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Forensic accountant salary, career forecast

Advances in technology have created increased need for forensic accountants. These specially trained professionals use their knowledge of standard accounting practices to find evidence of fraud, embezzlement, money laundering and other transactions that might be criminal in nature.

Forensic accountants also work for courts on bankruptcy cases and contract disputes. In addition to being skilled in accounting (and likely holding an accounting degree), they also are well-versed in the law and investigative techniques, which they use to determine whether an activity is illegal. Many of the jobs in this profession are associated with law enforcement agencies and also with law firms. Forensic accountants are often called as expert witnesses in trials.

How much do forensic accountants make?

Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) offers no specific figures for forensic accountant salaries in 2013, it does report that the 1.17 million accountants in the U.S. earned a mean annual salary of $72,500 in 2013 and a median annual salary of $65,080 for the same year. Most worked for accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping and payroll services, which paid an average of $77,310.

However, CNN's Best Jobs in America report indicated a median forensic accountant salary of $103,000; this high salary is likely due to the significant amount of specialized education and knowledge involved in this profession.

Salaries for forensic accountants differ based on numerous factors, including industry, size and type of employer, an employee's amount of experience, and geographic location. The best-paying accountant jobs can be found in Washington, D.C., where the mean salary is $88,200, the BLS reports. New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Massachusetts round out the top five states, with average annual salaries ranging from $77,630 to $87,260.

In general, the top-paying metro areas are concentrated in the states with the highest salaries, with the exception of California, which has two particularly lucrative locations for accounting. High-paying metro areas per the BLS include:

  • New York-White Plains, New York-New Jersey: $93,480 average annual salary
  • Newark-Union, New Jersey-Pennsylvania: $87,530 average annual salary
  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California: $87,140 average annual salary
  • Bethesda-Frederick-Gaithersburg, Maryland: $87,120 average annual salary
  • San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, California: $86,340 average annual salary

Job prospects for forensic accountants

In November 2013, CNN ranked forensic accounting one of the top 25 Best Jobs in America. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job prospects for accountants in general tend to be tied to the nation's economy, meaning that the healthier our economy, the healthier the growth of these jobs. Forensic accounting jobs are expected to have average growth of 13 percent between 2012 and 2022. The increasing interest in transparency and accountability should fuel the demand for accountants, and the increased need for transparency also establishes a need for forensic accountants to uncover illegal activity by individuals, companies, and criminal enterprises.

The District of Columbia has the highest per capita number of accountants in the nation, with nearly 17 per 1,000 workers. Colorado, New York, Massachusetts and Virginia also have high percentages of accountants relative to other professionals. The most popular city for accountants in the U.S. is Olympia, Washington, where there are nearly 24 accountants per 1,000 workers. The mean annual salary is $71,150, which is fairly close to the national average. Other metro areas with high proportions of accountants are Tallahassee, Florida; Denver, Colorado; and the Santa Rosa-Petaluma, California, area.

Forensic accountant programs online

Most forensic accountants earn their basic four-year accounting degree and then go on to study forensic accounting, either earning a certificate or a master's degree. Four-year degrees in the subject are becoming more popular, however, and many schools offer forensic accounting programs online. The diploma you earn can potentially help you find a job as an auditor, fraud examiner or forensic accountant, and the BLS reports recent high-profile fraud cases have created a demand for forensic accountants with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and Offices of the Inspector General, among other employers.

Work experience in a related field, such as law enforcement, might also be helpful for candidates seeking forensic accounting jobs, as can certifications. Special designations for forensic accountants may include the Forensic Certified Public Accountant certification, offered by the Forensic CPA Society, or the Certified Fraud Examiner certification offered by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.

Sources:

  1. "Career Path: Forensic Accountant," Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, http://www.acfe.com/career-path-forensic-accountant.aspx#education
  2. "Best Jobs in America," CNN Money, Nov. 12, 2013, http://money.cnn.com/pf/best-jobs/2013/snapshots/24.html
  3. Occupational Employment and Wages: Accountants and Auditors, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, April 1, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes132011.htm
  4. Accountants and Auditors, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm