While a master’s degree is not required, many employers prefer to hire individuals with advanced qualifications. Most undergraduate degrees in forensic accounting include a significant number of foundational courses in business to prepare students for graduate-level study in the future.
Forensic accountants investigate white-collar crimes and criminal activity in the banking and financial sectors. They analyze financial statements and transactions to locate suspicious activity and gather evidence that can be used in the legal system. At least a bachelor’s degree is typically necessary to work as a forensic accountant, although senior-level or government positions may require a graduate degree. The job outlook for forensic accounting is good, with 10% projected jobs growth through 2026 and an average annual salary of $69,350.1
Forensic Accounting Training and Courses
Forensic accounting degree programs include bachelor’s degrees in forensic accounting, post-baccalaureate certificates for those who have already begun their accounting careers, and graduate degrees for those seeking professional advancement. Admissions requirements depend on the institution, but are generally competitive, requiring high GPAs and test scores. Forensic accounting students take classes in accounting and money management, but they may also take courses in criminology and related topics to learn how to detect questionable practices that may indicate fraud or other criminal activity.
Typical courses in a forensic accounting degree include:
Introduction to Accounting
Introduction to Forensic Accounting
Effective Accounting Reporting
Analyzing Financial Statements
Insurance and Risk
Did you know? Famous gangster Al Capone was prosecuted for tax evasion with the help of a forensic accountant from the IRS. More recently, forensic accountants have been involved in cases from the 9/11 terrorist attacks to corporate fraud on Wall Street.
Traditional Forensic Accounting Degree Programs
Waynesburg University is a Christian institution offering a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (BSBA) with a major in forensic accounting. As this is a business degree, students must take a variety of business foundations courses in addition to the accounting major. The program teaches students how to investigate and analyze financial issues and present findings in written and oral reports in order to work in government or the private sector upon graduation. Prior to graduating from the program, each student is required to pass an assessment exam and a capstone project. The university also operates an internship program so students can earn credit while gaining work experience. For those interested in graduate study, the university also offers a combined BSBA/MBA degree in forensic accounting that can be completed in five years.
Although Webster University’s main campus is located in Webster Groves, the Master of Science in Forensic Accounting degree is only offered at the St. Louis campus through the George Herbert Walker School of Business & Technology. This degree is designed for students who already have a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration or a similar degree, along with several accounting prerequisites. Building on this existing knowledge base, the graduate-level curriculum includes coursework on law, legal procedure, cyber forensics, and auditing. Students must also complete a case study project and a capstone to apply coursework principles to concrete examples. Previous students have found work in many different levels of government and within organizations across the country. New students are admitted into the program in August and January for both part-time and full-time study to accommodate working professionals.
Online Forensic Accounting Degree Programs
The Ross College of Business at Franklin University offers a bachelor’s degree in Forensic Accounting with a focus on fraud prevention and detection that will prepare students for several different accounting certifications. There is a four-year program open to students without a degree as well as a subsequent degree program for students who already have transfer credit or a bachelor’s degree. It is possible on either track to complete a minor in a related area, such as business forensics or performance management. All classes are available online or you can combine online classes with on-campus classes at several Midwest locations. To prepare students for the workplace, the degree requirements include a simulation exercise whereby students examine case study records for issues and problems as part of an investigation team.
The online Bachelor of Science degree in Forensic Accounting and Fraud Examination from Southern New Hampshire University teaches students the fundamentals of accounting as well as specialized knowledge that will help them detect fraud and criminal activity in a variety of work settings, including government, law enforcement, and the private sector. This degree is designed for students without previous college experience as general education and business courses account for over half of the overall requirements. All classes are available online with round-the-clock access to course materials so students can study whenever it is convenient. SNHU also offers Master of Business Administration, International Master of Business Administration, and Master of Science degrees in Forensic Accounting online.
Forensic Accounting Job Description
Forensic accountants are often found working as criminal investigators, but not in the traditional sense. Instead, they are usually focused on white-collar criminals and organized crime and use advanced accounting techniques to detect fraud and malfeasance in corporations or to track down evidence to prove allegations of corruption. Their specialized skill set helps them to find employment with a variety of agencies in the public and private sectors.
Forensic accountants commonly work with law enforcement agencies to examine financial records for evidence of fraud. They are employed by the FBI, IRS, and other agencies at the local, state, and federal levels. In addition to investigating money laundering and corruption, forensic accountants may be asked to appear as expert witnesses in trials and explain their findings in layman’s terms. They may also serve as consultants in civil cases regarding contract disputes or in high-value divorce cases.
The need for forensic accountants in public and private sector organizations is growing, so graduates will be well prepared to find work in a variety of financial roles. Careers you can get with a forensic accounting degree include:
- CIA Analyst
- Expert Witness
- FBI Agent
- Forensic Accounting
- Fraud Investigator
- ICE Agent
- Insurance Claims Investigator
- Legal Consultant
- Private Investigator
Forensic Accounting Professional Certification
There are several different certifications available to forensic accountants, although none are universally required. Many forensic accountants are also certified public accountants (CPAs). Other related certifications include Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) and Certified Internal Auditor (CIA).
CJDS Fact: Unlike many other professions, there are no official education requirements for forensic accountants. However, advanced education and experience certainly help, and most successful forensic accountants are also CPAs.
Forensic Accountant Salary and Job Outlook
Forensic accountants, like other accountants and auditors, are in particular demand as securities regulations change and the financial dealings of businesses and individuals come under more scrutiny. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects job growth of about 10% for accountants and auditors from 2016 to 2026.1 The median annual salary for accountants and auditors was $69,350 as of 2017.1 Salaries can increase for those who move from the public to the private sector; accountants and auditors working in the finance and insurance industries tend to have the highest average annual salaries and reported a median annual wage of $74,140 in 2017.1
- Institute of Certified Forensic Accountants: An international non-profit organization offering certification and networking opportunities for forensic accountants in 18 countries.
- American Board of Forensic Accounting: A non-profit organization offering certification and continuing education courses to individuals who already have a CPA certification.
- National Association of Certified Valuators and Analysts: A national certification and networking organization that includes various types of accounting specialists, including forensic accountants.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you need a master's degree in forensic accounting to work in this field?
Can I earn a forensic accounting degree part-time?
Yes. Many universities offer flexible scheduling to fit around other work or family commitments. An online program also offers additional flexibility to complete the coursework at your own pace.
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Accountants and Auditors: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/Business-and-Financial/Accountants-and-auditors.htm
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