How realistic is it to make your living as a bounty hunter?
Bounty hunting looks glamorous on TV. It seems like a fun thing. And, I don’t blame you at all if you see it that way. I see the attraction to it. However, let me tell you a little of the behind the scenes things you may not know about bounty hunting.
Disclaimer: Of course, I am a private investigator and by no means an expert bounty hunter. It’s not something that I do regularly. But, It is something that I have done so I have a little bit of insight for you.
Who does Bounty Hunting?
A lot of bounty hunting (and I would say most bounty hunting) is done by the bondsmen himself or his agents.
The idea is that the bondsman wants the person for whom they posted bail to show up in court. That’s how a bondsman makes his money! If the defendant doesn’t show up, the bondsman is going to lose the bail money he posted.
So the general rule of thumb is the bondsman will pay the bounty hunter 10% of what the whole bond is to bring this person back. That way the bondsman himself doesn’t have to forfeit the entire amount. So by definition, you’ve got a “fail” if the defendant didn’t show up in court. That’s a fail right there on the business side of things for the bondsman.
If the person “skips out”, the bondsman is just trying to recoup his money. What it comes down to is he’s just trying not to lose too much money. That’s when a bounty hunter comes into play. And, a lot of the time, a bondsmen will use their own agents to go recover the skip.
State law varies on who can be a bounty hunter. In my state, it can only be done by the bondsman himself, a commissioned police officer, or a licensed private investigator. That’s why I’ve done it. Because when this law was first passed, there was a real scramble. The bondsmen couldn’t use the guys they normally sent out. So bondsmen scrambled to find private investigators like myself who were willing to do bounty hunting.
How much money does a bounty hunter make?
So I did bounty hunting for a little while. I didn’t like it. But not for the reasons you might think. I didn’t like it because it didn’t pay well enough!
And here is where it comes down to answering the question, is bounty hunting a realistic way to make a living? I really don’t think so.
The bondsman generally pays the bounty hunter 10% of the amount of bail he posted to bail out the defendant. That means if the person (AKA the defendant or client) needed to post $50,000 to get out of jail until his next court appearance, the defendant gives the bondsman 10% ($5,000) and the bondsman promises to pay the court all $50,000 if the defendant doesn’t show up in court. When the defendant shows up, the bondsman keeps the $5,000 as his fee. If the defendant doesn’t show up (“skips”), the bondsman offers the bounty hunter the $5,000 to find and bring in the defendant.
Now, that sounds pretty lucrative! The bounty hunter (AKA: fugitive recovery agent) makes a pretty sizable amount of money for work that should be completed in a fairly short amount of time! And, yeah, that’s probably worth it.
The two big problems.
As profitable as this arrangement may seem for the bounty hunter, there are two basic problems with this as a business model if you want to make a living at it.
1. You don’t get to keep the full $5,000.
You don’t get to keep the full five grand! You’re not going to go out by yourself to pick up this skip. You’re going to bring someone with you and you’re going to have to pay them. Then there’s liability. You want to make sure you have the right insurance to cover you and your business. And that’s just the beginning of the expenses you’ll incur.
After you pay for the gasoline for your vehicle, paying somebody to come out with you, the database searches, food for the stake-outs and many other expenses, you’re not going to get to keep that full five grand.
And don’t even get me started on the huge bite taxes will take!
Plus it takes time to locate and pick up a skip.
Granted, you can work a lot of hours to make five grand and still have a pretty good hourly rate, right? But it is work and sometimes very unattractive work. But that does lead to the second big problem if you’re bounty hunting for a living.
2. Many times it’s a very small payday.
There are a lot of people who have skipped out on very low bonds. Imagine a defendant who only had to post $800 bail. Would you go pick up a skip for $80?
The typical example I’m going to give you, because I had to deal with them, is drunk drivers who don’t show up to court.
In fact, 10% of their bond is so low that the bondsmen I worked for paid more than that. He said, “For these guys, I’ll give you a flat 100 bucks each for every one you bring in.” Honestly… That’s not worth it to me. That’s not worth my time.
Let me share with you some “behind the scenes” numbers for private investigators…
Let’s look at surveillance. If you charge $65 an hour for surveillance with a three hour minimum, that’s nearly $200. Because of that, I joke that I don’t answer my phone for less than $200! I’m not taking little petty cases, right? So for even the smallest surveillance I do, I’m going to make a minimum of about $200.
Of course, I don’t get to keep it all. I’ve got to put gas in the tank like everybody else. I have to pay insurance and other overhead. But that’s still far more lucrative than bounty hunting for $100.
For a bondsman to say he’s going to give me a half of what I charge for a short surveillance, well that’s rough! After all, with bounty hunting I have to find this person (skip trace), go sit on wherever they might be until they show up (surveillance), lay hands on them, bring them in, go down the county jail, turn them in and do the paperwork. You want me to do all of that for 100 bucks? There’s no way! It’s just not going to happen.
You know me. I’m the first person to admit if I don’t know something. There are plenty of things where I’m a stone cold expert in the private investigation world. Bounty hunting is not one of them. I can only tell you based on my real-world experience. And here’s my opinion…
I don’t see fugitive recovery as a very lucrative way to make a living. You may know someone who feels differently and is actually doing it. Heck, you may be doing it! If so, please leave a comment. Let me know if you have some experience in this or another perspective on it. I would love to hear form you.
Committed to your financial success,
Larry Kaye, P.I.
P.S. – Of course if you’re interested in becoming a private investigator, Don’t miss my special report titled… If You Want To be a Private Investigator Give Up… Unless You Do These Three Things. You can get it on the home page of my blog.