What is a Forensic Accountant?

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Although most of us know what an accountant is, the term ‘forensic accountant" often has people wondering, "What is a forensic accountant?" Forensic accountants are also accountants, but they're accountants who deal in forensics and helps solve crimes involving missing money or similar situations. Forensic accountants are a vital part of some organizations because it's often their investigative skills that help the company stay profitable. Here is more information on forensic accountants, including what they do, how to become one and their career outlook.

What is a Forensic Accountant?

A forensic accountant is usually a certified public accountant (CPA) whose main job is discovering causes of discrepancies by following the trail and finding the guilty party. The forensic accountant's work generally entails two parts: investigation and litigation. If a company discovers money missing or fraudulent activity, they may hire a forensic accountant to get to the bottom of things. The forensic accountant will determine what happened, how it happened and if it was actually a crime. After determining it was a crime, the forensic accountant will often provide his or her testimony as to what was determined by the investigation.

Becoming a Forensic Accountant

To become a forensic accountant, the individual must first become an accountant. Becoming an accountant requires completing at least a bachelor's degree in accounting, business administration or a related field. Bachelor's degree programs generally take four years to complete unless they're online programs, which can be completed in more or less time. Students who aspire to be forensic accountants may choose forensics as a concentration or choose similar courses in the bachelor's degree program.

Most forensic accountants are CPAs, which requires an additional 30 college credits beyond the bachelor's degree. Candidates who want to become CPAs must pass the four-part CPA exam. All four parts don't need to be taken at one time, but the last one must be passed within a year and a half of taking the first one. Once the student has the degree, he or she may obtain certification as a forensic accountant by passing a five-part exam through the Forensic CPA Society. Each of the five parts consists of 100 multiple-choice questions, and the last exam must be taken within a year after the first one was taken.

Career Outlook for Forensic Accountants

Accountants are expected to see a job growth of 10 percent between the years 2016 and 2026, according to reports by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). As the economy continues to grow, so will the demand for accountants. Forensic accountants should experience an even better employment growth because of the increasing number of white-collar crimes today. The average wage for accountants overall is $69,350.

The wages for forensic accountants can be even higher depending on the place of employment. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been utilizing the services of forensic accountants since it began its operations in 1908. Forensic accountants just starting their careers with the FBI may start off at a GS-11 level and earn about $64,000, but may quickly increase to $100,000 or more annually. The area where the forensic accountant works can also affect wages. Larger cities generally offer higher wages.

Related Resource: 25 Most Affordable Top Ranked Schools for an Online Master's in Accounting Degree 2018

Accounting on its own can be a challenging and rewarding career because the individual has the opportunity and task to solve money problems and make a company more profitable. A forensic accountant has even more challenges because this individual can help the company and help solve crimes.