“I think that my forensic accounting class will be especially valuable for my future career goals. Forensic accounting is an up-and-coming profession that is gaining popularity as the job market expands. A forensic accountant uses investigative techniques to uncover financial crimes like embezzlement. The world is full of corruption, and forensic accountants are needed to hold white-collar criminals accountable.”Read the Full Interview
I’m interested in studying forensic accounting. What can you tell me?Forensic accounting is the use of accounting to investigate and prevent possible frauds and other illegal acts. The term forensic makes people think of crime scenes, but it just means anything that is used in a legal case. Unlike a regular accountant, a forensic accountant is a financial detective. Most of the work that a forensic accountant does is investigating possible fraud. Corporate fraud can take many forms, from putting fake people on the payroll to leaving important information off of financial statements. If you choose to study forensic accounting, expect to spend many hours looking for the 1 transaction that stands out in some way and gives away a possible financial crime. The profession offers good pay and benefits with regular work hours and some travel. To become a forensic accountant, a bachelors degree is the minimum education required. This degree can be in general accountancy or in forensic accounting. Most forensic accountants also earn a masters degree or a graduate certificate in forensic accounting.
Let's hear some other perspectives
“If you decide that accounting is an area that you enjoy, be prepared to compete with people who put in late hours and go the extra mile to succeed in their careers.”Read the Full Interview
“Forensic accounting requires a mind that can find creative approaches to problems like partially destroyed documentation, missing records or fraudulent evaluations.”Read the Full Interview
What exactly is a forensic accountant?A forensic accountant analyzes financial information to investigate possible financial crimes. The list of financial crimes is long. Some common crimes are securities fraud, which involves giving investors false information to convince them to buy or sell in the stock market, and embezzlement, which is the theft of money or property by someone who is trusted with it. Forensic accountants will spend many hours thoroughly examining financial data. They must understand what types of fraud are most likely, based on symptoms called red flags. Forensic accountants use their knowledge of criminal behavior to conduct interviews with employees of companies and other people involved in the possible fraud. Forensic accountants also help in other legal matters, such as bankruptcy or divorce proceedings. They may provide a valuation of a company or investigate possible hidden assets. Forensic accountants may work in their own companies’ offices or travel to offices of other companies to conduct investigations. Accounting firms, government agencies, law enforcement agencies, private investigation firms and large corporations all employ forensic accountants.
Let's hear from other perspectives
“I decided to become a forensic accountant because it gave me with the opportunity to investigate and play detective while earning a lucrative salary.”Read the Full Interview
How do I know if forensic accounting would be a good fit for me?
Here is a quick quiz to help you decide if you have the personality it takes to succeed as a forensic accountant. Rate, on a scale from 1 to 5, how well each of the following statements describes you.
I enjoy working with numbers.
Accounting involves reviewing financial data. If you enjoy doing math, you have the most important characteristic for any type of accountant.
I am curious and enjoy solving puzzles.
Investigation is the core of forensic accounting. If you enjoy piecing puzzles together, you will probably also enjoy finding different ways of analyzing financial information to answer questions and solve financial crimes.
I am attentive to detail.
Accountants must sift through pages of financial records to fine the 1 number that doesn’t fit. Detail-oriented people are well suited to forensic accounting.
I am honest and always tell the truth.
A forensic accountant may have to testify in a court of law. If you are honest, the justice system will be able to rely on your testimony.
I am skeptical and do not believe everything I am told.
Forensic accountants interview people who are suspected of committing financial crimes, and their information may not be reliable. You must apply your skills as an investigator to determine what to believe and what not to believe.
I work hard and don’t easily give up.
As a forensic accountant, you may have to analyze huge volumes of data that could take weeks or even months. If you are persistent, you will be able to do the amount of work necessary to conduct a thorough investigation.
I function well under pressure.
Forensic accountants experience pressure from a variety of sources, such as attorneys, law enforcement agencies and the media. If you are not able to work well in stressful situations, you may burn out.
I know how to actively listen to others.
