accused of a fairly insignificant crime.