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The field of forensic accounting is very lucrative. While major corporate failures like Enron, Tyco, and WorldCom made front page headlines, the Federal government and the accounting profession have found numerous other financial statement “errors” and “creative” record keeping at other companies. The controversial Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 formalized many procedures and set reporting standards for all public companies.
This has provided a mother lode of opportunities for accountants and auditors, leading to a wealth of opportunities for forensic accounting specialists. If you have a bit of the “private investigator” in you, along with accounting expertise, you will find some interesting positions. Accounting Today has stated that, of the 100 major accounting firms in the U.S., nearly 40 percent are adding to their forensic service menus. The Federal government and the Internal Revenue Service are also expanding their forensic activities and personnel. Evidence gathering, fraud detection, and internal financial control evaluation are among the variety of areas of concentration.
After you have earned an accounting undergraduate degree, you can expect to earn $30,000 to $60,000 per year as an entry level forensic accountant. As you increase your experience, expertise, and, often, further education, you should enjoy annual compensation of $100,000 or greater.
There are programs that offer a certificate for those who have not yet earned a Bachelor's degree in accounting. Others certificates are offered only to those who have already earned their Bachelor of Science degree in accounting. The requirements to receive a certificate are usually based on completion of 15 to 40 credit hours of courses. For those who have not yet earned a degree in accounting, earning a certificate will enhance their promotional possibilities with their employer and/or satisfy many of the foundation course requirements for further study towards an accounting Bachelor's degree. A certificate program can also be of great benefit to non-accounting managers and supervisors wishing to improve their knowledge of the subject. Most undergraduate certificate programs provide students with a complete base knowledge of accounting. Many Bachelor's degree level courses are offered allowing the student to use this program to provide core information for career advancement or to begin formal study toward an accounting undergraduate degree with a major head start.
Some certificate programs are targeted toward a particular specialty. Be it taxation, quantitative analysis, forensic or international accounting, or CPA certification, you can find a certificate program that will get your undergraduate program moving, improve your career, provide specialized knowledge, or help you become a Certified Public Accountant.
If you're interested in an accounting Bachelor's degree, be prepared to devote four years to your degree. The nature of accounting courses is that one tends to build upon another, so it is difficult to compress your studies too much and graduate with your accounting degree ahead of schedule. To earn a Bachelor's degree, you will normally have to complete between 120 and 135 credit hours. Unlike many liberal arts majors, accounting degree candidates usually have a smaller choice of electives, since almost all are directly accounting related. This is not a detriment since you can choose from areas that interest you. If you want to get expertise in taxation, non-profits, governmental accounting, quantitative systems, financial analysis, or almost any other specialized area, you will have that opportunity. You should still have between 15 and 25 hours of pure electives of your choice, which may not be directly related to your major. So, should you have the urge to improve your creative writing, study biology, or become semi-fluent in a foreign language, you will still have that opportunity.
If you are interested in forensic accounting, which sources like US News & World Report calls one of the "20 hot job tracks of the future," you have choices but few are on the undergraduate level. Most forensic accounting programs are offered on a master's level or on a “certificate” basis. To be seriously considered for a forensic accounting position, you are normally required to have your Bachelor's degree in accounting, and then have earned some credits at a post-graduate level. There are some specialized designations you could earn, such as Certified Fraud Examiner or Certified Financial Forensic Accountant, which would enhance your career possibilities.
Since the basis and foundation of forensic accounting is classic accounting theory and knowledge, you must complete these requirements before you can be effective. For that reason, you may have the opportunity to select one or more courses in the forensic area but not earn a specific degree in forensic accounting. The forensic specialty will be earned through additional study in certificate or graduate school programs. Also, most forensic accountants must earn their Certified Public Accountant designation at some point.
There are a variety of courses offered, both on campus and online, giving students forensic accounting expertise. They build upon the basic courses needed to understand the language of accounting. You can choose from courses directed at spotting fraud, economic issues, insurance and personal injury claims, and royalty abuse, to name a few.
After you earn your Bachelor of Science in accounting, your potential earnings can vary widely. Much depends on where you work and how much experience you have. Your job title influences your compensation regardless of your location as your depth of responsibility strongly dictates salary levels. Here are some compensation levels you can use for comparisons. Three major cities were compared: Chicago, IL, Dallas, TX, and Omaha, NE. The lower end of the general compensation ranges apply to Omaha, while the higher end salaries apply to Chicago. These ranges are for new graduates with limited experience in the field.