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Forensic Accountant Salary & Career Outlook

Those who want to have a rewarding career often look at several different things to determine whether that career will be a good option: they will want to know the salary, the type of work they will be doing, as well as whether it is going to be a viable career option with good opportunities. The forensic accounting job description shows potential candidates that it really does have plenty to offer in all of those areas.

A forensic accountant is a certified public accountant that is able to examine financial records and accounts that could then be used as legal evidence. Often, a forensic accountant will work in areas where they can help to prove or disprove insurance claims and personal injury claims. This type of accountant can also work to help resolve business disputes, divorces, and fraud cases. In some instances, the accountant may be able to help with criminal cases as well. Accountants who work within this specialty can also testify in court as experts.

The forensic accountant specialty can be an interesting one for those who have the desire to do meticulous work with numbers while also working to solve interesting problems and uncover hidden or missed details. Further, there are good growth opportunities in this field. Keep reading to learn more about how to become a forensic accountant.

The Career Outlook for Forensic Accountants

Those who are on the path to become accountants will find that the outlook for growth according to the 2019 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, growth in the accountant career is expected to be 6 percent from 2018 to 2028. Currently, there are more than 1.4 million accountant jobs, and the projected growth could add an additional 90,700 positions across the country.

Forensic accounting is a sub-specialty of accounting that is not specifically tracked by the BLS and will have fewer job openings. However, because accounting is such a solid field, those who want to pursue this specialty may be able to obtain a job as a CPA and eventually specialize after gaining some experience and professional contacts.

Specific to forensic accountants, the increased instances of fraud and computer crimes are helping drive the demand for these financial specialists.

NAFA, the National Association of Forensic Accountants, offers training and certification for those who are entering the field. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, ACFE, offers help for those who are looking at the various career paths they can take. Both organizations understand that with better training comes better job opportunities, especially in a field that is highly competitive.

Forensic Accountant Salary

The average annual wage for the nearly 1.3 million accountants and auditors in the United States was $79,520, according to the BLS (May 2019). The median wage for accountants and auditors is $71,550. It is important to remember that various factors can affect accountants’ salaries, such as the amount of experience the accountant has in forensic accounting, the geographic location, and where the individual works. Those who are in the lowest 10 percent of accountants may make around $44,280 or less annually, while the top 10 percent of earners are making more than $124,450 a year (BLS May 2019).

How to Become a Forensic Accountant

Because of the intricacies of the law and accounting standards that are necessary to be an effective forensic accountant, there is significant training involved. While the steps an individual takes may not necessarily mirror the following exactly, due to government regulations, this is the most common path:

  • Step 1: Earn a high school diploma or GED (four years) – A successful career as a forensic accountant may well start in high school. It is important to earn a degree (or get a GED) and to focus particularly on any available advanced math or business courses to gain admission into an accredited undergraduate program in accounting.
  • Step 2: Earn an undergraduate degree (four years) – Accountants of any specialty must earn an undergraduate degree. It may be most helpful to study accounting, but it is possible to major in something like economics or business as well. Prospective CPAs should be sure to consider the CPA requirements for their state before deciding upon a major.
  • Step 3: Become licensed as a CPA (timeline varies) – In order to work in any specialty, an accountant must earn the Certified Professional Accountant credential. Every state has its own requirements (consisting of different levels of experience and training) in order to sit for the CPA exam, so prospective CPAs should familiarize themselves with the requirements in the state where they want to work.
  • Step 4: Gain experience in accounting (timeline varies) – While accounting graduates can often find internships or entry-level work while the study for the CPA exam, once they have completed it, they will begin to be able to pursue the forensic accounting specialization.
  • Step 5: Consider advanced education (two to four years) – An advanced degree is not a requirement for working as a forensic accountant, but it can help individuals to further specialize and advance their career. Master’s in forensic account degrees are available for those who are dedicated to learning more about this particular specialty.
  • Step 6: Pursue professional certification (timeline varies) – In addition to advanced education, forensic accountants may choose to pursue professional certification from one of the available organizations such as the American Board of Forensic Accounting or the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.

Depending on how in-depth one wants to go with their training, a high school graduate will have at least four years of college followed by the time it takes to earn a CPA before they can truly start work as a forensic accountant. Indeed, many successful forensic accountants go even further to pursue a master’s degree and certification, which can take an additional two years, at least.

Forensic Accountant Tasks and Responsibilities

Forensic accountants have a unique skill set that helps them do their jobs well. This includes the ability to think analytically and to pay great attention to all of the details. Math skills are obviously important as well. The accountant should be highly organized as well.

The skills that a forensic accountant brings to the table will be put to use in accomplishing regular tasks, such as:

  • Uncovering and investigating financial evidence
  • Building applications to streamline financial analysis
  • Determining the value of assets
  • Writing reports about the evidence they find and analyze
  • Communicating to business owners, law enforcement, or other employers about the evidence they have found
  • Testifying in court as to their findings

Licensure and Certification for Forensic Accountants

Most people who choose to follow a path to accounting and eventually forensic accounting will want to become CPAs or certified public accountants. Forensic accountants who have more certifications can increase their chances of getting more job offers or promotions. Those who have to file reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission will need to have certification. Often, one will need to have a certain amount of time in the field in order to apply for certification. Those who have more certifications are going to look like better candidates to employers.

In terms of certification specific to forensic accountants, there are options available, including:

  • Certified Forensic Accountant (CRFAC): This credential is available from the American Board of Forensic Accountants and is available to CPAs with at least two years of experience in forensic accounting. Applicants must be approved to take the required course and exam to earn the credential.
  • Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE): The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners offers the CFE credential to professionals working in fraud detection, including forensic accountants. Applicants must be members of the ACFE and have at least two years of professional experience before taking the CFE exam.
  • NAFA Certification: Members of the National Association of Forensic Accountants (NAFA) are eligible for certification through that organization upon successful completion of that group’s specialized training course.

Rachel Drummond

Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. Rachel writes about meditation, yoga, coaching, and more on her blog (Instagram: @racheldrummondyoga).