Although accountants are usually thought of as people who are great with numbers, the best forensic accountants also have great people skills that help them to conduct interviews during their investigations. Knowing how to listen closely and thoughtfully will help you succeed in this field.
I enjoy public speaking and giving presentations in class.
Many forensic accountants provide expert testimony in a court of law, explaining to non-accountants what they found during their investigation and what it means in the context of financial regulations. If you enjoy presenting information in speeches or slide shows, you may like being a forensic accountant.
I enjoy reading.
Accounting requires reviewing large amounts of written information. If you do not enjoy reading, you will not enjoy being an accountant.
*Note that this is not a scientific quiz. The result is simply my rough estimate of how well I believe your personality matches that of a successful forensic accountant.
By my assessment, a career as a forensic accountant is probably not a good fit for your personality. Please go to the Admissions Advisor homepage for a listing of other careers you may want to consider.
By my assessment, although a career as a forensic accountant may not be an ideal fit for your personality, if you are willing to adapt in a few areas, you can still find success in the field. Please see the list to the right for information on the areas that you may need to work on.
By my assessment, your personality is a good fit for a career as a forensic accountant. Scroll through our site to gain valuable insight into what it will take you to earn the necessary credentials.
Is there anything else I should consider in deciding if forensic accounting is the right choice for me?
Although it is not necessary to be licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in order to work as a forensic accountant, it is a helpful credential to have. In fact, many employers require forensic accountants to be CPAs. Surveys by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) have shown that 94% of forensic accounting experts hired over a 2-year period were CPAs. Although technically only a small part of an accountant’s job requires CPA licensing, it is also seen as an indicator of an accountant’s quality. A CPA license tells an employer that an accountant has met certain requirements in education and ethics, and has also passed the challenging Uniform CPA Exam. Each state has different CPA licensing requirements, but most require 150 credit hours of accounting education. Most forensic accountants earn a masters degree to meet this requirement. You can find information about most states’ CPA licensing requirements from the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA).
What forensic accounting professions can I choose from?
Forensic accounting is a specialization within accounting. The only major profession that you can hold within this subject area is working as a forensic accountant.
Education Required: A bachelors degree in forensic accounting or general accountancy, which usually requires 4 years of study, is the minimum requirement to become a forensic accountant. Many forensic accountants hold masters degrees, which requires an additional 1 or 2 years of study.
Average Salary: The average salary for a forensic accountant is $90,500, which is about 1 and a half times the average salary for all accountants. The bottom 10% of all accountants in any specialty earned less than $36,720 per year and the top 10% earned more than $102,380.
Work Environment: Forensic accountants work in their own offices, the offices of other companies and courts of law.
Job Description: Forensic accountants help investigate possible financial crimes such as fraud. They may also be needed for contested legal issues including divorce or bankruptcy. Forensic accountants are able to work with financial information that has been destroyed or tampered with, and they often testify in courts of law about financial crimes. Some forensic accountants work as consultants and help organizations or companies set up programs to prevent fraud, embezzlement and other crimes. Forensic accountants are employed by insurers, banks, accounting firms, large corporations, law firms and government agencies.
What is the job outlook for forensic accountants?The job outlook for forensic accountants is favorable. In a survey of large Certified Public Accountant (CPA) firms, 85% of the respondents indicated that forensic accounting is an increasing portion of their work, and 100% of the respondents expected demand to increase in the future. Accounting in general is a growing profession. In 2008 there were 1,290,600 accountants employed in the United States. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that number to grow by 22% by 2018, with 279,400 additional jobs in the field of accounting.
Average Salary Growth 2006 - 2011
Salary By Percentile
How long would it take me to become a forensic accountant?
You can become a forensic accountant after 6 years of education and training. The first steps are to obtain a bachelors degree in accounting or forensic accounting and a masters degree or graduate certificate in forensic accounting. Then, you would spend 1 year working as a general accountant while a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) supervises you on the job. This education and experience will qualify you to take the Uniform CPA Exam and apply for a CPA license.
