What is an Average Private Investigator Salary in 2024?

Ever wondered how much private investigators make and what factors influence their earnings? In this article, we’ll uncover the mysteries behind private investigator salaries and provide a comprehensive analysis of the factors that can impact their income, including experience, training, and location.

So, let’s dive into the world of private detective earnings and explore the various aspects that determine their pay.

What you’re about to learn in this guide:

  • Private investigator salaries are determined by a combination of factors such as expertise, instruction, and geographic area.

  • The average salary for private investigators in the United States is $60,100 annually, with the potential to earn up to $200,000 per year.

  • Job growth projections for private investigators offer promising opportunities across various industries and employers.

Understanding Private Investigator Salaries

A private investigator looking through binoculars

Private investigator salaries, also referred to as private detective salaries, are influenced by a combination of factors, such as expertise, instruction, and geographic area.

The potential for financial gain can be significant, with some private investigator agencies generating annual revenues in excess of $1,000,000. For self-employed private investigators, the potential income can reach approximately $200,000 annually.

Many private investigators use tools like Indeed’s Salary Calculator to ascertain a fair pay range personalized to their location, industry, and experience.

When it comes to private investigator salaries, two key factors come into play: experience and training, and location. We’ll delve into these factors further and examine their influence on private detectives’ earnings.

Experience and Training

Experience and training are of utmost importance in determining private investigators’ salaries. Most employers require candidates to possess a high school diploma or GED, while some prefer or demand applicants to have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field. Other qualifications include:

  • Resourcefulness

  • Communication abilities

  • Tactfulness

  • Technology aptitudes

  • Confidentiality

As private investigators gain experience and specialized training, they become more valuable to their employers and clients, which can lead to higher pay and better job opportunities. This is particularly true for those working in specialized fields, such as corporate investigations, insurance fraud, and background checks.


A picture of a map with a magnifying glass on top, representing the private investigator salary by location.

Geographical location can significantly impact private detective salaries, with higher pay in certain states and metropolitan areas. Some states where private investigators earn the highest remuneration include:

  • Virginia

  • New Hampshire

  • Washington

  • Oregon

  • New York

Not only do private investigators in these top-paying states typically earn higher wages, but they may also have access to a greater number of job opportunities due to the presence of larger industries and employers in these areas.

Those considering a career in this field should appreciate how location impacts private investigator salaries, as it can guide decisions about where to work and live.

Average Salary for Private Investigators

A graph showing the average salary of private investigators (Photo Credit: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

The typical salary for private investigators in the United States ranges from $16 to $24 per hour, with annual wages ranging from $40,000 to $80,000, contingent upon experience and employment type. The top 10% of private investigators can earn a remuneration range of $96,950, according to labor statistics. The average annual income for private investigators in the United States is $60,100.

In addition to their average base salary, private investigators may receive supplementary payments for travel time, mileage, and report writing time, which can serve to augment their overall earnings.

We’ll now delve into the nuances of the hourly rates and annual wages for private investigators.

Hourly Rates

Hourly rates for private investigators can vary greatly depending on factors such as experience, location, and specialization. For instance, a novice private investigator in the US can expect to earn approximately $16 per hour.

As private investigators gain experience and develop specialized skills, their hourly rate can increase, reflecting their value to clients and employers. Additionally, private investigators operating in top-paying states and metropolitan areas may command higher hourly rates due to the increased demand for their services and the higher cost of living in those areas.

Annual Wages

The potential annual wage range for private investigators can vary widely, with earnings ranging from $40,000 to over $200,000. Private investigators who manage multiple investigations or own their own agencies have the potential for even greater earnings.

This substantial variation in annual wages emphasizes how factors like experience, specialization, and client development shape a private investigator’s earnings. Concentrating on these areas, private investigators can enhance their income potential and find greater success in their chosen field.

Comparing Private Investigator Salaries to Similar Occupations

A criminal investigator in a suit and tie

Private investigator salaries are generally lower than those of other law enforcement occupations, such as criminal investigators. However, factors such as self-promotion, clientele, and specialization can greatly impact a private investigator’s income.

The following segment will juxtapose private investigator salaries with those of comparable occupations like criminal investigators, government agency workers, and self-employed professionals. Understanding these differences can help private investigators make informed decisions about their career paths and income potential.

Criminal Investigators

Criminal investigators typically earn higher salaries than private investigators, with the average investigator salary for a criminal investigator in [state] being $76,033 per annum. Meanwhile, the increased work flexibility of private investigators can be an attractive aspect for those mulling over a career in investigations, despite the difference in median salary.

The higher salary for criminal investigators can be attributed to the nature of their work, which often involves working directly for law enforcement agencies and dealing with more serious crimes. On the other hand, private investigators may work on a wider variety of cases, including civil disputes, background checks, and insurance fraud investigations.

Government Agencies

Government agencies may provide higher salaries for private investigators, with the average salary of a government agency worker in [state] being approximately $86,585 per annum or $41.63 per hour.

On the other hand, self-employed private investigators can potentially earn more through gaining clients and specializing in specific areas. The potential for higher earnings in government agencies can be attributed to the stability and resources provided by these employers.

