Forensic Accounting Careers and Education

Forensic accounting offers accountants the chance to use their skills in law enforcement cases such as fraud or identity theft.

handcuffed businessman with pile of fraudulent documents

The field of forensic accounting offers accountants the opportunity to work in law enforcement. Forensic accountants investigate financial documents to determine if there are any accounting irregularities, fraud or improper accounting methods.

Many forensic accountants start off as Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) working in audit departments, but more recently, colleges have begun offering bachelors' and masters' programs in the field.

With a degree in forensic accounting, you may be just what an employer is looking for.

What Do Forensic Accountants Do?

Once an investigation is completed, forensic accountants analyze this data and prepare a report or presentation for their client or employer. Forensic accountants often work in litigation support scenarios preparing for potential litigation or during litigation.

They may also be called upon as expert witnesses or to evaluate an expert witness testimony. Forensic investigative accounting may also include fraud investigations, specifically:

  • Employee theft                                                                                      
  • Identity theft
  • Health care fraud
  • Insurance fraud
  • Securities fraud
  • Medicare fraud

Forensic accountants may also assist in the assets recovery process and help develop programs that can minimize the risk of any future losses or irregularities.

An area where forensic accountants have been used extensively is in law enforcement, primarily the federal government. The FBI, IRS, SEC, CIA and other federal agencies have employed the services of forensic accountants to help investigate terrorist financing. Forensic accountants use their skills to detect where the funds come from and where they go and how they can stop the flow of the money.

Education for Forensic Accounting Careers

The first step to becoming a forensic accountant is to earn a bachelor's degree in general accounting, forensic accounting or a related area with significant credit hours in accounting.

But, your education shouldn't stop there. The bachelor's degree is often the minimum educational level for this profession and a master's in forensic accounting or accounting with a forensics concentration is becoming common.

CPA Designation

Graduates of bachelor degree programs in forensic accounting or general accounting need to pursue certification as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in order to be competitive when applying for positions at the federal, private or public level.

The CPA designation is also a requirement for forensic accountant professional certification such as the Certified Forensic Accountant (Cr.FA) designation offered through the American College of Forensic Examiners.

Salary and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median national annual salary for accountants and auditors is $63,550. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.

The BLS predicts employment to grow 13 percent—as fast as average—through 2022 for accountants and auditors. As stricter financial laws are implemented and a closer eye is kept on corporations, the demand for accountants is expected to increase.