A bachelor's degree in forensic accounting can lead to such careers as auditor, financial analyst and forensic accounting specialist; however, many employers require that forensic accountants hold a master's degree.
A forensic accounting bachelor's program provides students with the foundational training to investigate accounting fraud, verify compliance with regulatory law, and support litigation. To enter this program, students need a high school diploma or equivalent.
Prospective students applying for a master's program must have a bachelor's degree in accounting. A forensic accounting background isn't necessary for graduate study; however, some programs require that students complete financial reporting, analysis and investigation courses before they study advanced forensics in the financial industry. Master's programs require about two years of study, and the completion of an internship before graduation. Some schools offer a master's degree program in forensic accounting online.
Individuals who specialize in forensic accounting or fraud examination can apply for professional certification. Licensing as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) requires an additional 30 hours of collegiate study, which can be completed through a master's degree program.
Bachelor of Science in Forensic Accounting
Undergraduate study covers such themes as internal theft, negligence and waste in a variety of financial industries. Students also review legal process, which includes how to collect evidence of accounting fraud or provide evidence that a firm complied with financial regulations. Forensic accounting majors develop interviewing, communications, analytical and record keeping skills to support these tasks. A graduate often becomes a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), in order to find work as an accountant or auditor.
Coursework takes four years and begins with introductory and intermediate principles of accounting, including the nature of assets, liabilities, depreciation, capital and Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). In support of this study, students learn about Microsoft Excel, Peachtree and other accounting software. The forensic accounting program may cover:
- Criminology and ethics
- Fraud examination
- Insurance and banking
- Financial principles
- Regulatory framework
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Master of Science in Forensic Accounting
A master's degree covers advanced techniques in quantitative analysis, computer science and law. After completing of the program, individuals understand of forensic analysis in the field, asset valuation and GAAP practices. They also have the ability to calculate total losses from fraud, negligence or misappropriation. Coursework begins with intermediate and advanced accounting principles as well as lessons in taxation and managerial accounting. Students learn how to evaluate financial statements for compliance and consistency in case studies. A research seminar may also be required. Graduate courses address internal revenue procedures, shareholding, jurisprudence and statistical methods. Coursework includes:
- Fraud investigation
- International transactions
- Business and tax strategy
- Non-profit organizations
Popular Career Options
Graduates of forensic accounting programs can work as auditors, financial analysts, forensic accounting specialists or accountants. They can apply for jobs at corporations, hospitals or schools. They can also assist law enforcement with criminal cases involving fraud. Career titles include:
- Forensic accounting specialist
- Financial analyst
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that employment for accountants and auditors will increase by 11% between 2014 and 2024. In May 2015, accountants and auditors earned an annual median income of $67,190. In 2015, the BLS stated that the top 10% of accountants and auditors earned an annual salary of $118,930 or more, while the top 10% of financial analysts were paid $160,760 and above. The BLS expects the demand for financial analysts will increase by 12% between 2014 and 2024. Complex investment portfolios, as well as the need to understand a wide variety of foreign markets with their own accounting standards will drive the rise in employment. According to the BLS, financial analysts had a median annual pay rate of $80,310 in 2015.
Most employers require that applicants pass the Certified Forensic Accountant (CFA) or Certified Fraud Examiners (CFE) exam. Some positions, especially those in management or dealing with a technical field, also require a master's degree. Those rendering a professional opinion or attesting to records for the Securities and Exchanges Commission (SEC) must be CPAs--this requires 150 hours of total postsecondary study, which is about 30 hours past the minimum demand for most bachelor's degree programs.
Forensic accounting majors can choose from a bachelor's or master's level of study. Common bachelor's courses include criminology and auditing, whereas common master's courses include fraud investigation and business and tax strategy.