What is a debters union?

The power of people who hold debt or overdue bills organizing together in a union is inspired by labor unions. Individually, workers are at the mercy of their bosses. But when workers come together, with their collective power they can win better wages, benefits, working conditions, and a voice on the job to make ongoing changes.

It’s the same with people who are forced to take on debt, or debtors. As individual debtors, we are at the mercy of our creditors -- for our housing, medical care, education, utilities, and more. But together we can turn our individual debts into collective power. We can use that power to get our debts canceled, and change how we pay for our basic needs in the first place.

Our debt does not come from personal failure; it comes from failed political policies and a broken economic system. Our payments enable a small group of powerful people to get rich, while we get poorer. But, we can turn this to our advantage. Since capitalism and our creditors depend on us paying our bills, we have leverage and power if we take action together. We can dispute our debts, organize campaigns of strategic nonpayment (debt strikes), bring our voices to the media and the streets, pressure corporations and politicians to end harmful policies and push for structural transformation and collective liberation.

What does a debtors’ union have to do with the bail bond industry?

Individuals with debt from bail bond contracts are made to feel alone and powerless in the same way that individuals with other kinds of debt are. But it doesn’t have to be this way. In California, we estimate that individuals hold over $500 million in bail debt. Bad Boys Bail Bonds, one of the bigger bail bond companies in the state, is “owed” around $40 million. When people have $5,000 (give or take) in debt, it doesn’t seem like they can make much of a difference. But when they come together in a bail debtors’ union, they take the power back. We want to bring individuals with bail debt together to give them the power to fight back against the predatory bail bond industry.

What does the Abolish Bail Debt Tool do?

This tool does three important things:

  1. This tool helps cosigners on bail bonds contracts dispute their debts with bail bond companies. After filling out an online form, the tool will create a dispute letter to send to the bail bond company. The letter will ask the bail bond company to cancel your debt.

  2. This tool brings people with bail debt together to form a bail debtors’ union. With a community behind you, you have more power to fight back about the predatory bail bond industry.

  3. This tool collects basic information about your bail bond contract in order to support California bail resistance work. In order to do this work, we may share some of this information with organizers, lawyers, and researchers working to resist bail. You can read more about this in our privacy policy.

Can I use the Abolish Bail Debt Tool? What if I’m outside California?

For the Abolish Bail Debt Tool to work for you, you need to have used a bail bond company to bail someone out of jail in California. If someone bailed you out, you should tell that person to use this tool! There cannot be any future court dates or an active lawsuit regarding the debt. You also can’t have put any collateral up on the contract. If you aren’t eligible but still want help with your bail debt, contact the Bail Clinic and let them know you’re coming from the Debt Collective. If you have been sued for your bail debt, see the “What if I have been sued by a bail bonds agency?” question below.

How can I get involved if I’m not eligible to use the Tool?

No worries! Our goal is to build collective power and we always have space for anyone trying to help. Our plans aren’t just to help eligible tool users but to aid all people who are forced to pay for basic needs by getting deeper into debt. Whatever your interests, we have space for you!

  • If you have bail debt but are not a cosigner: please fill out this form.
  • If you have other forms of debt and want to learn more about how the debt collective can help. Please register for our union here.
  • If none of these apply to you but you still want to learn more please feel free to reach out to bail@debtcollective.org.

What is a defendant? What is a cosigner? What is the difference?

  • The defendant is the person who was arrested and “bailed out” of jail.

  • The cosigner is a person on the outside (someone who is not in jail) who signs a contract with a bail bonds agency to bail the arrested person out.

Is this tool free?

Yes, using this tool is 100% free. If you are happy with the tool and want to support the Abolish Bail Debt effort, we’d appreciate a donation that will help us build more power. Donate to the Debt Collective here!

I just submitted the questionnaire. What happens next?

First, congratulations! You have taken the first step in fighting back against the bail bond industry. Please tell your friends, family, and anyone else you know with bail debt about this tool! Here is what will happen next:

Step 1: You Read the Letter

After you submit the form, read the dispute letter to make sure everything is correct. If anything is wrong, let us know by emailing us at bail@debtcollective.org.

Step 2: We Send the Letter

We’ll send the dispute letter for you. We send letters on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month. We send the letter with a return receipt requested, meaning the bail bond company will have to sign a slip and send it back to you once they get the letter. When you get the slip in the mail (it will be green!) let us know by logging into your account or emailing us.

Step 3: We Check in With You

The dispute letter asks the bail bonds company to respond within 30 days. If they respond in any way (by sending a letter, calling you, etc.), let us know by sending us an email at bail@debtcollective.org. If we don’t hear from you after about a month and a half, we will reach out to you to check in. If we get anything from the bail bond agency in the meantime, we’ll let you know.

