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Forensic Accountant: How to Start a Career in Forensic Accounting

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a forensic accountant. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about schooling, job duties and certification requirements to find out if this is the career for you.

A career in forensic accounting often starts with a general accounting degree, although some schools do offer a specific degree for forensic accounting. Forensic accountants assist law enforcement agencies in solving crimes by interpreting financial data and are typically utilized for finance-based crime investigations. Earning certified public accountant status is recommended.

Essential Information

Forensic accountants utilize math, auditing, and investigative skills to assist law enforcement agencies with solving crimes. These professionals analyze financial data in correspondence with ongoing or cold investigations, and then they use their findings to determine how suspects may have used or moved funds for illegal activities. Information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that accountants and auditors require bachelor's degrees to find employment. Since forensic accountants submit reports to government entities, the BLS suggests that these workers may also need to become certified public accountants (CPAs), which involves meeting education and experience requirements and then passing the necessary examinations.

Required Education Bachelor's degree
Other Requirements Become a certified public accountant (CPA)
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Auditors and accountants: 11%*
Median Salary (2015) Auditors and accountants: $67,190 *

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Job Description

Forensic accountants employ knowledge of accounting methods, auditing procedures and fraud investigation techniques to investigate and analyze financial crimes varying in severity from contract disputes to embezzlement and securities fraud. They often work closely with police and the FBI when preparing documents for evidentiary support. These professionals may also testify in court as expert witnesses.

Education Requirements

A bachelor's degree in accounting is generally the minimum requirement for a career as a forensic accountant. While a handful of schools offer specific degrees in forensic accounting, a generalized accounting degree typically provides the requisite educational background to enter the profession. Courses may cover accounting software, income tax, business law and principles of finance. By supplementing coursework with an internship or other type of hands-on experience at an accounting firm, students can increase their practical knowledge and future job prospects.

CPA Requirements

Most forensic accounts are also certified public accountants (CPAs). Each state has a State Board of Accountancy responsible for licensing accountants. The specific requirements for licensure vary between states, but all CPAs must pass the CPA exam, which is a rigorous, 4-part standardized test. In addition to passing the exam, most states require students to complete 150 hours of college coursework and obtain supervised professional accounting experience to CPA status. Most undergraduate degree programs only require 120 hours to graduate, though, but potential accountants can make up the difference in hours by taking additional courses or completing a joint bachelor's and master's degree program.

Continuing Education

Almost all states require CPAs to take continuing education courses to remain certified. Forensic accountants can also develop additional skills that may benefit their careers by pursuing certificates, courses and seminars in forensic accounting from accredited business schools. Many forensic accountants also become Certified Fraud Examiners by passing the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners' test.

Job Outlook and Salary Statistics

The BLS predicted that employment for accountants and auditors will grow by 11% from 2014-2024. The BLS also stated that the median annual salary for accountants and auditors was $67,190.

With a combination of a bachelor's degree in accounting, a CPA and other continuing education opportunities, you're well on your way to becoming a forensic accountant. As a forensic accountant, you can expect to work closely with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies and to testify in court as an expert witness. With a higher than average job growth rate, prospects for aspiring forensic accountants look promising.

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