Accounting has been part of civilization since trade routes first started in the ancient world. When traders were able to keep an accurate account for their inventories, costs, and revenue streams, they were able to better manage their businesses. These days they help businesses project their sales, track losses, and manage inventories in nuanced ways that give them a competitive advantage over their peers.
Business and finance have become far more complicated in recent years, but the potential for theft and other loss still exists. When fraud is suspected, corporations, law enforcement, and individuals call on forensic accountants to get to the bottom of the matter. In-depth audits and other investigative methods assist the forensic accountant in their duties, tracking down the fraud and those responsible.
These days the field of forensic accounting is expanding. There are more and more degrees conferred and there are an increasing number of jobs open for this specialty. Thus, if you love numbers and balancing accounts, but also have a desire to serve your community in a law enforcement or investigative capacity, a Forensic Accounting Degree may be exactly what you're looking for.
What is a degree in Forensic Accounting?
Forensic accounting is the place where law enforcement meets accounting. While this might seem odd at first, consider that many famous criminals were successfully prosecuted, not because of the violent crimes they committed, but because of their white-collar activities. In order to prove such crimes, the FBI and other law enforcement groups rely on accountants to audit financial records and uncover and investigate crimes. Forensic accountants can also be called upon to determine the financial harms done as a result of crime and consult on civil cases such as divorce, where assets must be divided.
While many schools only offer this degree at the graduate level, you can become a forensic accountant with an undergraduate degree in accounting. The FBI, for instance, only requires an undergrad degree that includes a minimum of six semester hours in Business Law. There is also a growing number of undergraduate accounting programs that specialize in forensics and confer that specific degree.
Forensic accounting is a broad field that allows for many specialties. With a degree in forensic accounting, you could work for a law enforcement agency, such as the FBI, or you could be an independent consultant to attorneys and police alike. Your career could encompass tracking down terrorists seeking to transfer or launder money, cyber criminals hacking banks or other institutions, or helping corporations eliminate loss due to embezzlement.
Why Would I Want to Get a Degree in Forensic Accounting?
A degree in forensic accounting is a gateway to an exciting career path within the accounting world. While you will essentially analyze various financial documents and audit accounts, much as any accountant does, your work will be in the service of a criminal case, civil litigation, or damages assessment in insurance matters. Your audits will result in convictions, greater national security, and fair payments in civil cases.
A degree in Forensic Accounting will set you on a career path working with law enforcement, defense attorneys, private investigators, or insurance companies. You might even become an independent consultant/investigator and contract your services to large civil or criminal cases.
Keep in mind that a Forensic Accounting Bachelor's Degree will cover much of the same territory as a standard Accounting degree. You will have all the same skills in taxation, audits, and financial analysis. Additionally, you will have the extra focus on law and fraudulent activities. Your well-rounded education could be exactly what an accounting firm is looking for.
Different Types of Degrees
There are three general types of degrees in Forensic Accounting: associate's, bachelor's, and master's degrees. Each carries with it a salary expectation, curriculum, and overall career trajectory. Once you start working in the field, you can also work toward professional certifications. The courses you'll take for a certification won't count towards your academic career, as they are not accredited, but they will be great additions to your resume. Further, if you have a CPA license, these courses will likely count towards your Continuing Professional Education requirements for that license.
Associate’s Degree in Forensic Accounting
An associate's degree in Forensic Accounting will get you started on a career path full of devious criminals and shady corporations. Though you will eventually need to gain a bachelor's degree that includes Business Law and coursework that focuses on Forensics, you can certainly get started with a two-year degree in Forensic Accounting.
If you land a job as a Forensic investigator using your two-year degree, you can add work experience to your academics and sit for the Certified Fraud Examiners license. Once you have a firm grasp of the field, you might also consider taking the AICPA's Fundamentals of Forensic Accounting Certificate Program.
Career Outlook and Options
According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, the demand for forensic accountants is rapidly rising. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that the field of Financial Examiners is projected to expand by 10% through 2026. Given the rise of cybercrimes that require deep technical work to investigate and prosecute, the field could expand even more.
Sample Course Work
As you work towards a degree in Forensic Accounting, you will take courses that can include, but are not limited to:
Since the field typically requires a bachelor's degree, you should consider adding to your education at some point. You should also consider working toward professional certifications in Fraud Examination or related fields. These certificates might be able to raise your salary and status over even your bachelor's degree-holding peers, but you will also need loads of experience. For instance, consider the AICPA's Core Forensic Accounting Certificate. The courses you need for this credential include:
The BLS shows that Financial Examiners are earning a median salary of $81,690 per year. Keep in mind that this is with a bachelor's degree. The BLS also states that Financial Examiners frequently have extensive, long-term, on the job training.
Bachelor’s Degree in Forensic Accounting
Your career in Forensic Accounting will really take off once you graduate with a bachelor's degree. The FBI, for instance, seeks out accountants with a bachelor's degree that includes 24 hours of accounting coursework. Those hours should also include six hours of business law training. While the FBI does not require a CPA license or certificate, you might consider adding extra credentials to your resume. Your options include:
To flesh out your Bachelor's Degree in Forensic Accounting, you could consider a double major or a minor to further deepen your education and ensure a great career. For instance, you could study Criminal Justice or an affiliated program. If your school offers a minor in Business Law, that would also be beneficial. For more background, you could study for a minor in psychology, sociology, or computer science.
Career Outlook and Options
Industry professionals state that the field is rapidly growing, meaning that your degree will be in high demand. This is due to increased awareness of financial fraud and white-collar crimes. Our highly networked financial institutions, the rise in cybercrime, and high-profile fraud cases have added to this awareness.