What can I expect to learn while pursuing forensic accounting?
While studying forensic accounting, you can expect to learn basic accounting as well as knowledge and skills related to the law and financial crimes and disputes.
Criminology is the study of who commits crime and why. In a forensic accounting program, classes in criminology focus on white-collar crime and the psychology of the criminals who commit these crimes. Subject areas within forensic accounting criminology include the effects of punishment on white-collar criminals, prevention of such crimes and behavioral traits for profiling and identifying people who will commit financial crimes.
The Legal System
Forensic accounting is the intersection of accounting and the legal system. Forensic accounting classes that deal with legal issues provide knowledge of the laws that relate to fraud and the legal processes of criminal investigation, formal charges and trials. Examples of laws that relate to forensic accounting include the federal tax code, which determines how much money individuals and companies must pay in taxes, and requirements set by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which decide how investors report their earnings.
A fraud scheme is a systematic plan to gain illegal profits. Common categories of schemes are misappropriation frauds, corruption and false representations. Misappropriation is the theft or misuse of an organization’s assets. In corruption schemes, individuals are compensated or threatened in order to gain preferential treatments. Making false representations can include lying on tax returns and bankruptcy filings.
Financial Statement Fraud
Financial statement fraud is the misstatement of numbers in financial records. This area of study covers reviewing, detection and investigation of possible financial statement fraud. The most prevalent forms of this fraud include recording money that does not exist as revenue, valuing assets like real estate too high or too low and failing to disclose information to make a company’s finances appear better or worse than they really are.
Litigation support is the use of accounting in any matter involving civil courts rather than criminal law. Forensic accountants commonly investigate damage claims, provide valuations of businesses and investigate personal assets for divorce proceedings. This area of study also covers the laws related to contracts and the civil litigation process.
As a student of forensic accounting, you will learn to recognize symptoms known as red flags that are associated with fraud. Red flags include numbers that don’t add up, statistics about the company’s finances that are far outside the normal range for the industry and weaknesses in the internal checks and balances for financial activity inside an organization. You will also learn to analyze the people who are suspected of committing financial crimes and look for lifestyle issues, behavior, tips, complaints or relationships that create a conflict of interest. You will also learn which red flags are associated with what fraud schemes.
Fraud Risk Assessment
An education in forensic accounting will teach you to conduct a fraud risk assessment, which is also called a proactive audit. Fraud risk is the probability that fraud can occur undetected in an organization. It is an important way to identify frauds and develop methods of lowering or eliminating the number of situations that can lead to fraud. You will learn to conduct a fraud risk assessment by identifying the schemes necessary to perpetrate a fraud and ways that an organization can minimize the opportunity for fraud.
Fraud Data Analysis
As you progress through your education in forensic accounting, you will learn about the data analysis techniques used to detect and investigate fraud. Data analysis uses computer software to detect fraud in large amounts of financial data. You will also learn how to check for expected relationships. For example, in construction you might expect the yards of lumber used to increase at a certain rate according to the number of houses that a construction company builds. You can also look for unexpected changes between departments or between years.
Your education in forensic accounting will cover investigative auditing in great detail. Investigative auditing is a detailed financial analysis that examines every digit to find discrepancies, unlike the typical financial audit that only examines a sampling of transactions. You will learn to prove or disprove the suspected fraud, to identify the persons involved and gather evidence for legal proceedings.
As a student of forensic accounting, you will learn to present your financial analysis and conclusions in a framework that is understandable to judges and juries. Forensic accountants must give expert testimony and write reports explaining their findings. In the course of their investigations, forensic accountants will also interview people who may be involved in or have knowledge of a fraud. You will develop good communication skills to conduct interviews and interpret the behavior of your interviewees.
What academic levels are available in the field of forensic accounting?
The academic levels available in forensic accounting are a bachelors degree, an undergraduate certificate, a graduate certificate or a masters degree. A bachelors degree or undergraduate certificate by itself is of little value in qualifying for forensic accountant jobs. Most forensic accountants obtain masters degrees or graduate certificates in order to meet the educational requirements to become licensed as Certified Public Accountants (CPAs).
