Private Investigator Cost

How Much Does a Private Investigator Cost?

Last Updated on December 27, 2023
Written by CPA Alec Pow | Content Reviewed by Certified CFA CFA Alexander Popinker

If you want to use the services of a private detective, then you’re probably wondering what the hiring costs will be. All over the US, the costs of a private detective may vary depending on the type of service and location. For investigators with extensive experience and training, expect to pay higher fees. The numbers cited in this article are estimated based on average prices offered by private detectives from all over the United States.

How much does a private investigator cost?

According to recent studies, a private investigator will cost somewhere between $100 and $175 per hour, while the national average cost for private investigator services is somewhere closer to the lower end of the range, at about $115 per hour.

Aside from the costs related to the services themselves, you will also have to consider any expenses that the investigator will face during their investigation, like accommodation, airfare, mileage when traveling outside of their area, as well as fees for legal documents, and similar expenses.

A professional PI will also charge you a retainer upfront. This retainer will vary widely based on the investigator you pick, but you’ll usually be charged at least $1,500. You should expect the investigator to then bill against this amount, depending on the hours they will use to follow your target or track down the information you need to find.

You should also know that not all private investigators take the same jobs, like following someone for you to prove they are putting children in unsafe situations for a child custody lawsuit, gambling, cheating, or whatever. There are also private investigators that are known as forensic investigators. They will usually be hired for more complex investigations like looking into shady business deals or tracking shady people.

As different investigators will charge different types of fees, you should expect to pay considerably more when needing a forensic investigation than when you hire someone to prove an affair. Forensic investigators won’t just charge more per hour but also require a considerably higher retainer.

So how much do private investigators cost in general? Usually, it isn’t farfetched to believe that you will pay around $5,000 or more for basic investigation services like following someone around, while complex forensic investigations will reach into the tens of thousands of dollars easily. Of course, the specific aspects of your case will influence the final cost. Of course, when going through a divorce, before even considering hiring a private investigator, make sure you talk to your attorney first, to ensure you’re doing the right thing.

Do you really need to hire a private investigator?

Among the most common questions people have when hiring a private investigator will be how much will one cost and whether hiring a private investigator actually makes sense in particular cases.

So the question is this: Will you actually need to spend money on a private investigator? What are the benefits you can gain from spending money on such services?

When considering the cost to hire a private investigator, you will first have to consider what they will have to do for you and what you’re actually trying to prove or figure out. There are some limited circumstances when hiring a private investigator will make sense, like a lawsuit in which you will have to provide evidence that the other party is wasting money they shouldn’t on things like gambling or paid ladies.

Although, most of the time, it will be a rather waste of money to hire a professional investigator.

Hiring a private investigator might be a waste of money during a divorce

Your attorney will usually be able to tell you if your specific divorce case requires the use of a private investigator or not.

You should understand that most tasks related to case investigation will be taken on by the divorce lawyer themselves, like money, affairs, and other habits. These things will be done in the initial phase of the divorce case, called the discovery phase.

These services will be included in your attorney fee and will be the same things a private eye will do. Lawyers know how to uncover a lot about the misbehavior of spouses, as well as issues and facts related to their finances, from property records, credit reports, credit card statements, bank accounts, financial records, and other publicly available documents.

During a divorce lawsuit, it might also be financially counterproductive to hire a private investigator. This is because getting information and evidence that your spouse is cheating won’t help you gain any benefit if you have nothing of value in your community estate. So aside from proving something you already suspect, finding out that your spouse is cheating won’t benefit you in the least.

If you do have a substantial amount of assets together, then it might make sense to hire a private investigator.

Although there are no-fault states where you can get a divorce without needing to prove fault, proving fault grounds can ultimately have an impact on how the community assets will be divided, so if you have things to split, getting a private investigator might make sense. So if you can prove that you were cheated on, the judge might choose to go for an unequal division of the marital estate.

How to save money on a private investigator

Among the factors that influence the private investigator costs the most will be the level of preparedness the client comes with. So make sure you try to gather all the available information about the case before you meet with the investigator, so you aren’t charged additionally for things you can find out yourself.

Sending a private investigator on a while goose chase will be very detrimental to you and your funds, as it will take a lot more time and money to find out what you need to know. You might end up paying a lot of additional hours of investigative work for a whole nothing in terms of results if they don’t know where and what to look for.

If you must hire a private investigator, do your research first

When going through a divorce, we can’t emphasize enough how important it is to talk to a divorce attorney first. You will also have to do proper research to understand the costs of a private investigator in your area. When working with an attorney, they will be able to not only recommend one or more reputable investigators but also give you an insight into what you should expect in terms of private investigator costs.

If you’ve made the decision of hiring a private investigator by yourself, You should first ensure that the detective you’re going for has all of the required credentials and is also licensed by the state to provide private investigation services like surveillance.

When trying to figure out how much is a private investigator going to cost, keep in mind that P.I. services function in the same way as other goods and services there is a market for. You will usually get what you’re paying for. This is why it is very important to ask for references and read online reviews before signing with a certain individual or company. It could also be a good idea to get a referral from trusted sources like law enforcement officers, financial advisors, or attorneys.

Here are some questions you can ask a private detective, concerning the fees:

  1. Does the private detective charge a flat fee for their services?

A private investigator and private investigation firms may charge a flat rate for certain basic services such as background checks, research, and specialized equipment such as GPS units. Other investigative services that usually have a fixed rate may be:

  • “bug sweeps” of home or car
  • identifying a cell phone number
  • criminal records search
  • GPS monitoring
  • vehicle registration number search
  1. What are the hourly fees of a private detective?

Hourly rates vary depending on the place of the private detective’s office, the difficulty of the investigation, and whether the private detective will need assistance from other investigators.

All over the country, the fees range from about $75 to $200 per hour. The average hourly rate is about $100 – $175 per hour. Keep in mind that there may be some additional charges attached to the hourly rate. A common plus may be the mileage expenses.

This hourly rate may increase significantly if the services of another private detective are needed in order to complete your case. For example, if a private detective needs the assistance of an associate overseas, the hourly rate may increase. In other areas of the world, private detectives charge as much as $300 per hour.

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  1. Does the private investigator require a deposit or retainer in addition to the private investigator fees?PrivateInvestigatorServices

Many private detectives require an advance or deposit of money in addition to fees, for services rendered and expenses. Some private detectives can determine fixed fees depending on the needed services. For example, research data may require a deposit of $500, while a case of infidelity may require a deposit of up to $5,000. A criminal defense case may require an advance of anywhere from $1,000 and up to $3,500. The following factors help determine the amount of the advance:

  • Location
  • The airline/hotel costs
  • Travel costs
  • emergencies
  • estimated number of supervision hours

Usually, a private investigator does not require a down payment if you use their services through an attorney, because the lawyer is responsible for ensuring the detective’s bill payments.

The moment you hire a private detective, make sure you keep track of his/her work and ask for detailed reports of the completed work. Do not forget to sign a detailed contract in which, all the private detective services are mentioned.

Are these services too expensive for the average working Joe?

They might seem high and you could find an ultimate low on these services, but when the time comes and you do need a private investigator, finding an experienced one is a must because in most cases they need to know what they’re doing, for the best results and to ensure that the target doesn’t figure out what’s going on.

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