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Using Personal Loans to Post Bail: What You Should Know

Bailing Someone out of Jail Using Loans
Kim Franke-Folstad
Kim Franke-FolstadUpdated February 8, 2022
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If you’re planning to post bail for someone in jail, there are a few different payment options.The most common choice is to use a bail bond agency to help secure the person’s release. But if you can come up with the entire bail amount yourself — perhaps by using a personal loan — you may decide it makes more sense to pay in cash. Or you might choose to pledge something you own as collateral. The advantage of using cash or property to post someone’s bail is getting a full refund when the case is over, while bail bond agents generally charge a nonrefundable 10% fee. But there are pros and cons to each bail option, so before you choose, it’s important to understand how the process works.

What Is Bail? 

Bail is money (or some other form of security) given to a court in exchange for a defendant’s release from jail. The court then keeps the bail for the duration of that person’s case. As long as the defendant shows up to all court dates and abides by the court’s other conditions of release, the bail is returned when the case is over. But if the defendant doesn’t follow through, the bail may be forfeited, and the defendant could be rearrested.

How Does Bailing Someone Out of Jail Work? 

If you ever get a call from a family member or a friend who needs your help after an arrest, you’ll likely manage the stressful situation better if you know what to expect. It all varies from one defendant to the next, and from one state or county to the next. But it generally starts with the person being booked at the police station. At that point, defendants may be given the option to pay a standard or “scheduled” bail amount based on the crime they’re accused of committing. For example, the scheduled bail amount for a nonviolent misdemeanor like shoplifting might be $500.Defendants who accept and pay this amount can usually count on being released more quickly than those who don’t. But it isn’t necessarily the only or best choice for some, and — depending on the offense or jurisdiction — it may not be an option at all. Defendants who aren’t given the opportunity to make a scheduled bail payment or who decide not to post bail at that point (perhaps because they want to request a lower amount), typically must wait for the judge to set the bail amount at their first court appearance.  Once the bail is set and paid, the defendant can be released. Or the judge may allow a defendant to be released without bail, on their “own recognizance” (OR). 

Do You Need a Lawyer to Post Bail? 

You don’t have to have a lawyer on hand to post bail. An experienced local attorney who is familiar with the system may be able to help with getting a defendant’s bail reduced — or with getting charges reduced, which could result in a lower bail amount. But it’s really a personal decision as to when or whether you would want to get an attorney involved in a case.

How Much Does It Cost to Post Bail? 

There are a few costs you could run into while bailing someone out of jail, including:

Lawyer Fees 

The cost of hiring a private criminal attorney can vary based on several factors, including the severity of the charge, the lawyer’s level of experience and reputation, and where you’re located.Attorneys may bill by the hour or charge a set fee for a particular case, and there are advantages and disadvantages to both. But either way, you may have to pay a hefty retainer to get started. If you already have a lawyer or law firm on retainer, you may want to check your agreement to see if it includes criminal work.Keep in mind that every criminal defendant has the right to counsel, even someone who can’t afford to pay for professional services. If the defendant can’t afford to hire a private criminal defense attorney, the court may assign an attorney to handle the case. 

Bail Amount 

The idea behind asking for bail is that if you have to put up cash or property to get out of jail, you’ll be more likely to show up for court when required — and to stay out of trouble in the meantime. Which means the bail amount must be high enough to achieve this goal without being excessive. Many jurisdictions use a bail schedule — a list of preset bail amounts that are tied to different crimes. For example, for a minor crime like selling or furnishing tobacco to a minor, the bail might be $500. But for a serious crime like voluntary manslaughter, it might be $100,000 or more.You may be able to pay the scheduled bail amount at the police station, without waiting to see a judge. But if you want the bail lowered, or you think you should be released without bail, you probably will have to wait to see a judge. Judges may use the bail schedule as a starting point, but they typically can exercise some discretion. 

Penalty Assessments 

You also can expect the court to tack on some extra costs when you pay bail. These might include charges from the state, county, and various court-related funds. The higher the bail, the more those penalty assessments could be. 

Bail Bond Agent 

A bail bond company can help you post bail quickly and efficiently, but you’ll have to pay a percentage of the total bond, and that upfront fee (usually 10%) is nonrefundable. So, for example, if bail is set at $20,000, you’ll pay the bail bond agent $2,000, and you won’t get that money back, even if the case is dismissed or the defendant is found not guilty. 

What If You Can’t Afford the Bail Amount? 

Even the lowest bail amounts (a few hundred to a few thousand dollars) could be out of reach for some defendants and those who care about them. If you don’t have enough money or a valuable asset to put up as collateral, where can you go for help? There are a few alternatives, including:

Personal Loan 

If you don’t have enough money on hand to cover the bail amount, but you have decent credit and can afford to make payments, applying for a personal loan could be an alternative worth considering. Personal loans — which are received as one-time, lump-sum distributions and are paid back over time — are often used to make a major purchase or to pay for an unexpected expense. Depending on the lender, the turnaround time on a personal loan can be a few hours or a few weeks. There are two main types of personal loans. 

