How to Become a Forensic Accountant

Forensic Accountant
Forensic Accountant Key Stats
Avg. Salary / year$83,980
Avg. Pay / hour$40.37
Education4+ Years
Outlook22%

If you have an interest in the law, criminal justice, and a good head for finance and accounting, you might like to become a forensic accountant.

Forensic accountants are qualified accountants who specialize in investigating reports of white collar crime such as fraud and embezzlement.

If you’re interested in accounting, but looking for something a little beyond the normal scope of this field, then this career might be for you.

To become a forensic accountant, you’ll of course need strong skills accountancy.

You’ll also need a good knowledge of the law as it relates to these fields.

Patience and a high level of attention to detail come in handy in this role, since you might spend months on one particular case.

Education Requirements to Become a Forensic Accountant

To become a forensic accountant, you’ll first need to become a qualified accountant.

Your first step it to attain a four year accounting degree at a good college.

Similar degrees which have an accounting component as part of their required coursework, such as finance or business administration, are also acceptable.

While some colleges offer degrees in forensic accounting or fraud detection, these are not essential to become a forensic accountant.

After college, your next step is to become a CPA, or certified public accountant.

You will then need to attain a certificate as a certified fraud examiner, or CFE, which will allow you to work as a forensic accountant.

After you have the right certifications, you should look for an entry level job at a firm that specializes in forensic accounting.

Forensic Accountant Job Description

When you become a forensic accountant, your role is a combination of both finance and law enforcement.

Most forensic accountants work closely with law enforcement agencies to find evidence in a suspected case of white collar crime.

Common crimes are fraud, embezzlement, bankruptcy, and contract disputes.

They are sometimes involved by private companies who suspect such activity within their own business.

Sometimes they are employed by lawyers who are preparing a defense against those charged with such crimes.

Working as a forensic accountant can involve long hours scouring over files, or going over computer records.

It’s up to you to join the dots on the records of companies.

Your task can be difficult, because often individuals go to great lengths to hide their own wrong-doings.

You could spend days or months on the one case.

Forensic accountants usually work in a team.

You might work from your own offices with files which have been seized.

You could also work on site for a company.

After your investigation is complete, you will need to make a final report.

This will show your findings, along with evidence of such.

Often a forensic accountant is required to testify in court.

Here are some of the duties of a forensic accountant:

  • Check financial records for accuracy
  • Detect discrepancies
  • Look for missing files and records
  • Look for false records and files
  • Look for instances of criminal activity
  • Make a final report on findings
  • Testify in court

Forensic Accountant Salary and Career Path

When you become a forensic accountant, you’ll probably get your first role in an accountancy firm that specializes in forensic accounting.

In your first few years, you’ll work as a junior or assistant.

After a while you will get more responsibility.

Many forensic accountants go on to lead their own investigations and manage a team.

Some go on to other careers within finance, while others decide to enter the world of law enforcement.

The median salary of a forensic accountant is $59,000 a year.

A forensic accountant with experience may secure a higher salary due to their specialized knowledge.

Some similar roles to that of forensic accountant include:

Working as a forensic accountant will certainly have you exposed to some exiting and intriguing situations.

When you become a forensic accountant you can also look forward to a secure career and plenty of job opportunity.

There is also the opportunity for promotion and professional development.

Another benefit of this career is that you are making a contribution to law enforcement, and helping to protect your community from financial crime.

BLSThe below information is based on the 2021 BLS national averages.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary

$83,980
$47K
$60K
$83K
$99K
$128K
10%
25%
50%
75%
90%

Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Alabama$72,200
Alaska$80,020
Arizona$78,550
Arkansas$69,410
California$92,840
Colorado$85,880
Connecticut$83,940
Delaware$83,660
District of Columbia$110,240
Florida$76,320
Georgia$79,550
Hawaii$69,950
Idaho$71,120
Illinois$78,430
Indiana$74,080
Iowa$72,350
Kansas$71,650
Kentucky$71,120
Louisiana$70,030
Maine$72,020
Maryland$84,230
Massachusetts$92,310
Michigan$77,940
Minnesota$79,920
Mississippi$66,110
Missouri$72,120
Montana$74,730
Nebraska$70,930
Nevada$65,470
New Hampshire$78,770
New Jersey$97,950
New Mexico$71,650
New York$105,790
North Carolina$84,960
North Dakota$67,880
Ohio$76,550
Oklahoma$76,170
Oregon$77,750
Pennsylvania$79,200
Rhode Island$88,350
South Carolina$71,400
South Dakota$70,190
Tennessee$69,480
Texas$85,860
Utah$72,150
Vermont$74,450
Virginia$87,850
Washington$87,370
West Virginia$70,130
Wisconsin$77,620
Wyoming$71,920
Guam$51,400
Puerto Rico$39,450
Virgin Islands$62,730

The top earning state in the field is District of Columbia, where the average salary is $110,240.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

District of Columbia - $110,240
New York - $105,790
New Jersey - $97,950
California - $92,840
Massachusetts - $92,310
* Salary information based on the May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Accountants and Auditors, OCC Code 13-2011, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does a forensic accountant do?

Forensic accountants are specialists that analyze the financial statements of a certain organization while investigating fraud.

Of course, the accounting should be thorough and the specialist has to possess plenty of skills, as the findings can be presented in court or right before administrative review panels, for example.

Forensic accountants can also be called ‘forensic auditors’ or ‘forensic investigative auditors’.

In a lot of cases, a forensic accountant has to pass his findings to law enforcement officials.

These are the examples of some typical situations that a forensic accountant can be assigned to – calculating and determining economic losses; disagreements between two or more companies; economic damages resulting from business valuations, and so on.

The main responsibilities of a forensic accountant usually include reviewing financial evidence; evaluating the evidence; designing computer systems that will help in the presentation of the findings; helping with legal proceedings, etc.

How much do forensic accountants make?

On average, forensic accountants earn a little more than $59.500 in the United States.

In case you decide to follow this career path, you can expect to earn between $30.000 and $150.000 per year.

The bottom 10% of forensic accountants earn anywhere between $30.000 and $60.000, while the top-level specialists can make around $125.000-$150.000 per year and even more.

Of course, the salary would depend on your education level, experience, and the employer.

How much does it cost to become a forensic accountant?

In the absolute majority of cases, a forensic accountant would need a bachelor’s degree.

A degree in accounting or business would do.

You would have to pay anywhere between $8.000 and $30.000 per year in a university, depending on a lot of factors (bear in mind that the expenses for books, supplies, and accommodation are not included).

Some employers prefer the candidate to have a master’s degree in a related field.

A Master’s can cost you over $30.000.

In case you want to advance your chances of finding a well-paid job, you can become a Certified Public Accountant.

The application fee varies from $50 to $200; you would also need to pay for the actual exam (over $200).

What is the demand for forensic accountants?

The forensic accountant job market is expected to grow by 22% – that is faster than the average growth across the country.

These kinds of specialists will be in high demand in the near future because of an increase in fraud, embezzlement, and other financial crimes.

How long does it take to become a forensic accountant?

It will take you four years to acquire a bachelor’s degree.

In case you decide to go for a master’s degree, it will take you 1-2 years more.

To become a Certified Public Accountant you would need to pass a four-part examination.

To apply, candidates should have a bachelor’s degree and at least two years of experience in the field.

Most people do not become forensic accountants straight away; they start as bookkeepers or clerks and make their way up after working for years in the industry.

Jamie Willis