Select the degree level you are interested in:
Colleges and universities offer undergraduate and graduate certificates. These academic certificates are different from professional certifications, which are offered by professional associations to accountants who are already practicing in the field.
An undergraduate certificate in forensic accounting is an introduction to the issues and practices of forensic accounting. It is suitable for anyone with an interest in this field. Some students are new to forensic accounting. Others are professionals in related fields, such as auditors, business owners, attorneys, risk managers, loss prevention specialists and law enforcement professionals.
A graduate certificate in forensic accounting, known at some schools as forensic accounting and fraud examination, is designed to meet the needs of professionals. The goal is to provide students with the knowledge and skills to detect and prevent fraud. Graduate certificates require a bachelors degree for admission to the program. Some graduate certificate programs are intended for accountants seeking specialized education in forensic accounting, and require students to hold a bachelors degree in accounting. Other certificate programs are open to other professionals such as attorneys involved with financial cases.
What are the different types of certificates that I can earn in forensic accounting?
Undergraduate Certificate in Forensic Accounting
An undergraduate certificate in forensic accounting is a general introduction to the issues and practice of forensic accounting. This option is appropriate for anyone with an interest in this field.
Graduate Certificate in Forensic Accounting
A graduate certificate in forensic accounting or fraud examination is an in-depth examination of forensic accounting. This option is appropriate for an accountant or a professional who has a bachelors degree in a related field.
How long will I have to study to earn my certificate in forensic accounting?
An undergraduate certificate in forensic accounting typically requires 12 credit hours of study, which can be completed in 9 months.
A graduate certificate in forensic accounting typically takes 12 to 15 credit hours, and can be completed in 9 months.
What types of courses will I take while studying for my certificate in forensic accounting?
To earn an undergraduate certificate in forensic accounting, you will take courses that introduce you to the daily tasks that forensic accountants commonly perform. You will take courses in the principles of fraud examination, fraud prevention and detection, litigation support and computer forensics.
While pursuing a graduate certificate in forensic accounting, you can look forward to courses in subjects such as criminology and legal issues, fraud data analysis, fraud investigation, computer forensics and calculating damages.
What types of jobs can I hope to secure with a certificate in forensic accounting?
Neither an undergraduate nor a graduate certificate by itself will qualify you for jobs in forensic accounting. Accountants with bachelors degrees in general accounting may pursue these academic certificates to gain knowledge and skills specific to forensic accounting, fulfill requirements for professional certifications or meet the educational requirements to become licensed as Certified Public Accountants (CPAs).
What should I consider when deciding on a school to earn my certificate in forensic accounting?
When you are looking for a school to pursue your certificate in forensic accounting, consider the licensing requirements for Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) in your state. You do not have to earn a CPA license to become a forensic accountant, but most forensic accountants are licensed CPAs. A CPA license is very different from an academic certificate. You must be licensed as a CPA to legally perform some accounting tasks. Also, the CPA license indicates that the person who holds it has met strict professional requirements.
If you plan to become a forensic accountant, you will want to know if your academic certificate can be used to meet the education requirement to become licensed as a CPA in your state. The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) provides this information for most states, or you can check with the Board of Accountancy for the state that you plan to work in.
You may also want to consider whether the school is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). There is no accreditation specifically for undergraduate or graduate certificates, but AACSB accreditation indicates that the school meets commonly accepted standards for business schools.
What are the requirements for admission to a certificate program in forensic accounting?
There are no special requirements for undergraduate certificates in forensic accounting.
Some graduate certificates in forensic accounting require a bachelors degree in accounting. Other graduate certificates are open to students with any kind of bachelors degree. Some certificates are open to both kinds of student, with additional coursework in basic accounting required for any student who does not have an accounting degree.
What about getting an online certificate in forensic accounting?
