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Private investigator median annual salary
The pace of growth in private investigation is comparable to other careers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Since licensing and registration requirements differ from state to state, the process of becoming a private investigator and your potential earnings can vary greatly depending on where you live.
Median Salary: $59,380
Projected job growth: 5.6%
10th Percentile: $32,130
25th Percentile: $40,290
75th Percentile: $77,540
90th Percentile: $98,070
Projected job growth: 5.6%
|State||Median Salary||Bottom 10%||Top 10%|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2031. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.
Opportunities in the private investigation field continue to grow as various corporations and individuals reach out to PIs for many different needed answers. Fugitive recovery agents and detectives similarly value the diversity and unpredictability the career offers. However, many candidates pursuing a career in private investigation may find it difficult to discern their potential salary because of the many variables within the field as far as job types, job frequency and environment.
Where do PIs earn the most money?
The BLS reports private investigators and detectives have a high earning potential in the Midwest. However, top paying states currently include Virginia, Colorado, Arkansas, Oregon and Nevada—some of which are firmly outside the Midwestern boundaries. The job market and income for private investigators, detectives, bail enforcement agents and others fluctuates from state to state.
Growing your business and clientele
Many private investigators or detectives focus on developing a steady influx of new clientele. This process is different for each individual PI. Some independent detectives heavily rely on social media and independent grassroots promotion. Others attempt to increase their clientele and income by developing relationships within the community that lead to meeting new clients.
“Join your local associations. We have two locally and meetings are free. Attend meetings and present yourself within the community. Say you want to network with public defenders or attorneys, become a vendor at your local attorney conferences,” said Ty Larkin, investigator at Apex Surveillance and Investigations based in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Many private investigators may have experience in previous law enforcement agencies or in jobs as police or detectives, or other areas of criminal justice. Those with related experience may be able to find themselves charging more for their PI services. Additionally, previous experience can help private investigators specialize in specific areas, which can also lead to higher earnings.
“It’s important to know what you want to specialize in at first. Almost like a doctor, someone new to private investigation should understand what they want to specialize in, like forensics or surveillance,” said Larkin.
How do private investigator salaries compare to similar occupations?
Private investigators and detectives may not have the highest income when compared to similar jobs in the law enforcement field. However, there are multiple factors that affect a PI’s income. Self-promotion, clientele overall and consistency of work can be some of the most impactful financial variables for a private investigator’s success.
Certain law enforcement agents or detectives will have a consistently higher income, according to the BLS, and these agents may have a set schedule as well as a set salary. However, a private detective may need to keep a more lenient schedule compared to that of higher earning law enforcement and investigation careers—working irregular hours, holidays, weekends or whenever they are required to conduct surveillance and meet people in order to get the job done.
|Career||Median Annual Salary|
|Private Detectives and Investigators||$59,380|
|Detectives and Criminal Investigators||$83,640|
|Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers||$64,610|
|First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives||$99,330|
According to the BLS, employment for private detectives and investigators is projected to increase by 5.6% from 2021 through 2031. This pace is about the average rate of growth compared to most other occupations within the country. Additionally, the BLS states that there should be about 3,700 openings for private detective jobs each year, on average, within that same time frame.
Because of the irregularity of the work and the flexibility required, it’s important for those considering a private detective career to understand their potential career trajectory and median salary within their intended area of specialty, before they take the first steps to enter the field.