Conversely, self-employed private investigators must take on the challenges of marketing and client acquisition but with the potential for greater earnings and flexibility in their work.

Self-Employed Workers

Self-employed private investigators could potentially earn more than their counterparts working for employers. However, they also confront additional difficulties, such as marketing and client acquisition.

Despite these challenges, self-employed private investigators have the opportunity to:

  • Carve out their own niche in the industry

  • Develop a reputation for excellence in their chosen specialization

  • Command higher fees for their services

  • Enjoy more work flexibility

This can pave the way for a successful and fulfilling career as an experienced private investigators in the field of private investigation.

Specializations and Certifications

Specializations and certifications refer to areas of expertise that private investigators can pursue to further their career prospects and remuneration. Some of the most frequent specializations for private investigators include:

  • Background checks

  • Civil investigations

  • Surveillance

  • Insurance investigations

  • Fraud investigations

  • Corporate investigations

  • Computer forensics

Certifications for private investigators may vary depending on the state, but some of the most common certifications include Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), Certified Protection Professional (CPP), and Certified Legal Investigator (CLI). We’ll delve deeper into these areas of specialization and professional certifications.

Specialization Areas

Private investigators may specialize in a variety of areas, such as:

  • Corporate investigations, which typically involve cases related to corporate espionage, intellectual property theft, and employee misconduct

  • Insurance fraud investigations, which commonly focus on false claims and staged accidents

  • Background checks, which involve researching and verifying an individual’s personal and professional history

Background checks, on the other hand, generally involve confirming an individual’s identity, employment history, criminal record, and additional information. By specializing in a specific area, private investigators can develop a strong reputation in their field and command higher fees for their services.

Professional Certifications

Professional certifications, such as those offered by Novel Data and other organizations, demonstrate a private investigator’s knowledge and experience in a particular area. Some benefits of obtaining a certification include:

  • Increased credibility and trustworthiness

  • Enhanced job prospects and career advancement opportunities

  • Access to specialized training and resources

  • Recognition within the industry

In addition, the average salary of an average private investigator with a certification is approximately $60,000 per annum.

Obtaining these certifications can offer a competitive advantage in the job market, leading to increased remuneration and better job opportunities for private investigators. With the constant evolution of the industry, keeping abreast with certifications and specialized training can position private investigators a step ahead of the competition and enhance their earning potential.

Job Market and Outlook for Private Investigators

A private investigator looking through binoculars

The job market for private investigators is expected to grow by 5.6% from 2021 through 2031, with top industries and employers including insurance companies, law firms, and government agencies. It is estimated that an average of 3,700 openings for private detective jobs will be available annually between 2021 and 2031.

For those contemplating a career in this field, it’s imperative to understand the job market and outlook for private investigators. With a growing demand for their services, private investigators can expect a steady stream of job opportunities in various industries and employers.

Job Growth Projections

The job growth rate for private investigators is projected to increase by 5.6% from 2021 to 2031, which is approximately the same rate of growth as the average for all occupations. This growth can be attributed to the increasing demand for private investigators in various industries, such as insurance, legal, and corporate investigations.

In metropolitan areas, the anticipated job growth rate for private investigators is also expected to be comparable to the national average. This steady growth rate indicates a promising outlook for those interested in pursuing a career as a private investigator, with ample opportunities for both entry-level and experienced professionals.

Top Industries and Employers

The leading industries for private investigators comprise:

  • Insurance companies

  • Legal and law firms

  • Corporate and business investigations

  • Government agencies

  • Private security firms

Salary ranges and opportunities for advancement may differ depending on the industry. Insurance companies may provide the highest salaries, while government agencies may provide more chances for advancement. Legal and law firms may present a combination of both.

The growing demand for private investigators also means an increasing diversity of industries and employers seeking their services. By understanding the top industries and employers in the field, private investigators can better position themselves for success and take advantage of the opportunities available in this expanding job market.


In conclusion, private investigator salaries are influenced by factors such as experience, training, and location, with the potential for a wide range of earnings depending on these variables. As the job market for private investigators continues to expand and diversify, opportunities for higher pay and career advancement are expected to grow. By focusing on specialization, certification, and staying up-to-date with industry trends, private investigators can maximize their earning potential and enjoy a rewarding career in this fascinating field.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much do top private investigators make?

The average income of a private investigator is around $60,100 annually, however the top 10% can earn up to $96,950. Income is dependent on education, experience and location, with the lowest 10% making approximately $33,710 and the highest earning close to $92,660 per year.

Where do private investigators get paid the most?

Private Investigators can expect to earn the most in San Francisco, CA and in other cities such as Newark, NJ, Fort Myers, FL, New York, NY, Albuquerque, NM, and Tampa, FL. On average, they can receive total compensation 48% greater than the US average.

How do I become a PI in GA?

In order to become a private investigator in Georgia, you need to complete a basic training course which must be from a state-approved provider and include 70 hours of classroom instruction. This course must be completed within six months of hire.

What is the average salary of a private investigator in the United States?

The average salary of a private investigator in the United States is $60,100 per year.

How does experience impact private investigator salaries?

Having extensive experience and specialized training increases a private investigator’s salary significantly, making it an invaluable asset for those in the profession.

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