When people are ordered to pay bail, they are usually required to pay cash, pay by check, secure the bond using collateral such as a home, or work with bail bond companies to gain their or their loved ones' release. In the last few years, however, a growing number of courts and jails are allowing people to use credit cards to make bond payments. Here's more information about this development.
Charging for a Discharge
It may seem odd that a court system would let people pay bail using credit cards. After all, the purpose of bail is to motivate defendants to show up in court to avoid losing cash or property (or being chased down by bounty hunters) if they fail to appear, a motivation that may not be as strong when it comes to incurring credit card debt.
However, it costs money to house defendants in jail, and one way jail companies have reduced costs is by helping defendants get released faster. Instead of waiting for the banks to open to withdraw enough cash or meeting with a bail bondsman during business hours, defendants or their loved ones can swipe a credit card at the facility or pay the required bail amount online at a secured website any time of the day or night. Defendants are able to leave jail sooner and the jail saves money as a result. For instance, defendants spent 3,000 fewer days in a New York facility after it implemented credit card bail payments.
When the defendant shows up to all his or her court appointments, the amount charged to the credit card is either refunded to the card or paid to the account holder. By extension, forfeiture by failing to appear means the charges stay on the card.
Not all credit cards are accepted, however. Currently, only Visa, MasterCard, and Discover allow people to charge bail payments to their accounts. Additionally, the service is only available in a few places, though that may change over time. Lastly, there is a fee for the service, which varies. Generally, though, in addition to a processing fee, the jail may charge a bond fee plus a percentage of the bond amount. The credit card company may also levy a service fee for this type of charge.
Things to Consider
There's no doubt being able to pay bail by credit card is convenient and may be helpful to people who don't have enough cash for bail but may have access to credit. However, there are a couple of things you should consider before taking advantage of this option.
One issue is that you'll be paying interest on that charge until the money is returned to you. The average annual percentage rate on credit cards is 14.95 percent. That comes out to almost $750 on a $5,000 charge for one year (based on simple interest calculation). You could potentially pay more if the person's trial takes a long time and you don't pay off the credit card in the meantime.
Another issue is that you could ruin your credit if you default on credit card because you can't keep up with the monthly payments. Additionally, you may not be able to discharge the debt in bankruptcy. Debts to the government are not dischargeable. Although you paid the bond using a credit card (thus removing the government from the equation), the credit card company may be able to successfully object to a bankruptcy discharge if you paid the bond within 70 days of filing for bankruptcy or the company can prove the bail falls under the willful or malicious injury to people or property clause.
While you may want to get out of jail (or help someone you love do so) as quickly as possible, it's essential that you consider the full picture before opting to use a credit card to make bail. For more information about this latest development or to bail someone out of jail, contact a bail bonds company.
For more information, contact a company like All-Mobile Bail Bonds.