The BLS projects that the Financial Examiner occupation will grow by 10% through 2026. This growth tracks with their projected growth in the Accountants and Auditors occupation.
Note that this degree can open up many great opportunities for you. For instance, you could work with the FBI or another law enforcement then move on to become an independent consultant. You could also become a Private Investigator and specialize in finance. You could also work in divorce cases to help divvy out assets and even discover whether a party has hidden funds in an attempt to avoid paying their fair share of alimony or child support.
You could work with the IRS. Many people attempt to defraud the IRS so that they can avoid paying their tax bill. With your nose for financial forensics, you could sniff out hidden funds, discover fraudulent deductions, and otherwise see that corporations and individuals are held accountable for the taxes they owe.
Sample Course Work
As you work towards achieving your bachelor's degree, you will need to focus on taking the proper classes so that you stay on track for graduation. The courses you might take include, but are not limited to:
When you enter your program you might want to start investigating the possibility of working as an intern with an accountant who specializes in forensics, a law enforcement team, or a private investigator who specializes in forensic accounting. Discuss this with your department to see if you can set up such an experiential learning course. If you are able to augment your classroom experiences with real-world applications, your resume will attract all the more attention.
With a degree in Forensic Accounting, you have many avenues you can pursue. Each career path has its own salary expectations. A few of the chief career paths include Revenue Agent (IRS), FBI Investigator, Insurance Investigator, and Financial Examiner. Median pay figures for these careers is:
The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, on the other hand, shows that in 2017/18 their certificate holders earned between $80,000-$147,000. Non-certified Forensic Accountants found their pay somewhere in the range of $57,800-$125,000.
Master’s Degree in Forensic Accounting
Historically, accountants were only able to attain academic credits in forensic accounting through a master's degree program. Even then, you were primarily limited to a certificate that could be applied to your MS in Accountancy or used simply as a stand-alone academic certificate on your list of credentials. Since the field is expanding to respond to the veritable crime wave happening online, there are more and more opportunities to study forensic accounting for graduate credits.
Many of these certificate programs are conducted online or in hybrid online/on-campus programs that provide opportunities to working students nationwide. There are also professional, non-academic certificate programs. These are almost solely found online and are not redeemable for any level of academic credit. However, if you have such a certificate, you’ll be more hirable, and graduate admissions offices will smile on your professional achievements.
Career Outlook and Options
The career outlook for Forensic Accounting is very bright. With more and more instances of cyber criminals hijacking databases and financial records, there is an increased demand for cyber security experts, as well as forensic accountants who can sort out the finances and help successfully prosecute criminals.
There are also many high-profile money laundering cases on the horizon. These cases involve domestic and international law, organized crime, and an assortment of ne'er do-wells. In recent history, the Panama Papers blew the whistle on tax evaders who used Panamanian banks to hide assets, and there are still many tax havens that have yet to be routed and audited.
The rise of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies necessitate more Forensic Accountants who can sort out how money flows through these new financial markets. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners states that demand for these professionals is rapidly increasing. Given the expanding complexity of the field, and its growth, a master's degree or certificate will be necessary to keep pace with your peers and the criminals you’re trying to keep in check.
Sample Course Work
Along the way to your master's degree or certificate, you will take a load of specialized courses that will help you establish yourself as a true master of your field. Some of the courses you will take include, but are not limited to:
If you have experience plus a graduate degree or certificate in Forensic Accounting, you should be able to expect a healthy salary. The median salary for this occupation across all experience and degree levels is approximately $65,500 per year. However, with a graduate degree you should at least be considered experienced, in which case the average salary jumps to $91,000.
Forensic Accounting Post-Graduate Certificate
A post-graduate certificate in Forensic Accounting is often a relatively quick and convenient way to advance your knowledge and career expectations. These programs are typically comprised of only a few courses, confer transferable academic credit, and can be used as CEUs if you are a CPA or otherwise need to accrue credit for a professional business license. While you might add similar credentials to your resume via a professional association's certificate program, you will be better served by a university certificate.
The benefits of attaining a graduate certificate through an accredited university are many. The first benefit is that you gain new knowledge and skills to investigate financial crimes, which is a boon to yourself and your employer. Then, you'll find that there's an added veneer of status attached to the institution’s academic status. After all, accounting is a highly academic field. Finally, if you decide to return a master's degree in Forensic Accounting, you will already have credits to build on.
Career Outlook and Options
The field of Forensic Accountancy is growing rapidly. Demand is rising due to the seeming deluge of financial and other cybercrimes. In order to prosecute financial criminals, Forensic Accountants are needed to audit all the relevant accounts, discover new hiding places, and present their findings in an understandable fashion to attorneys and juries alike.
Sample Course Work
A certificate program is not as comprehensive as a full degree, but you will take valuable courses that are sure to inform your Forensics practice in the field. Make sure you evaluate a number of different certificate programs prior to applying, as each will have its own particular approach to the field. Make sure that you will take the courses and cover the material that is most pertinent and applicable to your career aspirations. Some of the courses you will take may include, but are not limited to:
When you complete an academic certificate program your salary should see a noticeable increase. You will be qualified to take on greater responsibilities and perhaps you will head up a forensics team. While the average salary level for this degree across all experience and degree levels is $65,500, the salary for an experienced professional is $91,000. Your salary could easily hit at least this level. If you are working in the private sector, your bonus money could well push you over $100,000/year.
When you seek out a degree in Forensic Accounting, you should limit your search to nationally-accredited institutions. When your degree reflects a highly-respected college or university, your future employers will have no qualms about hiring you. Plus, if your current employer has a tuition reimbursement program, they will be more likely to reimburse you for a fully-accredited, well-respected degree or certificate program. When seeking a degree in Accounting, look for these accrediting agencies: