For those considering a career as a private investigator, there are a lot of things to consider. From the state in which you become licensed to who you serve as your customer, there are a number of choices to make when choosing this career path. Similarly, how much someone can make as a private investigator is, many times, related to these same decisions. In this post, we’ll break down some of the data surrounding salaries for private detectives in the United States.
What is the typical salary for a private investigator?
Like any other business, there is a lot of room to create your own career path and make more money, which depends, in some part, on the choices you make. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ update in May 2019, the average salary for a private investigator is around $50,510 per year. However, there are ways to increase your salary as a private investigator, from starting your own investigative service, to specializing in certain industries or working in states that pay higher.
Types of investigators and how much they make
Private investigators can be hired for a variety of reasons, and because of this, there is a wide variety of specializations and types of private investigators out there. For this reason, many private investigators have a few different types of cases they specialize in, and use this specialization to target both their marketing and their clientele.
While there are many types of private investigators, the top specializations include fire/arson, computer forensics (cyber), legal (criminal defense), corporate, financial, insurance, civil/domestic, store (loss prevention), and hotel. Additionally, each specialization can increase or decrease in terms of average salary, as illustrated in these examples:
|Type of Investigator||Number of Jobs||Average Annual Salary||Average Hourly Salary|
|Crime Investigator/Forensic Technicians||17,200||$59,150||$28.44|
Top 5 Highest Paying States for private investigators
How much a private investigator can make may depend greatly on where in the U.S. they are located. In fact, there is a significant range of around $20,000 annually between the lowest paying states and the highest. If you are considering where to live and work as part of your larger career decisions as a private investigator, you’ll want to consider the below states, these are the five highest paying states for private investigators, based on BLS data for 2019:
|State||Persons employed||Average Annual Salary|
|District of Columbia||150||$69,790|
What requirements are there to becoming a private investigator?
In order to become a private investigator, there are a few things you’ll need to make sure you have in order to become licensed in your state. No matter where you live, you’ll need:
- A High School diploma or equivalent
- A career experience in law enforcement or military (preferred)
- A degree in criminal justice or a related field of study (preferred)
- State-specific certifications and/or credentials
- State licensure as a private investigator
- Continuing education hours (as required, after licensure, per state)
Once you are licensed, you’ll have the opportunity to determine a specialization you may want to pursue, or a more specific career path in investigations. For example, should you choose to go into internet investigations or specialize in financial fraud cases, you will want to target a specific type of client and begin generating expertise in relevant fields.
How to get paid more as a private investigator
If you’re considering how to make considerably more than the average as a private investigator, there are two main questions to consider:
- What kind of industry will you work within (which could be closely tied to your specialization)?
- What type of industry will hire you?
If you’re trying to make a decision on what industry to work within, consider this: working within the finance and insurance industries, or as a government employee, will pay significantly more than the national average—$60,300 and $60,120, respectively.
Similarly, the type of industry you work for also matters when it comes to the average salary for a PI. For example, the top-paying industries for private investigators are electric power (employing 80 people and paying on average around $91,300 a year), air transportation (employing 40 and paying $83,090), securities and financial investments (average salary of $79,530), insurance carriers (employing 160 and paying $74,610) and telecommunications (employing 180 and paying $72,760).
Regardless of where you decide to live or what industry you’d like to work for, if you’re considering a career as a Private Investigator, NITA offers online pre-certification training along with continuing education and professional development courses to help you along your path. We are happy to help you gather the information you need and navigate the best path forward as a private investigator.
Reference: Private Detectives and Investigators
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