Did you know that you can be an accountant while still wearing a detective’s cap? As a forensic accountant, you’ll find out if something’s not adding up and figure out why. You may even go on to solve the case and restore order in the corporate landscape.

If that sounds appealing to you, then becoming a forensic accountant may be the way to go. This blog covers all that you need to know about earning a forensic accounting degree and how you can get started on this career path quickly.

Forensic accounting is a blend of investigative skills and accounting knowledge. Forensic accountants are experts who identify any suspicious fiscal activity—like money fraud, embezzlement, and financial discrepancies—and then investigate it. Modern forensic accountants are skilled in accounting, auditing, as well as carrying out investigations to ensure the right financial practices are being followed.

Forensic accountants work in diverse settings, including public accounting firms, law enforcement agencies, government bodies, corporations, consulting firms, legal firms, insurance companies, nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and independent consultants.

The nature of the work makes it both incredibly interesting and challenging. You don’t know what case you’ll be working on; you’ll start with limited information and work your way until you have all the answers. There will be deadlines and a lot of work, but in the end you will know your work is valuable and has a great impact. 

The working hours can vary; typically, it’s a 40-hour work week but there may be work overtime, especially when deadlines are approaching or you’re actively involved in investigations or court proceedings.

Here are a few key responsibilities that forensic accountants perform:

1. Thoroughly analyze financial data.

2. Systematically uncover any financial discrepancies. 

3. Prepare reports based on analysis findings.

4. Assemble and analyze the evidence.

5. Conduct interviews to learn more and collect evidence.

6. Prepare documentation and testify in court.

7. Put new practices in place to prevent future fraud.

Start with Getting a Degree

Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, or a related field is a good starting point for your career in forensic accounting. There are also bachelor’s degrees focusing specifically on forensic accounting. So, if you’re certain about your career goals, you can opt for a specialized route, but if you wish to keep your options open, then a general accounting degree is a good option. 

Master’s Degree

A master’s degree is not strictly required to become a forensic accountant. Your bachelor’s degree gives you the solid foundation you need to kickstart your career. However, pursuing your master’s can be helpful in completing the 150-credit requirements for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification. 

Related: Master’s in Accounting – Why is it Worth Considering?

Learn on the Job 

Entry-Level Positions

Start with entry-level positions in accounting or auditing to gain practical experience. This can be done through internships or full-time positions.

Specialize in Forensic Accounting

Seek opportunities to work in forensic accounting divisions within accounting firms, government agencies, or corporations. This specialized experience is vital.

Level Up with Certifications

There are a few certifications available in the field of forensic accounting, with the CPA being a must-have for forensic accountants. 

Certified Public Accountant (CPA): 

This certification is offered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Getting your CPA certification serves as proof that you’ve mastered your work. This exam includes 4 papers on different aspects of accounting and each takes about 4 hours to complete, making the total duration of the exam 16 hours. As a CPA, you’ll be able to target higher authority jobs and work with multi-talented professionals. The rewarding nature of your work is another major perk to look forward to.

Learn more.

Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF)

Offered by the AICPA, this credential positions you as an expert in forensic accounting. You’ll learn and be tested on topics such as fraud detection, prevention, and response; financial statement misrepresentation; digital forensics; bankruptcy and insolvency; damages calculations and dispute resolution; expert witness services; investigations; and family law services. 

Learn more.

Certified Forensic Accountant (CFA)

This certification is offered by the American Board of Forensic Accounting (ABFA). If you’ve got two years of accounting/auditing experience then you can pursue this certification. You’ll learn and be tested on a comprehensive curriculum focusing on the forensic aspects of accounting. 

Learn more.

Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)

The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) offers the CFE certification. To be eligible, you’ll need two years of fraud-related experience. Your exam-prep will focus on fraud prevention, detection, and investigation, expanding your capabilities in fraud examination.

Learn more.

Based on your educational path, the duration can differ but usually, you’ll take about 4 to 6 years to become a forensic accountant. Completing your bachelor’s degree can take up to 4 years, after which comes the 2-year long master’s degree (optional). Pursuing CPA certification can take another year or two. 


Accountants and auditors are very much in demand and are integral to almost every industry. The increasing demand for accountants, coupled with the complex nature of their work, grants them good compensation for the service they provide. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the annual median salary for accountants and auditors is $79,880 per year. You can expect to earn more with higher studies and valuable certifications like the CPA. 


