For awhile now, there has been a huge shift toward bail bonds companies offering not only payment plans, but little to no upfront down payments and interest. Much like other industries, such as law firms, doctor offices, etc, it is not difficult to have clients simply not afford their service unless the business is willing to take additional financial risks and offer flexible payment options. Smarter credit card users may realize once they factor in how much they would pay in residual interest, even credit card bonds have their downsides. While also becoming subject to credit card late fees, the payment options bail bonds companies offer start to look rather enticing.
Although in-house kiosk fees are only 7%, a decent amount less than the 10% to 15% bail agents must charge, it’s a fee needed to be paid in full; often an amount more than a defendant can afford. For small non-felony bonds this might not apply, but would the bail industry really prefer someone remain detained in jail for hours, sometimes overnight, so they can charge a $100 minimum fee? The answer is hopefully No.
Disguised Online Threat.
Perhaps these kiosks might affect small mom and pop businesses, but there is still plenty of time before this option is made available to all jails. A larger threat for small businesses is the relatively recent developments of bail bonds companies hiring aggressive search engine and social media marketing services. Driving into any city, one is not hard pressed to find a bail bonds company especially near jails and court buildings, so the industry appears to be doing rather well. For example, if just a handful of businesses within a city closed, largely it would go unnoticed and bail kiosks could hardly be described as a punishing blow to the industry.
With search engine trends showing an increase in bail bond related searches, we can expect throughout these next 5 years smaller businesses being driven out due to increasing online competition rather than to bail kiosks.
There is no shortage of literature describing how the recession has impacted the bail bonds industry negatively. This can be seen by the competitive payment plans offered, but the market itself is growing. The leaders of the industry routinely make 7 figures annually. The amount of individuals with a bail license writing bonds alone, vastly outweigh the number of companies with legitimate store-front offices, employees, website, etc. This is analogous to realtors; you can’t expect that everyone with a real estate license to compete with large realty companies much like every bail agent can’t expect to survive the economic and legislative fluctuations all businesses face.
The bail bonds industry was rooted and remains to be built on responsibility. Bail agents are paid a fee to make sure defendants appear to court so that they do not have to stay in jail meanwhile. Bail bonds companies cannot be successful without adhering to this responsibility and maintaining very low forfeiture (also failure to appear) rates. If courts allow this responsibility to become lifted with these credit card bonds, then there will not only be a higher failure to appear rate, but State costs will rise with having to contract people to apprehend fugitives. In Nevada for example, there are over 100 Las Vegas bail bonds companies. Imagine the total addition of responsibility and overhead for each County to bear if kiosks became widely used.
One way or another, there will always be a need for a group to take responsibility. For this reason, credit card kiosks will more than likely plateau in use and serve only defendants that have very minor crimes (also misdemeanors). Potentially in the future what could happen is that bail kiosks are sold to bail bond companies to manage within jails. This would be analogous to how people are able to readily purchase DVD kiosks from OEMs and offer the movie rental service as a private business. The kiosk manufacturer would profit from the sale of hardware vs. the management of equipment. Of course with bail kiosks provided by jails, there will always be concern of whether the defendant will appear in court, even for unintentional reasons. Operationally, this is something the kiosk manufactures cannot provide and fundamentally law enforcement apprehends fugitives and suspects on a completely unrelated basis.
Bail Schedule Increase.
For defendants recognized as being a “flight” risk, judges may impose a higher bail to either (1) indirectly prevent bail being posted because it becomes unaffordable or (2) make indemnitors so invested into the bond, that there becomes extra pressure from family or friends to appear in court. If credit card bail kiosks become widely accepted, the State might impose higher bail amounts for crimes in the event there was an increase in fugitives. Any changes like this would most certainly help the bail bonds industry by creating on average larger bonds to write.
Those who have not needed bail bonds service may be unaware the fee (also premium) required for some defendants can be equivalent and sometimes higher than the monthly salaries of your average doctor or attorney. Not a bad day’s work right? If the State increased the bail amount for common, smaller crimes, the bail industry could look forward to a measurable increase in revenue. In addition, the appearance of a crime problem within a city can be created by the misconduct of even one individual or group. If the number of fugitives increased due to bail kiosks, surely the potential for changing the bail schedule for certain offenses would also increase. However, the County may reduce the number of kiosks or tighten restrictions of its use to offset a problem before increasing bail amounts. There’s a common saying, “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.”
All in all, the advent of new kiosks providing credit card bail bonds will not significantly change the business side of the industry as a whole. People with the ability to bail out quickly should be able to do so because jails are unarguably over crowded with non-violent offenders. Although the image of the bail bonds industry could use improvement, it has remained throughout all these years virtually complaint free as far any failure to provide a valuable, around the clock service with incredible payment flexibility. Occasionally you read or hear stories of bondsman soliciting service illegally, but not at such a high frequency as to raise wide-spread national recognition, such as the mortgage loan modification scams of 2009, which made headlines weekly. As for now, what the future holds is only speculation, but those in the bail bonds industry should not fear things changing overnight. For the most part, County credit card bail bonds will not change the industry as a whole and with some outcomes potentially being helpful, concerns should settle as time passes.