An online forensic accounting certificate is a fine way to get an introduction to forensic accounting or to gain professional skills. If you plan to use an online forensic accounting certificate to meet the education requirements for licensing as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), make sure that the online forensic accounting school is accepted by the Board of Accountancy in the state where you plan to work. Most Boards will accept an online forensic accounting school if it has regional or national accreditation. You can check a school’s accreditation status in the U.S. Department of Education Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs. For information about individual states’ CPA licensing requirements, you can review information from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).
A bachelors degree is the minimum educational requirement for a forensic accountant. With a bachelors degree, you may qualify for a junior-level accounting position. A bachelors degree will also qualify you to continue your education with a graduate certificate or a masters degree.
What are the different types of bachelors degrees that I can earn in forensic accounting?
The only type of bachelors degree available in this field is the Bachelor of Science (BS) in Forensic Accounting. The BS degree has a science and math focus, which is appropriate for accounting. This degree provides a strong foundation for a professional forensic accountant.
How long will I have to study to earn my bachelors degree in forensic accounting?
A bachelors degree in forensic accounting can be completed in 4 years and requires 120 credit hours.
What types of courses will I take while studying for my bachelors degree in forensic accounting?
As a bachelors degree student in forensic accounting, you will take general courses and specialized courses. The generalized courses include accounting fundamentals, accounting principles, accounting information systems and common accounting subjects such as spreadsheets, payroll and taxes. You will also study more specialized subjects such as fraud examination, legal elements of fraud, interviewing techniques, criminology and ethics. Forensic accounting majors also study statistics, business communication and databases. In addition, you will take the general education courses that are required of all bachelors degree students in your school, such as English composition, mathematics and history.
What types of jobs can I hope to secure with a bachelors degree in forensic accounting?
A bachelors degree in forensic accounting will qualify you for a position as a junior-level accountant at a forensic accounting firm, public accounting firm or a government agency. However, if you only have a bachelors degree and no graduate-level education, you may find it hard to compete with applicants who have additional education and possibly a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license. Many accountants obtain masters degrees to meet the educational requirements of the CPA license.
What should I consider when deciding on a school to earn my bachelors degree in forensic accounting?
In deciding on a bachelors degree program in forensic accounting, consider the licensing requirements for Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) in your state. You do not have to become a CPA to work as a forensic accountant, but most forensic accountants do obtain CPA licenses, and it is a desirable credential to have. You will want to make sure that your bachelors degree will apply to the CPA requirements in your state. Each state has different requirements. You can check with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) or with the Board of Accountancy for the state that you plan to work in.
You should also look for a school and program accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). AACSB accredits accounting degree programs, as well as institutions. An AACSB accredited accounting degree program meets commonly accepted standards.
What about getting an online bachelors degree in forensic accounting?
Several schools offer an online forensic accounting bachelors degree. In most respects, the subject matter of forensic accounting lends itself well to online coursework. A disadvantage to pursuing your forensic accounting degree online is that forensic accountants need to interview people for their investigations and to give expert testimony in legal proceedings. An online forensic accounting program will not give you the same kind of training in these types of oral communication as a program at a traditional brick-and-mortar school would.
There are 2 types of masters degrees that are commonly pursued by people who want to become forensic accountants. The master of science (MS) degree, sometimes called the master of accountancy (MAcc), is a good option for people who are primarily interested in pursuing careers as forensic accountants. Masters degrees in forensic accounting can be earned by students who have bachelors degrees in general accounting.
The second type of degree that students can earn in this field is a masters degree in business administration (MBA). An MBA is a more general business management degree for people who would like to work as forensic accountants in addition to pursuing a career in management, or are interested in holding different roles within a company during their careers. Some schools offer an MBA in forensic accounting for students with previous coursework in accounting. Other schools offer a concentration in forensic accounting as an option for any MBA student.
What are the different types of masters degrees that I can earn in forensic accounting?
Master of Science or Master of Accountancy MSMAcc
The MS degree in forensic accounting is a specialized degree that trains students to work as forensic accountants. A masters degree also satisfies the education requirements for CPA licensing. Some schools call this degree a MAcc.
