How to Become a Forensic Accountant
Forensic Accountant Careers & Degrees

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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.

The below information is based on the 2019 BLS national averages.
  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary

$79,520
$44K
$55K
$79K
$94K
$124K
10%
25%
50%
75%
90%

Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Alabama$72,120
Alaska$79,300
Arizona$73,450
Arkansas$66,450
California$83,910
Colorado$82,930
Connecticut$83,680
Delaware$80,010
District of Columbia$103,930
Florida$72,630
Georgia$79,690
Hawaii$66,020
Idaho$65,440
Illinois$77,640
Indiana$71,690
Iowa$69,480
Kansas$68,780
Kentucky$67,660
Louisiana$66,230
Maine$70,090
Maryland$81,920
Massachusetts$83,800
Michigan$75,170
Minnesota$73,590
Mississippi$65,420
Missouri$69,160
Montana$66,170
Nebraska$70,420
Nevada$68,030
New Hampshire$72,750
New Jersey$91,960
New Mexico$64,770
New York$98,650
North Carolina$78,500
North Dakota$64,260
Ohio$73,380
Oklahoma$74,130
Oregon$73,180
Pennsylvania$76,720
Rhode Island$83,340
South Carolina$67,740
South Dakota$67,470
Tennessee$71,460
Texas$79,360
Utah$68,560
Vermont$74,640
Virginia$85,720
Washington$81,970
West Virginia$67,340
Wisconsin$71,260
Wyoming$66,360
Guam$52,210
Puerto Rico$37,880
Virgin Islands$55,590

The top earning state in the field is District of Columbia, where the average salary is $103,930.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

District of Columbia - $103,930
New York - $98,650
New Jersey - $91,960
Virginia - $85,720
California - $83,910
* Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Accountants and Auditors, OCC Code 13-2011, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

QuestionWhat 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.

QuestionHow 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.

QuestionHow 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).

QuestionWhat 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.

QuestionHow 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.

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