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Private investigator median annual salary

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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.

Private Detectives and Investigators

National data

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 data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alaska $62,130 $45,680 $98,690
Alabama $63,590 $37,280 $98,980
Arkansas $80,880 $50,240 $103,380
Arizona $50,710 $33,080 $64,920
California $63,010 $36,310 $96,610
Colorado $78,420 $39,700 $125,250
Connecticut $64,360 $44,250 $96,260
Delaware $44,550 $31,280 $90,120
Florida $58,200 $31,820 $97,270
Georgia $50,530 $28,810 $81,990
Hawaii $59,610 $31,190 $78,330
Iowa $53,050 $37,020 $93,500
Idaho $49,260 $38,920 $93,880
Illinois $72,840 $40,380 $98,070
Indiana $47,040 $30,160 $79,460
Kansas $52,390 $36,850 $81,140
Kentucky $45,330 $31,190 $78,240
Louisiana $48,320 $35,280 $76,600
Massachusetts $63,050 $37,670 $99,790
Maryland $51,060 $37,860 $78,770
Maine $55,670 $34,850 $78,150
Michigan $50,550 $31,570 $102,110
Minnesota $65,870 $29,650 $100,870
Missouri $77,030 $31,280 $100,200
Mississippi $31,820 $22,510 $81,330
Montana $63,840 $37,190 $82,890
North Carolina $69,520 $33,910 $97,960
Nebraska $76,610 $50,530 $97,960
New Hampshire $64,700 $45,940 $104,530
New Jersey $42,210 $31,280 $98,070
New Mexico $61,310 $40,130 $81,140
Nevada $78,480 $40,520 $105,870
New York $61,590 $46,780 $95,860
Ohio $48,770 $28,950 $77,690
Oklahoma $39,550 $31,820 $71,170
Oregon $76,920 $49,810 $125,250
Pennsylvania $50,530 $32,040 $71,630
Rhode Island $63,090 $39,710 $82,330
South Carolina $47,960 $24,720 $82,910
South Dakota $60,460 $40,030 $63,030
Tennessee $49,810 $28,430 $98,070
Texas $52,540 $29,530 $94,570
Utah $49,650 $37,020 $127,290
Virginia $66,200 $31,960 $126,480
Washington $64,700 $36,900 $106,310
Wisconsin $47,600 $29,530 $80,140
West Virginia $47,960 $39,790 $90,870

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.

In this Article

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.

Metro Area Median Annual Salary
Jackson, MI $102,110
Olympia-Tumwater, WA $98,070
Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, AR-MO $83,550
St. Louis, MO-IL $78,540
Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC $78,540
Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO $78,480
Salem, OR $78,330
Birmingham-Hoover, AL $78,150
Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, FL $78,070
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA $77,160

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

Job outlook

According to the BLS, employment for private detectives and investigators is projected to increase by 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.

joe edwards

Written and reported by:

Joe Edwards

Staff Writer

ty larkin

With professional insight from:

Ty Larkin

Private investigator and founder of APEX Surveillance and Investigations