Forensic accounting is a field of study where students learn to detect financial crimes by analyzing financial statements and records through traditional accounting practices and with the use of information technology. Forensic accountants work to deter financial crimes as well, assessing the possibility of threats to businesses, financial institutions, and government agencies.
Prospective students who are interested in financial crimes investigation can enroll in an associate's degree program in accounting or a bachelor's degree program in forensic accounting. Graduates who hold bachelor's degrees can enroll in a certificate program in forensic accounting which, like a bachelor's degree program, fulfills the education requirements needed to take the Certified Public Accountant, Certified Fraud Examiner, and Certified Forensic Accountant exams. Online programs and courses are available.
Associate's degree programs usually cover accounting in general, giving students the knowledge to recognize and investigate financial crimes along with training in the basic principles of this field of study. Bachelor's degree and graduate certificate programs often allow students to specialize in forensic accounting, learning how to spot and investigate financial fraud.
Admittance into the undergraduate programs requires a high school diploma or GED. Graduate program admittance requires a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution.
Associate of Science in Accounting
A two-year associate's degree program in accounting provides students with the financial background needed to deter and investigate financial crimes. A financial statements course prepares students to analyze the financial records of individuals, businesses, and organizations; prepare financial records; and recognize inconsistencies or mistakes made in those records. Financial accounting courses explore budgeting, cost analysis, accounts payable and receivable, and accounting software, including spreadsheets and databases. Coursework in the degree program includes:
- Managerial accounting
- Fraud examination
Bachelor of Science in Forensic Accounting
The bachelor's curriculum in forensic accounting explores the areas of auditing, accounting software, cost accounting, and personal and corporate taxation. A forensic accounting course includes studies in investigative and auditing theory and the analysis of financial records in detecting fraud and theft.
The four-year program also includes CPA (Certified Public Accountant) and CFE (Certified Fraud Examiners) preparation courses. Students learn to detect fraud, theft, or inconsistencies in financial records through investigative accounting techniques and introductory criminal justice coursework. Typical courses in this degree program include:
- Computer forensics
- Criminal procedures
- Cost accounting
Graduate Certificate in Forensic Accounting
This professional certificate program teaches accounting skills, investigative techniques and methods for being an effective witness in criminal cases involving financial crimes.
Students explore actual criminal cases, legal issues facing forensic accountants, and damages that result from financial crimes. Students learn to recognize fraudulent financial reports and to assist law enforcement and criminal justice personnel in documenting evidence of financial crimes. Courses in the certificate program include:
- Financial statement analysis
- Fraud prevention and detection
- Forensic accounting and litigation
- Techniques in criminal investigations
Popular Career Options
A bachelor's degree program in forensic accounting prepares graduates for entry-level positions in business, government, and criminal justice. Graduates are prepared for employment in businesses, corporations, financial institutions, and government agencies. Popular careers for graduates include:
- Accounts payable/receivable clerk
- Tax preparer
- Payroll clerk
- Public Accountant
- Financial analyst or auditor
- Fraud examiner
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), accountants and auditors held over 1.4 million jobs in the U.S. in 2018. The BLS also expects the number of jobs in this profession to grow by 6% between the years 2018 and 2028. The median salary for accountants and auditors in May 2018 was $70,500, per the BLS.
Continuing Education Information
Graduates of bachelor's and graduate certificate programs are eligible to sit for the American Institute of CPAs' exam to be a CPA, which is administered by State Boards of Accountancy. Graduates are also eligible to take the Certified Fraud Examiners (CFE) exam, offered through the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. CFE certification requires up to two years of professional experience in addition to a bachelor's degree. Graduates who are licensed CPAs can take the Certified Forensic Accountant (Cr.FA) exam, offered through the American College of Forensic Examiners International. Graduates can also pursue a master's degree program in criminology, accounting, or forensic accounting.
The American College of Forensic Examiners International offers membership benefits, including continuing education courses and annual conferences. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners also offers online continuing education courses, seminars, and annual conferences for career development.
Students with an associate's degree in accounting may find jobs in which they may investigate financial crimes; however, a bachelor's degree or graduate certificate in forensic accounting is needed to become a CPA or CFE. In these programs, students learn to analyze records and recognize inconsistencies pointing to financial crime.