The rise in demand for accountants and auditors is 4%, which is as fast as most other occupations. This demand is going to be even higher for financial accountants because of the increase in financial fraud and white collar crime.

AI’s Impact:

You can expect AI to automate some routine tasks that accountants perform but this won’t impact the overall demand. With AI being used for routine data tasks, accountants can function more efficiently and pay greater attention to advisory and analytical duties. 

Related: How to Become a Detective: Unraveling the Mystery

The wide range of skills you’ve learned make you a good fit for several jobs within the fraud-accounting sector. Here are a few of the more popular options:

1. Forensic Accountant

The first job on the list is that of a forensic accountant. As discussed, the nature of the job is to investigate financial discrepancies, fraud, and embezzlement by analyzing financial data, preparing reports, and, if necessary, testifying in court. To become a forensic accountant, you typically need a bachelor’s degree in accounting or finance. Certifications such as Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) are highly beneficial. The median annual salary for forensic accountants is around $70,000 to $90,000, with the potential to exceed $100,000 depending on experience and location.

2. Fraud Examiner

A fraud examiner, as the name suggests, works on detecting and investigating fraud within organizations. While it may sound similar to financial accounting, there’s a difference. Fraud examiners focus on detecting and investigating specific instances of fraud within organizations, whereas forensic accountants provide broader financial analysis and expert testimony for legal matters beyond fraud detection. 

Fraud examiners review financial records, conduct interviews, and compile evidence for legal cases.  A degree in accounting, finance, or a related field is necessary, and certification as a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) is often required. Fraud examiners typically earn between $60,000 and $85,000 per year, with higher salaries possible for those with experience and advanced certifications.

3. Internal Auditor

Internal auditors work with the company to assess and improve its internal controls, ensuring processes comply with regulations and identifying risk areas. A bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field is required, and many also obtain certifications like Certified Internal Auditor (CIA). The median salary for internal auditors is around $65,000 to $80,000, with senior positions earning up to $100,000 or more.

4. External Auditor

External auditors are independent professionals. They review an organization’s financial statements to ensure accuracy and compliance with accounting standards, identifying any signs of fraud or mismanagement.  An example of their work could be to analyze the financial standing of a company and give an unbiased view to the stakeholders.

A bachelor’s degree in accounting is required, and CPA certification is often necessary. External auditors typically earn between $60,000 and $85,000 annually, with the potential to earn more with experience and advanced certifications.

5. Litigation Support Specialist

Litigation support specialists provide expertise in financial matters related to legal cases by analyzing financial documents, preparing evidence, and sometimes testifying in court. A degree in accounting or finance is essential, and CPA or CFE certification is beneficial. Salaries range from $70,000 to $100,000, depending on experience and the complexity of the cases handled.

6. Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Specialist

AML specialists work to prevent and detect money laundering activities by monitoring financial transactions and ensuring compliance with regulations. A degree in accounting, finance, or a related field is necessary, and certifications such as Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist (CAMS) are highly regarded. AML specialists earn between $60,000 and $90,000 per year, with higher earnings for those in senior roles or with specialized expertise.

7. Risk Management Consultant

Risk management consultants help organizations identify and mitigate financial risks, developing strategies to reduce risk exposure. A degree in accounting, finance, or risk management is required, and relevant certifications like Financial Risk Manager (FRM) are advantageous. Consultants typically earn between $70,000 and $110,000 annually, depending on experience and the complexity of the projects.

8. Regulatory Compliance Officer

Compliance officers ensure organizations adhere to financial regulations and laws, developing and monitoring compliance programs. A degree in accounting, finance, or a related field is necessary, and certifications like CPA or CFE can be beneficial. Compliance officers typically earn between $60,000 and $90,000 per year, with higher earnings for those with significant experience or in larger organizations.

9. Insurance Claims Investigator

Claims investigators examine suspicious insurance claims by reviewing submissions, conducting interviews, and gathering evidence. A degree in accounting, finance, or a related field is beneficial, and knowledge of insurance industry regulations is important. Insurance claims investigators typically earn between $55,000 and $75,000 per year, with higher earnings for those with more experience or working on complex cases.