Master of Business Administration MBA
An MBA is a general business degree that trains students for top-level management positions. An MBA in forensic accounting provides education in both forensic accounting and general management practices.
How long will I have to study to earn my masters degree in forensic accounting?
An MS or MAcc in forensic accounting takes 1 year or 36 credit hours to complete for students with bachelors degrees in accounting. For students with a non-accounting background, some schools offer a 2-year masters program requiring 60 credit hours.
An MBA in forensic accounting requires a range from 36 to 57 credit hours and takes 1 to 2 years to complete for students who are enrolled full time.
What types of courses will I take while studying for my masters degree in forensic accounting?
Students who are enrolled in MS or MAcc programs for forensic accounting will take courses in introductory forensic accounting, legal procedure and professional ethics, fraud investigation, financial statement analysis, corporate governance and computer investigations. They may also take courses in business valuation, litigation support and internal auditing.
Students pursuing an MBA in forensic accounting will take mainly general business courses in managerial accounting, economic analysis, organizational behavior, marketing and management. They will also take more specialized courses in forensic accounting, auditing, legal aspects of fraud and computer forensics for accountants.
What types of jobs can I hope to secure with a masters degree in forensic accounting?
A masters degree in forensic accounting will qualify you for most jobs as a forensic accountant. An MS or MAcc degree will also prepare you to apply for licensing by the state as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). An MBA degree may also allow you to apply to become a CPA, but this depends on the degree program and the licensing requirements of the state where you intend to work. Accountants are required by law to be licensed CPAs in order to perform certain tasks. Holding a CPA is also an indicator that an accountant has met tough standards.
What should I consider when deciding on a school to earn my masters degree in forensic accounting?
Most MS or MAcc degrees will meet the requirements to apply for a CPA license. But check the requirements of your state to make sure that your investment will be worthwhile. The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) has information about licensing requirements in most states. You can also find out by contacting the Board of Accountancy in your state.
You should also consider whether a school or degree program is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). An AACSB accredited accounting degree program meets commonly accepted standards.
What are the requirements for admission to a masters degree program in forensic accounting?
To apply to an MS or MAcc program in forensic accounting, you need a bachelors degree. Most MS or MAcc programs require a bachelors degree in accounting, though a degree in forensic accounting is not required. If you have a bachelors degree in a non-accounting subject, there are some MS or MAcc programs that offer a 2-year option for students who do not have an undergraduate degree in accounting.
To apply to an MBA program in forensic accounting, you need a bachelors degree. MBA programs do not require applicants to have bachelors degrees in any particular field, but many programs do require a few years of work experience.
What about getting an online masters degree in forensic accounting?
Some schools offer a forensic accounting masters degree online. This can be a fine option, especially for a busy professional who is already working as an accountant. The main disadvantage to an online forensic accounting masters degree is that education in forensic accounting includes interviewing techniques for fraud investigations and in public speaking for courtroom testimony. An online forensic accounting program will not provide you with these important communication skills nearly as well as a program at a traditional brick-and-mortar school would. If you are working as an accountant while attending your forensic accounting school online, you may be able to learn these skills on the job. Or you may supplement your online degree with continuing professional education.
What else should I keep in mind when considering studying forensic accounting?
Professional certification is not required to practice as a forensic accountant. However, many forensic accountants have at least 1 professional certification. These certifications typically require a bachelors degree or a masters degree in accounting, a certain number of years of practice as an accountant and a passing grade in an exam. They may also require a certain number of hours of continuing professional education each year in addition to professional references.
Several organizations offer professional certifications for forensic accountants. In general, the more education and experience a professional certification requires, the more valuable it is. Some certificate programs are listed below.
- Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF) credential, offered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)
- Certified Fraud Examiner credential, offered by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE)
- Certified Forensic Financial Analyst™; (CFFA™) credential, offered by the National Association of Certified Valuators and Analysts® (NACVA)
- Certified Forensic Accountant (Cr.FA®) credential, offered by the American College of Forensic Examiners International (ACFEI)
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