Investigate and Analyze the Numbers: Forensic Accounting

Sometimes referred to as investigative accounting, earning a forensic accounting degree, will help you develop the skills necessary for sifting through and analyzing financial data and information with a view to pinpointing suspected financial irregularity and misconduct. Although limited, specialized education or certification to practice as a forensic accountant can be attained via the following ways:

  • With a Bachelor’s degree in tow, passing either one of the Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) or Certified Financial Forensic Accountant (CFFA) exams.
  • Becoming a member of a related professional association such as the American College of Forensic Examiners.
  • A master’s degree in accounting will be enough to practice as a forensic accountant in some states.

Typical roles, one can assume with a degree in forensic accounting include:

  • Bankruptcy specialist
  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
  • Internal Auditor
  • Bank Examiner
  • SEC Accountant
  • Consultant

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Forensic Accounting Degree Information

At heart, you’re a private investigator, a true Dashiell Hammett gumshoe, but the strength of your numerical skill set makes you a primo accountant? Then consider a career as a forensic accountant, which combines investigational savvy with a firm background in accounting and auditing. One of the hottest of hot careers, as detailed by the U.S. News and World Report, gaining degrees and credentials in financial accounting can lead to vastly interesting work as well as extremely good salaries.

Forensic accountants work for accounting firms, banks, financial companies, law firms, insurance companies, consulting firms and government agencies such as the IRS and the FBI. These specialized accountants do number crunching, but they do it while looking for evidence of fraud or financial shenanigans. Since forensic means “used in legal proceedings,” forensic accountants can spend a great deal of time in court, usually in litigation support.

Becoming a forensic accountant entails formal schooling, including a bachelor’s in accounting, and perhaps a master’s degree in forensic accounting, becoming a certified public accountant (CPA) and taking credentialing exams such as the Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) and the Certified Financial Forensic Accountant (CFFA). With these credentials, and two years of basic accountant work, the newly minted forensic accountant stands ready to begin an exciting and profitable career.

Earning a Degree Online

Both bachelor’s and master’s degrees are offered as online programs at certain schools. Students in campus-based programs and online students will study the same essential forensic accounting principles such as basic accounting, criminology and fraud, fraud investigation techniques, information systems, managerial cost accounting, federal taxation, business communication, principles of finance and auditing.


Students who wish to be forensic accountants can begin with a bachelor’s in accounting if forensic accounting isn’t offered. For people who already have a bachelor’s in accounting, some universities offer forensic accounting certificate programs, a schedule of classes that teach the basics of litigation support, investigative accounting and fraud investigation. Graduating with a bachelor’s allows students to begin work as accountants, which is a necessary component of becoming a forensic accountant. Taking the certification exam to become a CPA is the next step.


Some universities offer a master’s degree forensic accounting degree. Usually a two year program, graduate students engage in classes like advanced auditing, computer auditing and investigation, financial crimes, gathering evidence, analyzing criminal evidence and so on. Many master’s programs are offered online, so that people working full time can work towards a master’s degree while fully employed.


Expect many classes in accounting basics and advanced accounting. These classes teach the ins and outs necessary for investigative work. Students in forensic accounting can expect to study in classes such as:

  • Criminology and ethics
  • Fraud and the law
  • Fraud investigation techniques
  • Accounting information systems
  • Cost accounting
  • Personal federal taxation
  • Corporate and partnership taxation
  • Auditing
  • Principles of finance
  • Business and management
  • Business communication
  • Legal aspects of business
  • Information technology
  • Database management

Career Opportunities

The forensic accounting career looks golden for the next number of years. U.S. News and World Report listed forensic accounting as the top of 20 excellent careers for the next few decades. As financial fraud and other financial crimes have recently become big business, or rather, a way of doing business, more and more forensic accountants become necessary to handle investigations and present the evidence in court. Regular accountants, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics earn a median salary of $71,550, but forensic accountants can make far more than that after a few years in the field. Most accountants work a basic 40 hours a week, although certain times of the year can entail many late hours such as tax time or end of year accounting.

Earning Potential

When first starting out, many forensic accountants may earn $40,000 to $60,000 a year, but by the time they’ve passed all the credentialing exams and a few years have passed, they begin to earn $70,000 to $90,000 a year. With more years of experience, forensic accountants can expect their salaries to continue to grow. Earning the credentials for this specialty in accounting will count in your favor when it comes to pay increases.

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Forensic Accounting FAQ

What types of jobs can I expect with a forensic accounting degree?

As with most accountants, forensic accountants work in offices for 40 hour work weeks. Some specialize in personal injury claims, fraud, construction or insurance claims. Forensic accountants might focus on litigation support, that is, preparing financial evidence for court cases, or they might focus on investigation accounting, checking the books of companies or partners for financial irregularities.

How long does it take to earn a degree in forensic accounting?

A bachelor’s degree in forensic accounting will take four years, a master’s usually in two years. Studying for and taking the CPA exam and the credentialing exams for forensic accounting can take some time as well, although the time will vary for each individual. However, this exciting career pays off in good salaries and interesting work, as well as the fun in solving crimes.

Where are the highest-paying jobs in forensic accounting?

As with many other occupations, forensic accountants working for the federal government can make substantially higher salaries than those employed elsewhere, while those working for state and local governments make less. The District of Columbia, Illinois and Virginia paid higher salaries for forensic accountants than other areas of the country.

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