What is the difference between a cash bond and a surety bond?

A bond is a promise backed by money. The main difference between a cash bond and a security bond is that a cash bond involves two parties while a surety bond involves three. With a cash bail bond, the defendant or someone representing the defendant pays the entire bail amount in cash to the jail or court. When the accused shows up for court, the entire amount of the bail is usually refunded minus court fees (and sometimes other judgments and debts). Cash bail bonds are straightforward and easy to understand, but the accused must be able to come up with the entire bail amount on short notice. Also, in some areas districts withhold outstanding debts from a defendant’s bail before refunding the balance, and when this is the case the defendant will not get the entire bail amount back.

With a surety bond, an agent backed by a surety company pays the bail money for the defendant. The accused pays a fee, typically 10 percent of the bail amount, to the surety company in exchange for the surety company fronting him or her the bail money. When the accused appears in court, the bail company gets the bail money back from the courts, and the defendant gets some portion of his or her payment back minus any fees charged by the bonding company. The accused does not have to come up with the entire bail amount immediately and does not risk having any outstanding debts withheld by the district, but he or she does have to apply for the security bond and may not qualify for one if he or she has poor credit. Security bonds also have more fees associated with them than cash bail bonds because surety companies charge fees in addition to any fees the court charges.

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