As Unemployment Soars - Is Bailing Out Next for Californians?
By Tonya Page-Rynerson, California Bail Bondsman
A Career In California Bail? That Is The Question.
At a time when the economy has tanked and people are out of jobs, some are left wondering, what do I do now? California in particular has seen the rate of unemployment soar to a record 11.5% in May, when the rest of the country's jobless rate was at 9.4%, according to the Los Angeles Times. This is the highest unemployment rate since 1976 when national record-keeping began.
With talk of "Bail Outs" pervading the news, it's interesting to put the bail industry in the spotlight. This article is written particularly for the merely curious or for those seriously thinking about moving into the bail industry as a career.
What Does A Bail Bondsman Do?
Let's start with what a California bail bondsman does. More appropriately called a "bail agent", a bondsman is a licensed by the California Department of Insurance, to post a paper bond for defendants who want to get out of jail. A defendant can "bail out" of jail and go home (and go to work) while awaiting their appointed day in court, instead of twiddling their thumbs in a small 8'x8' jail cell.
A bondsman assumes the entire risk of the bail amount in return for a fee of 10% of the total bail amount. While bail amounts vary, they can exceed $100,000, so bondsmen play a very important public assistance role. While it might be obvious, it's worth saying that a bondsman needs to have excellent judgment as well as the backbone for very high personal financial risk. While a bondsman is underwritten by an insurance company, bail agents are personally fiscally liable for all the bail they write.
Being a bail bondsman is administrative, as well as consultative with other not-so-exciting aspects sprinkled in here and there. Bondsmen talk to interesting people every day and learn about different social and legal situations. If you're a "people person" it might be great for you. What a bail agent is not, is the stereotypical "Dog The Bounty Hunter" type of character with a Davey's locker full of gold chains and a posse rolling in SUVs. Uh-hum, unless you want to be...
What Does It Take To Become A Bail Agent?
To become a bail agent, you must be at least 18 years of age and have lived in California for at least two years. You must be "of good character" with no felony convictions. And, you must take 12 hours or pre-licensing classes, which is approved by the Department of Insurance (DOI). There are several learning centers in California from which to obtain the necessary class hours.
This is a good point in the process to request a Bail License Application from the DOI and look for a surety - the insurance company that will underwrite you as a bail agent. Good luck here. The surety will be looking for collateral in the form of large cash deposit and/or real estate to secure your risks.
Upon the completion of the pre-licensing training requirements, you will be required to submit all the proper paperwork and application, along with a $241 fee to the Department of Insurance. The DOI will review and hopefully approve the license application. If you have been involved in law suits or even had misdemeanors on your record, be prepared to provide full documentation and explanation.
Once the DOI receives your application and fee, you will be given a test date. You'll pay $48 for the privilege of taking the exam. There are 50 questions and two hours to take the exam and you need to receive a score of 70% to pass, so it is important to study all of the material from the pre-licensing class. It can be tough. Exam questions come from all of California Insurance Code Sections 35, 1733, 1800-1822; California Code of Regulations, Title 10, Sections 2053-2104; and, California Penal Code Sections 1268-1319.6; and other sections referred to in these sections. Not to fret however, if you fail, you can always take it again until you pass - paying the fee each time, of course.
When you do pass, you'll need to be fingerprinted on site (fee is $65.95, payable by check or Visa, MasterCard; cash is not accepted) and in about six weeks you will receive your license number and certificate from the Department of Insurance along with your bail agent card to carry with you. From there, it's all up to you.
You're A Bail Bondsman
Now, a few things to remember for good measure. You are required every year, again by the DOI, to take a minimum of six (6) classroom hours of continuing bail education if you want to renew your bail license. Once you claim your spot in the industry, you'll want to continue with your requirements. Hey, the great part about being a bail bondsman is people will always need you -- that will never change. Ain't it grand to be needed?
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- Jean in Los Angeles