Forensic Accounting Salary Guide

by

Updated January 17, 2023

How much do forensic accountants make? What degrees, certifications, and industries lead to the highest-paying forensic accounting jobs? Use this guide to inform your research.

Accounting.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Are you ready to discover your college program?

Credit: AmnajKhetsamtip / iStock / Getty Images Plus

According to a 2020 report published by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), the average business loses 5% of its annual revenue to fraud. ACFE analysis placed mean fraud losses at more than $1.5 million per case.

These trends and increased scrutiny from regulators make forensic accounting an increasingly important field. Forensic accountants analyze financial records to detect fraud and other forms of financial mismanagement.

Forensic accountant salary levels generally reflect trends seen across the broader accounting profession. However, multiple factors can affect their earning power. This guide explores the effects of specific degrees, credentials, experience levels, job locations, and industries on forensic accountants' earnings. Use the following information to supplement your career planning and development research.

How Much Does a Forensic Accountant Make?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) counts forensic accounting salary data in its general category for all accountants and auditors.

$77,250
Accountants and Auditors
Median Annual Salary, 2021

Source: BLS

Payscale data from October 2022 suggests that additional income, such as bonuses or profit-sharing arrangements, can range from about $2,000-$20,000 per year.

A broad gap separates the salaries earned by accountants and auditors at opposite ends of the income spectrum. According to the BLS, the bottom 10% earned about $47,490 per year, while the top 10% made nearly $129,000. Lower-earning accountants and auditors are frequently unlicensed professionals working in supporting rather than leading or managerial roles.

Salary by Education

Professionals with the required knowledge and qualifications can work in forensic accounting without licenses. However, many forensic accountants hold certified public accountant (CPA) licensure and/or specialized certification. Examples of specialized forensic accounting certifications include:

The CCFA and CGFA designations are global credentials, while CFE and CFA certifications serve as standards in the United States.

Forensic accounting professionals usually hold bachelor's degrees in accounting. Many also hold graduate and professional degrees. Note the value delivered by CPA and CFE credentials in the following table.

The preceding data applies to all salary survey respondents who hold each listed credential and is not specific to forensic accountants.

Salary by Experience

Forensic accountant salaries tend to rise as a professional's career progresses. Experience supports better job performance, which may also qualify accountants for income-boosting bonuses and other benefits.

The following table summarizes the average base salaries earned by generalist CPAs in the United States. Many forensic accounting specialists hold CPAs, and Payscale's CPA entry draws on a much larger pool of user-submitted salary data. These figures indicate a strong and consistent increase at each jump in experience level.

Salary by Location

Forensic accounting salary ranges vary by location. Factors such as the local cost of living and labor market can affect pay rates.

Many large employers with operations covering multiple geographic areas use location-based pay rates. Accountants working in areas with higher living costs usually earn higher pay to align with their elevated expenses.

Remember to compare pay rates to local cost of living figures when researching location-specific salary data, Consider a case where you earn $5,000 more per year to live in a location that can carry $10,000 in additional annual expenses. Despite earning a higher salary, the increased pay does not amount to a net benefit.

Labor market dynamics generally follow the economic principle of supply and demand. Areas with higher demand for forensic accountants usually offer higher pay as employers compete for the best candidates.

The following tables summarize the top-paying U.S. states and metropolitan areas for accountants. The data applies to all accountants and auditors, as the BLS does not specifically track forensic accounting salary data.

Top-Paying States for Accountants and Auditors, 2021
State Number of Accountants and Auditors Employed Average Annual Salary
District of Columbia 9,200 $110,240
New York 111,660 $105,790
New Jersey 42,230 $97,950
California 151,320 $92,840
Massachusetts 38,140 $92,310

Source: BLS

Top-Paying Metropolitan Areas for Accountants and Auditors, 2021
Metropolitan Area Number of Accountants and Auditors Employed Average Annual Salary
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 13,850 $112,830
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA 117,800 $109,330
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 23,970 $107,540
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C.-VA-MD-WV 41,850 $99,640
Midland, TX 1,090 $95,380

Source: BLS

Where Should I Work in Forensic Accounting?

The BLS projects the labor market demand for accountants and auditors to grow at an average rate from 2021-2031.

+6%
Accountants and Auditors
Change in Projected Employment from 2021-2031

Source: BLS

This data aligns with general projections for the national labor market. The BLS includes forensic accountants in its umbrella category for all accountants and auditors.

The BLS also notes multiple trends expected to affect short-term job prospects for accountants. First, job growth for accountants is likely to track overall economic growth. As business and enterprise grow, the labor market need for accountants should follow. The BLS also cites ongoing globalization as another major driver of accounting job growth.

