The life of a private investigator can be extremely rewarding, especially when solving major crimes, finding missing loved ones, or giving families the closure they desire. Often these results make a career as a detective worth every minute spent solving puzzles and researching clues. However, bills still need to be paid, and the salary of an investigator is an important consideration when deciding whether to become a detective.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data from 2006, private investigators make an average of nearly $34,000 per year. They can make as little as $24,000 or much as $64,000 or more. Much of this depends upon the agency the investigator works for, what type of cases they work on, and whether they work full- or part-time. As with many careers, the salary potential often is relative to the work put into it by each individual. It may also be affected by geographic location and personal aptitude.
To get an idea of how much you could make as a private investigator, it helps to ask yourself a few questions.
Will you work for a large corporation, or be self-employed?
Investigators may find work in department stores, with county, state or federal governments, or within local law enforcement offices. They may also be self-employed, running their own company as a locator of missing persons, adopted individuals, or bail jumpers. Usually, the larger the business you work for, the greater the budget is for paying employees. This is not always true though, as many investigators work for non-profit agencies and other public service companies. These are often supported by private donation and/or grants, and cannot afford to pay much above their overhead costs.
Where will your work or business be located?
The geographic region a private investigator works in can have an impact on the ability to make a good living. In a relatively depressed area with a high percentage of low-income residents, some detectives may find little work available in both the private and public sectors. Local governments and law enforcement offices often cut back non-essential positions during an economic downturn, so it may help to look for work in a thriving part of the country. Usually, this means living in a place that has a low cost of living relative to the industries in the area.
What will be your investigative specialty?
If you want to own a business that helps find missing loved ones, you might find your client list to be a bit short. When private individuals are bankrolling your paycheck, it is often hard to predict your earning ability, and the sustainability of that salary. However, working in the capacity as a homicide detective, fraud investigator, or bounty hunter, private investigators will find themselves working for agencies that can afford to pay for unlimited services.
Knowing who you want to work for and in what capacity will help determine your earning potential. Most investigators are satisfied with their careers and earnings, knowing the valuable service they provide companies and individuals. To many, having a morally fulfilling and rewarding job is more important than how much they can make. Some individuals are able to enjoy both, and many of those individuals have a career in investigation.