Private investigators generally make a good living, but are not likely to become rich from it (there is that potential if running your own firm). The median private investigator salary is between $35,000 – $40,000. Starting PI’s might earn closer to $20,000, while experienced well-established detectives can garner a salary upwards of $80,000. It’s also worth noting this is almost never “easy money.” The nature of the job often requires both long hours and travel. It can be tedious and tiresome, despite the glamorization in popular culture. This is especially true in getting established.
Many people view that private investigators or detectives live lucrative lifestyles, thanks to portrayals of private investigators in popular culture. Sleuths are perceived to be experts in all the fields of investigation and close investigation cases in a matter of days. In truth, being a private investigator is as hard as doing any kind of “grind” job. There are the long hours, travels, and low pay (at times). Not always so glamorous. Let’s look at what factors go into a private detective’s earning potential.
Location. In less affluent areas of the state, the going rate is about $30 per hour. If the agency is located in the heart of the city, the rate can be around $45 to $50. Reputation is another factor. If the private investigation agency is well known and has many clients, the rate can be as much as $100 per hour. A private detective salary also depends on the quality and the speed that the task is done. Established and well-known private investigators can earn as much as $80,000 a year. Of course, this amount does not come without hard work and patience in solving a case. A single private investigation case can take months to solve.
Finally, the single most important factor in a PI’s salary is whether or not he/she is salaried or self-employed. The private investigation field is one perfectly suited for self-employment, and many PI’s do indeed run their own business. There are pros and cons to this and it’s a big decision for an aspiring detective.
Expenses for Private Investigators can be… expensive! Any self-employed person will tell you there are always unforeseen expenses. Private eyes are no different. Equipment such as cameras, GPS devices, vehicles, binoculars, computers, printers, paper, telephones, database access, and more – add up fast. Don’t forget aviators and a good hat! If you’re on the road, eating out and staying in hotels is not cheap. All of this leads to one vital principle: bill your clients accordingly. You have to pass on some of the expenses to them, or you simply won’t survive. One trick for doing this is to put specific expenses on their own line on the invoice. “Database Fee: $45.”
If you are interested in becoming a private investigator and making it into a career, you have to undergo training for private investigators and secure a license so you can practice your profession. You can find a job in a private investigation agency or you can go freelance and look for clients yourself, eventually setting up your very own agency. With this you get to set your own salary and maybe employ other detectives, provided you deliver quality investigative services.