Notably, some regions of the United States anticipate stronger near-term job markets for accountants.

Best Areas

The top-employing states for accountants and auditors share multiple features:

  • Large, highly urbanized populations
  • Multiple major metropolitan centers
  • Well-developed and diverse economies
  • A significant corporate presence

The BLS and Projections Central include forensic accountants in their umbrella categories for accountants and auditors. The figures in the following tables apply to all accountants and auditors.

Top-Employing States for Accountants and Auditors, 2021
State Number of Accountants and Auditors Employed Average Annual Salary
California 151,320 $92,840
New York 111,660 $105,790
Texas 104,490 $85,860
Florida 79,380 $76,320
Pennsylvania 54,530 $79,200

Source: BLS

The following table explores location-specific growth projections. In the states with the most openings, local job growth is projected to outpace the BLS national projection of +6% for 2021-31.

States With the Greatest Projected Increase in Employment for Accountants and Auditors, 2020-30
State Percent Projected Change, 2020-30 Average Annual Openings
Greatest Projected Percentage Increase
Utah 33.4% 1,800
Colorado 22.8% 4,580
Florida 22.7% 9,560
Arizona 21.6% 2,990
Massachusetts 21.6% 4,690
Most Projected Average Annual Openings
California 12.9% 16,960
New York 16.5% 13,510
Texas 20.2% 12,990
Florida 22.7% 9,560
Illinois 10.7% 5,470

Source: Projections Central

Working in a major city tends to have a positive effect on salaries. The top five major U.S. cities for accounting jobs pay average annual salaries 5.1%-41.5% higher than the 2021 median rate.

Top-Employing Metropolitan Areas for Accountants and Auditors, 2021
Metropolitan Area Number of Accountants and Auditors Employed Average Annual Salary
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA 117,800 $109,330
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 59,470 $89,700
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C.-VA-MD-WV 41,850 $99,640
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI 38,800 $81,250
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 34,070 $87,720

Source: BLS

Best Industries

BLS data displays several trends. Accounting firms are the largest industry of employment for auditors, including forensic accountants. A BLS analysis found that accounting, bookkeeping, tax prep, and payroll companies employed 24% of all accountants and auditors working in the United States in 2021.

The government also employs a significant number of accountants and auditors. Forensic accountants specialize in detecting fraud and other financial crimes. Government representatives typically investigate cases of suspected fraud and financial misrepresentation.

Regarding salaries, prospective professionals can consider industries that employ accountants in larger numbers. Pursuing high pay rates in specialized industries with limited employment may lead to a competitive disadvantage.

Top-Paying Industries for Accountants and Auditors, 2021
Industry Number of Accountants and Auditors Employed Average Annual Salary
Pipeline Transportation of Crude Oil 40 $123,230
Computer and Peripheral Equipment Manufacturing 2,770 $123,210
Other Information Services 4,770 $112,900
Securities, Commodity Contracts, and Other Financial Investments, and Related Activities 30,990 $107,610
Federal Executive Branch (OEWS Designation) 22,260 $107,170

Source: BLS

Top-Employing Industries for Accountants and Auditors, 2021
Industry Number of Accountants and Auditors Employed Average Annual Salary
Accounting, Tax Preparation, Bookkeeping, and Payroll Services 326,570 $86,650
Management of Companies and Enterprises 104,760 $84,820
Local Government (OEWS Designation, excluding schools and hospitals) 45,290 $73,860
State Government (OEWS Designation, excluding schools and hospitals) 42,240 $70,830
Real Estate 38,290 $82,090

Source: BLS

Questions About Forensic Accountant Salary

What is the highest forensic accountant salary?

Payscale data from October 2021 indicates that forensic accountants at the 90th percentile earn base salaries of about $107,000 per year. Meanwhile, the BLS notes that the top 10% of accountants and auditors earn approximately $129,000 per year.

Where is the best state to work in forensic accounting?

In 2021, California, New York, Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania led all states in the employment of accountants. From 2020-2030, Utah, Colorado, Florida, Arizona, and Massachusetts are projected to lead all states in percentage job growth for accountants.

What is the best industry to work in as a forensic accountant?

Approximately one-quarter of all U.S. accountants work for firms that provide accounting, tax prep, bookkeeping, and payroll services. Other leading employment sectors include finance and insurance, government, and enterprise management.

Is forensic accounting a good career?

Forensic accountants identify and stop cases of corporate fraud and other financial crimes. Professionals often describe it as a rewarding career that also offers excellent pay. It makes a good match for aspiring accountants who also want to make a difference in society.

Recommended Reading

Search top-tier programs curated by your interests.

Let us know what type of degree you're looking into, and we'll find a list of the best programs to get you there.