10. Financial Consultant

Financial consultants provide expert financial advice and analysis, helping clients manage financial risks and plan strategies. A degree in accounting, finance, or a related field is required, and certifications like CPA or CFE can enhance career prospects. Consultants generally earn between $70,000 and $100,000 annually, with higher earnings possible for those with extensive experience or working with high-profile clients.

Related: How to Become a Cybersecurity Specialist

Becoming a forensic accountant can be appealing for several reasons:

1. Combining Accounting and Investigation Skills

Forensic accountants utilize their accounting expertise to investigate financial crimes and discrepancies. This blend of analytical accounting skills with investigative techniques can be intellectually stimulating and rewarding.

2. High Demand and Job Security

There is a growing demand for forensic accountants due to increased corporate governance regulations, heightened awareness of financial fraud, and the need for specialized expertise in litigation support.

3. Competitive Salary

Forensic accountants typically earn competitive salaries due to their specialized skills and the high stakes involved in financial investigations and litigation.

4. Diverse Career Paths

Forensic accountants can work in various settings, including public accounting firms, government agencies (such as the FBI or IRS), corporate compliance departments, or as independent consultants. This versatility provides opportunities for career growth and advancement.

5. Intellectual Challenge

The work of a forensic accountant often involves complex financial puzzles and requires critical thinking and problem-solving skills. For individuals who enjoy intellectual challenges and applying their knowledge to real-world situations, forensic accounting can be a fulfilling career choice.

6. Contribution to Justice

By uncovering financial misconduct and providing expert testimony in legal proceedings, forensic accountants play a crucial role in upholding justice and integrity in financial matters.

To pursue a career in forensic accounting in the USA, individuals typically need a strong educational foundation in accounting, often with additional coursework or certifications in forensic accounting or fraud examination. This may include obtaining a bachelor’s degree in accounting, becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), and gaining relevant work experience before specializing further in forensic accounting.

The challenging nature of a forensic accountant job requires that you are proficient in a range of soft and hard skills. Here are a few skills to master in order to excel in your role as a forensic accountant:

1. Analytical Skills

Ability to scrutinize financial records, identify patterns, and uncover discrepancies.

2. Attention to Detail

Carefulness in examining documents and data to ensure accuracy and find hidden information.

3. Knowledge of Accounting and Auditing Principles

Proficiency in generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), auditing standards, and financial regulations.

4. Legal Knowledge

Understanding relevant laws and regulations is necessary to provide accurate analysis and support legal cases.

5. Investigative Skills

Capability to conduct thorough investigations, including interviewing suspects and gathering evidence.

6. Communication Skills

Ability to clearly explain findings and complex financial concepts to non-experts, including lawyers, judges, and juries.

7. Critical Thinking

Skill in evaluating information, considering alternative explanations, and drawing logical conclusions.

8. Integrity and Ethics

Strong ethical foundation and commitment to honesty and objectivity in all analyses and reports.

9. Technical Proficiency

Familiarity with accounting software, data analysis tools, and forensic technology.

10. Problem-Solving Abilities

Creativity and persistence in finding solutions to complex financial problems and fraud schemes.

11. Patience

The ability to methodically work through extensive data and documents without becoming frustrated or losing focus.

12. Ability to Handle Stress

Maintaining composure and effectiveness under pressure, especially when dealing with complex cases and tight deadlines.

Developing and honing these skills will prepare you for the diverse and demanding challenges of a career in forensic accounting.

Forensic accounting is an exciting and challenging career. It needs a skillful eye that reads more than what appears on the surface. Recognizing the problem, putting together the details, solving the problem, and restoring order are all aspects of forensic accounting.

Your service as a forensic accountant is very important, as you help keep the financial system honest and transparent, resulting in a rewarding and impactful career.

Why become a forensic accountant?

Becoming a forensic accountant can be a fulfilling choice if you enjoy analyzing financial data, solving complex puzzles, and contributing to justice. It offers job variety, high demand, competitive salaries, and the satisfaction of upholding financial integrity.

What challenges do forensic accountants face?

Forensic accountants face challenges such as working in a high-stress environment under tight deadlines and significant pressure, especially during court testimonies. The job demands meticulous examination of large amounts of data, requiring high attention to detail and often resulting in long hours. Additionally, continuous learning is essential to keep up with evolving financial crimes, accounting software, and forensic technology.