The sound of a jail cell closing shut is not something anyone ever wants to hear, but now you've got to try and get yourself out of a bad situation. Fortunately, the justice system provides a way for some defendants to get out of jail pending their trial, and that's the opportunity to post bail. Bail can be expensive though, and that's why bail bond companies are in business. If you've never been in this situation before though, you might not be sure where to begin. Here are some of the questions you should ask any potential bail bonds company before agreeing to move forward.

Are You Licensed?

Every bail bondsman out there will claim to be "professional," but note there is a difference between professional and licensed. A licensed bail bondsman is going to be familiar with the laws of the state and can be held accountable if they don't hold up their end of the bargain in some way. It's possible you or a family member could see a classified ad for someone offering to post bail, but you should be wary and make sure they are licensed before agreeing to the deal.

What Percent of the Bail Do You Charge?

In general, many states allow bail bonds companies to get people out of jail for as little as 10% of the total bail amount. But you should ask the bail bond firm about this percentage. If you see someone advertising an amount that is lower than 10%, look up the law in your state. If the amount they are offering is lower than the law, stay clear or even consider reporting the ad to the state.

Is Collateral Necessary?

Depending on the amount of money you will need to put up to get out of jail, the bail bonds company may require some collateral if you don't immediately have the cash. If it's a smaller bail amount though, your signature on the contract will likely be good enough. Tell the bail bonds company as much as you know about your bail amount and the associated charges. Make sure you know exactly how much you will owe or what collateral will be required before move forward.

How Soon Can You Get Out? 

Any reputable bail bonds company is likely to offer 24-hour services, but keep in mind that it might not be possible for you to get out right away. If you were arrested on a holiday, for example, the bail bond firm might not be able to get you out until a judge actually sets the bail. But a bail bondsman likely knows more about this situation than you do, and maybe able to set your expectations regarding the timeline.