Unsecured Personal Loans 

With an unsecured personal loan, you can borrow money for just about any purpose without having to put up some type of collateral, so you aren’t putting your car, home, or any other asset at risk. Instead, much of the risk is on the lender, so you can expect your lender to focus on your creditworthiness during the approval process and when determining your interest rate. (You may see offers for “no credit check” personal loans, but they aren’t necessarily the best option. It’s important to review your loan offer to understand the cost and repayment terms, and any possible downsides.) 

Secured Personal Loans  

With a secured loan, the borrower offers something of value as backing for the loan (an investment account or certificate of deposit, for example). The lender has the right to take ownership of the collateral if the borrower stops making payments. Because there’s less risk for the lender with this arrangement, you may be offered a lower interest rate or higher loan amount than for an unsecured loan. 

Credit Cards 

Many jails now allow defendants to post bail using a credit card, but this option isn’t available everywhere. You might be able to pay at a kiosk or at the counter at the jail, or you could pay online at GovPayNow.com or by calling 1-877-EZBAIL5. You may even be able to use multiple cards to make your payment. It’s important to be aware, though, that there are costs attached to credit card payments, including court processing fees and card processing fees.If you have enough room on your cards, this payment method may seem like a no-brainer. After all, it’s fast and easy. But there are downsides. You could easily use up all or a chunk of your available revolving credit, which could damage your credit score. And credit card interest rates are typically higher than the interest rates available for personal loans, so the debt would be more expensive.You may find it makes sense to use a credit card or cards initially, then consolidate and pay off the credit card debt with a lower-interest personal loan.

Refinance a Personal Loan 

If you already have a personal loan, you may want to consider refinancing as part of your payment strategy.With a personal loan refinance, you can replace your existing loan with a new loan that might have a lower interest rate, a revised repayment timeline, or both. And when you refinance, you also can choose to borrow additional funds to pay off other debts. For example, you might be able to consolidate the old loan amount, the bail amount, and possibly some other bills into one manageable payment. 

Tap Your Emergency Savings 

If you’ve managed to put a few thousand dollars (or more) into an emergency fund, this might be an appropriate time to consider using that money.According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, even a minor bump has the potential to set someone back financially — and could have a lasting impact. Using your savings instead of getting into debt might help you stay on track. Keep in mind, though, that if you have the money invested, there could be consequences for making an ill-timed withdrawal.  You may have to pay an early withdrawal fee, for example, if the money is in a certificate of deposit (CD). And if it’s invested in a brokerage account, you could lose money if you feel forced to sell while the market is down. 

Borrow From Loved Ones 

Asking one or more family members or friends to pitch in to post bail may help spread the burden. And you won’t have to worry about hurting your credit by taking on a hefty debt. Still, things may get complicated. There could be some hard feelings to negotiate — upfront or in the future — and there may be some legalities to look after to make sure the money is repaid. If the loan amount is significant, you’ll likely want to put together a written loan agreement that outlines a reasonable repayment schedule and whether interest will be charged. Also, if all or most of the money is coming from one person, it might make sense for the borrower to offer the lender some sort of collateral.  It’s also important to consider the tax consequences of a large (more than $10,000 in one year) family loan. If the lender doesn’t charge interest, or charges below the market interest rate, the IRS may view the loan as a gift, and the lender could be on the hook for gift taxes. 

Crowd Funding 

Have you ever heard the saying “many hands make light work”? Crowd-funding platforms can make it easier to get the word out and collect donations from concerned family and friends. Still, you might want to consider the ramifications for the person who’s been arrested before you make a public plea for bail money. 

Hire a Bail Bond Service 

If you hire a bail bond agent, you’ll pay just a fraction of the bail amount up front (usually 10%) to get someone out of jail. The bond service also will take care of the paperwork and answer any questions you or the defendant might have. And because bond agents are an integral part of the justice system, you can expect the bail process to run smoothly. Another plus: If the defendant doesn’t show up for court or takes off, it’s the bail bondsman’s responsibility, not yours, to bring him or her back to the courthouse.That doesn’t mean you’ll get off scot-free, however. Besides the upfront fee, which is nonrefundable even if the accused is found not guilty, you’ll likely be asked to put up some type of collateral to secure the bond. And if the defendant fails to appear when required, the bond service will come to you to collect the rest of the bond money.

The Takeaway 

If someone you know has been arrested and you want to ensure they’re released as quickly as possible, you’ll probably have to post bail yourself or work with a bail bond agent.There are benefits to using a bail bond company to handle it for you, but such companies usually charge a 10% nonrefundable fee. If you can manage to post the bail yourself, however, with cash or property, you can get a complete refund at the end of the case (minus some court charges). Of course, that could mean coming up with a lot of cash fast or putting an asset at risk. If neither of those options seems appealing, or even doable, it may be worth considering applying for a personal loan to get the money you need.Need money fast? Compare personal loan rates and apply in minutes at Lantern by SoFi.
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About the Author

Kim Franke-Folstad

Kim Franke-Folstad

Kim Franke-Folstad is an award-winning journalist with 30 years of experience writing and editing for newspapers, magazines and websites. Her work for SoFi covers a range of topics related to personal finance, including budgeting, saving, borrowing, and investing.
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