Step 4: Bail Bond Company Responds

There are a few things that the bail bond company might do in response to the letter:

  • First, they might agree to cancel your debt! If they offer to cancel your debt, make sure to get it in writing.
  • It’s also possible they’ll want to talk to you to negotiate or will offer to take less than you owe to settle the debt. If the bail bond company tries to negotiate with you, STOP! Before you agree to anything, let us know what’s going on. Bail bond agencies might try to trick you into making a payment that will put you on the hook for a debt you shouldn’t have to pay. Let us know what is going on and we can help you with negotiations or refer you to a legal aid organization that can help.
  • The bail bond company might not respond at all. Our community partners have had lots of experiences where the bail bond agency won’t respond but will stop contacting the person who sent the letter about the debt. If the bail bond company doesn’t respond, we can talk to you about how you want to proceed.

Step 5: Keep us Updated!

If you say it’s okay, we ask the bail bonds company to send responses to the Debt Collective’s Bail Team as well as yourself. The bail bond agency may not listen, so please let us know any time you hear from them so we can support you on next steps. We also want to track and analyze this data, because we’ll use what we learn in bail resistance efforts! You can reach us by emailing us at bail@debtcollective.org.

Step 6: Get Involved!

Sending your dispute letter is just the beginning. By using the Abolish Bail Debt Tool, we are inviting you to join the movement to abolish individual bail debt and the bail bond industry as a whole. We may use your demand letter in coordinated drop offs and media stunts. We may also call on you to participate in local actions targeting specific bail bonds companies.

How can I get a copy of my bail bond contract?

Some bail bond agencies will give you your contract without much trouble. Other agencies, especially small mom and pop shops, make it harder to get a copy of your contract. Start by calling the bail bond agency. If you don’t have their phone number or can’t find it, reach out to us at bail@debtcollective.org. We might be able to help you get their contact information. Explain who you are and that you want a copy of your contract.

What if I have been sued by a bail bonds agency?

If you have been sued by a bail bonds company trying to collect your debt, you should contact an attorney right away to discuss your rights and obligations. If you need help finding an attorney, see “Where can I find a lawyer?” below. You can also contact the Bail Clinic at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights by filling out the Bail Clinic intake form. Make sure to write “Debt Collective” in the “How did you hear about us?” space.

Can the Debt Collective provide legal representation?

The Debt Collective does not provide legal representation or legal advice. The Abolish Bail Debt Tool is meant to help cosigners on bail bonds contracts fight for their rights by sending dispute letters. Using the Bail Debt Dispute Tool does not mean that you have a lawyer.

If you need help finding a free or low-cost lawyer in California, check out LawHelpCA.org. If you are in another state, you can find resources on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s website.

How can I get a copy of my credit report?

Some bail bond companies report bail debt on credit reports. We want to know which bail bond companies are reporting debt in this way, so we ask if your debt is being reported on your credit report in the Abolish Bail Debt Tool. If you don’t know whether your debt is being reported, it’s pretty easy to find out.

There are three nationwide credit reporting agencies in the United States (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). Each year, an individual can get one free credit report from each of these agencies.

To get a copy of your credit report, go to annualcreditreport.com, call 1-877-322-8228, or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281. You’ll need your name, address, Social Security number, and date of birth to order a credit report.

You can order all three reports at once, or you can order one from each agency at a time. If you request them one at a time, you can space it out so you receive one free credit report every four months. Staggering your requests can help you see if anything has changed throughout the year and lets you keep an eye out for fraud.

You can get more information about free credit reports at the Federal Trade Commission’s website. Or watch this FTC video about how to get a copy of your report.

Where can I file a complaint about a bail bonds agency?

In California, the bail industry is regulated by the California Department of Insurance. You can file a complaint against a bail bond agency through the CDI website.

What will you do with my information? What is your data privacy policy?

The Abolish Bail Debt Tool is made by the Debt Collective. When using this tool, you will be asked for some information about yourself, your bail bond contract, and what is happening to you. We will use the information you provide to draft a dispute letter to send to the bail bonds company collecting on your debt. We will only use your data to create the dispute letter, mail the dispute letter on your behalf, and follow-up with you if we need to. By using the tool, you agree that we may use your information to create the letter, which will include your contact information, to the bail bond company.

This tool also asks for basic information about your situation in order to inform our bail resistance work. In order to fight for the abolition of cash bail, we might share some of the information about your case with organizers, bail reform lawyers, and researchers. We will not share your name or contact information. You agree to this by using the tool.

By using this tool, you grant the Debt Collective support team access to your information in order to generate and send your dispute letter. We will keep a copy of your data so we can stay informed on the progress of your dispute.

At any time, you may request that we delete your file and data by emailing bail@debtcollective.org.

Your data will be stored in a secure and encrypted database on a Debt Collective server. We will never sell your data.