One of the questions I am asked most often is how does a bail enforcement agent get paid and what should a fugitive recovery agent charge for apprehending bail fugitives?
Yes, there is this so-called industry standard service rate of 10% of the bail bond, which means that if the bail upon the defendant is set at $5,000 then the recovery agent should charge $500 for the capture and incarceration of the bail fugitive. Furthermore, the usual arrangement is also based upon the contingency that the agent is able to successfully complete the assignment! The recovery agent does not expect to get paid unless he or she puts the bail fugitive back in jail.
No body, no booty they say…
I have a fundamental problem with accepting the 10% contingency fee arrangement as a standard. While I do not want to get into a potential price-fixing pickle, I would remind agents that the standard of 10% has been around for as long as I can remember and does not take into account the rising costs of fuel, database access, licensing, etc, etc. To make matters worse, bail amounts have been steadily decreasing over the last decade since many jurisdictions have been setting up and managing their own pre-trial release programs.
How much do you want to make a year working in bail recovery? Set your rates to what the market will bear and stand behind them.
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard a bondsman tell me, “Well, Scott, I can settle with the court on this $10,000 bond for $2,500 cash (or $5,000 in reduced availability in some cases) so I’ll pay you based on the $2,500.” I simply reply, “That’s great my fee is based on the original bond and is less than the $2,500 you stand to lose (I actually charge 15% because I can get away with it) and you will maintain your availability.” If they balk at that then they are playing games and I walk away; I suppose I have that luxury but a client who starts out with these types of tactics is not going to get any better.
The Bail Enforcement Agent’s service fees should be based upon the aggregate amount of the original bond(s) too; and that means all of the bonds written on a defendant that are in forfeiture. I regularly hear about bondsmen not disclosing to their agents that there are multiple bonds securing a defendant’s appearance in forfeiture and the bondsman attempts to conceal the big bonds and retain the services of the agent based upon one of the smaller bonds, thus saving himself or herself quite a bit of money. Trust me, this is not altogether uncommon. I learned a long time ago to look for additional bonds written on the defendant and my retainer agreement stipulates that my fees are based on all of the client’s outstanding forfeitures on a specific defendant.
A very experienced bail agent put it to me this way, “Bondsmen, by and large, are a rare breed of businessmen and women. They are good people but many will not hesitate to jack with new guys and make them work for bottom dollar.”
Do you know why they can get away with it? Because they can.
We let them, especially the new guys because they want sooooo badly to get their foot in the door or the thrill of the chase makes it worth settling for less. I don’t blame the bondsman because they are in it to maintain as much of their earnings as possible; if there are 10 fugitive recovery agents lined up to take a case and each one of them in turn will do it for less than the other guy, then he will go with the lowest bid possible while still having a small shred of confidence that the job will get done (or better yet- the cops will pick up the defendant before the agent does and he won’t have to pay a dime). Tougher licensing standards and training would help here and lessen the glut of new agents trying to get into the business for bottom dollar.
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On a side note: Bondsmen who take payments on a bond are a desperate bunch, especially when they motion to come off of the bond early (before the defendant’s court date) because the defendant has “defaulted on the terms of bail” (they didn’t pay- but you cannot tell a court that because they really don’t care about the bondsman’s collection problems). They want to get the defendant into custody to clear their liability but they have only collected a small portion of their usual 10% service fee. If they cannot handle the defendant, and the cops aren’t going to do it because it’s a procedural matter and not an FTA warrant, then they are at risk of losing money on the deal if they pay a fugitive recovery agent the industry standard 10% of the original bond. Incidentally, that’s when you’ll hear a whole cavalcade of excuses and assurances why you should do the job for less than minimum wage: “Oh it’ll be EASY! The defendant won’t suspect a thing… Heck they’ll probably come to you… Blah Blah Blah.”
Lastly: always, always, always have a service contract in place with every client and every assignment you accept; just because you have been doing business with a client for a long time doesn’t mean that he or she won’t try and stiff you or try to renegotiate your fees when times get tough financially or you’ve just completed a bond forfeiture assignment on a very high bond amount. The bottom line in this business is looking after your own bottom line and reaching your peak profit potential.
About the Author (Author Profile)
L. Scott Harrell began a full-time career in private investigation and bail enforcement in 1995. He has apprehended over 1,700 bail fugitives and successfully closed several hundred additional skip trace and missing persons assignments. He routinely works with national surety companies and owned two very successful investigation agencies in Louisiana, Texas and now Florida. He is a noted speaker, author and mentor in the bail enforcement and fugitive recovery profession.