Difference Between Bail and Bond: The Beginner's Guide

There are big differences between cash bail and bail bond. The biggest is price: a bond has a lower upfront cost, but a potentially larger long-term cost. They also come with different conditions.

In New York, a judge must provide two options when they set bail. The most common are cash bail and bail bond. Although both will get the defendant released from custody, there are important differences in pricing, availability, and requirements.

Flier announcing differences between bail and bond

A flier distributed at bail windows notifying New Yorkers to the differences between bail and bond (click image to open high resolution version).

1. Cost

The biggest difference between cash bail and bail bond is cost. A bail bond generally has a lower upfront cost, but a higher long-term cost. Let's see why.

To post cash bail, the family must post the full cash bail amount set by the judge. To get a bond, the family must only pay a percentage of the bond's face value.

Imagine the judge sets bail at $5,000 cash and $5,000 bond. To post cash bail the family must bring the full $5,000 to court. To get a bond, the family only has pay the bond fee of $460 and post some collateral, let's say 10% ($500). That's a total upfront cost of $5,000 for cash bail and $960 for bail bond.

$960.00

$460.00 fee +
$500.00 collateral

$5,000.00

Although a bond has a significantly lower upfront cost, it generally has a higher long term cost. Assuming the defendant makes all appearances, cash bail is refunded, minus a 3% processing fee if the defendant is found guilty.[1] With bond, any collateral posted is refunded, but the fee is not.

Let's compare long term costs under the most likely scenario: the defendant makes all appearances, and the case ends in a conviction.

A family that posted cash bail will get their money back minus the 3% fee assessed on cases that end in conviction. Continuing the above example, the long-term cost would be $5,000 × 3% = $150. This figure does not include the opportunity cost of placing $5,000 in a non-interest bearing account.

A family that purchased a bond will have their collateral refunded but not the fee they paid. New York does not assess the 3% conviction fee on bail posted as bond. In the above example, the long term cost would be $460.

2. Availability

With some restrictions, anyone can post cash bail on behalf of a defendant. However, only a licensed bond agent can post a bail bond. So to get a bond, a family must find an agent willing to underwrite it.

Different agents will consider different factors when deciding whether to serve a bond. We provide a brief review of the major factors below.

  1. Income and employment of indemnitor
  2. Agents will want an indemnitor (person signing for the bond) with steady employment and a decent annual income. They will want to see that the indemnitor can cover the full cost of the bond should the defendant fail to appear.

  3. Defendant's case history
  4. If the defendant has a record of previous missed appearances, that is a strong indication that they may miss appearances again in the future. This will make an agent less likely to serve a bond, or will increase the amount of collateral required.

  5. Defendant and indemnitor place of residence
  6. Defendants who live out of state pose a higher risk of flight. Indemnitors who live out of state can be harder to communicate with, and hold responsible if the defendant fails to appear.

If an agent determines a bond is a bad risk - for one of the reasons above or other reason - they may refuse to provide a bond. At Betterbail, we try to always provide an estimated quote, but we sharply increase the estimated amount of required collateral in high risk cases.

So having enough money to cover the bond fee does not ensure availability: a family must also find a bondsman willing to take their case. If their income is low, or if the bond is risky for other reasons, a significant amount of collateral is often required.

Table showing the difference between cash bail and bond.

A table comparing cash bail and bail bond across various metrics.

3. Requirements imposed

Bond and cash bail also impose different requirements on the defendant and indemnitor over the course of the case.

With cash bail there is one requirement: the defendant must make their appearances. Failure to do so will cause the bail to be forfeited. There are no requirements of the person who posted the cash bail.

With a bail bond, the defendant must also make their appearances. Failure to do so will cause the bond to be forfeited, and the indemnitor will have to cover the remaining cost of the bond.

However, with a bond the indemnitor and defendant must also follow any other terms included in the bond agreement. Failure to do so will cause the bond to be revoked, and the defendant will be returned to jail.

The terms of a bond agreement vary from agency to agency. Some agencies require the defendant check-in weekly, in-person, but others require check-ins less frequently and handle them over the phone.

At Betterbail, we recommend our partner agents require at least one in-person check-in by the defendant, which should happen within a week of release. It is a standard requirement the defendant make all appearances and that the indemnitor and the defendant remain responsive when contacted by the bail bond agency that served their bond.

4. Other

This guide has detailed the three most significant differences between bail and bond: cost, availability, and requirements. There are, of course, other non-trivial differences.

Release by bond generally takes longer (~10 hrs vs ~8 hrs) because the bondsman has to present before the judge. Cash bail must be posted with actual cash or cashiers check, while a bond can be purchased with a credit card (at select agencies, including Betterbail). Cash bail must be posted in-person, while Betterbail offers bond quote estimates online via our fully web-based process.

Those interested in learning more about cash bail and bond should read through the resources linked to above. You can also check out our full Frequently Asked Questions.


  1. New York State General Municipal Law, §99-m.