This guide describes application requirements, common coursework, and job and salary prospects for graduates with an online forensic accounting degree.
Forensic accountants may also be called financial examiners or investigative auditors. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 10% growth for financial examiners from 2016-2026. Several accredited U.S. colleges and universities offer on-campus and online forensic accounting degrees that prepare recent high school graduates and current professionals to enter this growing field.
Overview of Forensic Accounting Degrees
Forensic accountants use accounting knowledge and investigative skills to analyze financial data and determine whether a crime has been committed. They look for evidence of fraud, money laundering, hidden assets, and embezzlement. Bachelor's programs in forensic accounting include coursework that deepens students' understanding of accounting principles and financial transactions.
Because forensic accountants must often review large amounts of records to determine a pattern of fraudulent activity, professionals need strong investigative and analytical skills, which bachelor's programs help students develop. Forensic accountants also examine financial data to help companies and organizations identify areas to save money or expand to generate more income.
Schools may offer fully online forensic accounting degrees or hybrid programs. Forensic accountants must be diligent, detail-oriented, and focused. Because they often assist criminal investigations, these professionals also need a keen understanding of regulatory and legal statutes.
Online forensic accounting degrees typically require the same application materials as on-campus programs. Prospective students must submit a copy of their high school diploma or GED and an academic transcript. Students who attended more than one high school must provide a transcript from each school. High schools mail transcripts directly to prospective colleges, which often requires a fee.
Many schools require applicants to have a minimum 3.0 GPA, and because of the technical nature of the forensic accounting field, some schools require applicants to have completed coursework in calculus, statistics, or computer science. Applicants who wish to transfer an associate degree must have earned the degree from an accredited institution.
Many U.S. colleges and universities require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores. Some schools waive this requirement for applicants with relevant professional experience. Minimum standardized test score requirements vary by school. Additionally, applicants must typically submit a personal essay and at least one letter of recommendation.
What Will I Learn?
Whether they are pursuing an on-campus or online forensic accounting degree, students begin with coursework in general accounting principles. Learners study topics such as business administration, economics, finance, and statistics. Students also take auditing classes to develop the skills needed to analyze finance-related documents. An accredited forensic accounting program provides basic legal knowledge to prepare students to detect irregularities or discrepancies that constitute illegal transactions. Students also learn how to present their findings clearly and concisely, both verbally and in writing.
The course structure for a 120-credit on-campus or online forensic accounting degree is similar to that of other bachelor's degrees. Students first complete general education requirements, which usually comprise 50-60 credits. They then take about 30-35 credits of major courses. The remaining 25-30 credits are in electives.
Accounting Information Systems
Students learn how to integrate business concepts with accounting practices and information technology. This course prepares students to investigate, mitigate, and prevent fraud. Students develop the digital skills necessary to understand, design, and implement processes that protect financial systems from being compromised or manipulated.
This course provides auditing skills and knowledge that forensic accountants use throughout their careers. Learners explore the procedural applications used in auditing assets and liabilities, equity, and income statements. Students learn about the standard reporting requirements for audits and may review case studies to develop an understanding of the auditing process.
Elements of Fraud
Students examine legal issues related to fraud investigations, such as criminal and civil laws, rules of evidence, and the rights of the parties involved in an active investigation. Students learn how to prepare fraud reports according to widely accepted legal and regulatory guidelines.
Students learn how to present information in financial statements according to internal and external regulatory procedures. They study elements of financial documents including assets, cash, depreciation, inventory, liabilities, and payrolls. Students prepare to detect transactional anomalies in financial documents and records.
This course exposes students to the various aspects of fraud investigation, including analyzing forensic documents, gathering documentary evidence, and documenting and presenting investigation findings. Students become familiar with common types of occupational fraud and learn how to develop and implement preventive strategies.
Fraud Investigation Interviewing Techniques
Forensic accountants employ several tactics to uncover fraudulent financial transactions. They often interview stakeholders to clarify accounting anomalies they discover. This course provides an overview of techniques and strategies professionals use while interviewing suspects and other parties in a fraud investigation.
What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor's Degree in Forensic Accounting?
An online forensic accounting degree prepares students to work in a variety of professional settings, including insurance agencies, government organizations, and financial institutions. Forensic accountants may also set up their own practice, consulting for lawyers and law enforcement agencies. As the forensic accounting field grows, employers value the skills of forensic accounting graduates and need these professionals to help prevent fraud.
Curricula for online forensic accounting degrees help students develop the skills and competencies they need to succeed in the field. Forensic accountants must be able to analyze and interpret financial information. Fraudulent transactions are often buried under innocent-looking or even legitimate financial records. In addition, forensic accountants who are skilled at analyzing finances can discover cost-cutting opportunities in simple operational transactions.
Forensic accountants must understand the statutes and regulations of their field. Some bachelor's programs in forensic accounting allow students to specialize in a field such as insurance, banking, or corporate finance. Fraud regulations apply to all criminal acts of deception, but each field has specific rules and regulations. Forensic accountants must be familiar with these regulations to identify criminal activity.
Technology plays a key role in the investigative process. A growing amount of financial manipulation occurs digitally. Forensic accountants with strong digital investigative skills can help employers detect and prevent fraud, as well as identify areas to increase revenue.
Potential Career and Salary
Most forensic accountants perform the same type of investigative work, but they operate in a variety of settings. Forensic accountants can work in nearly any type of industry, including government agencies, accounting and law firms, nonprofit organizations, and corporate security departments. They can also work as independent consultants in a private practice.
Some companies hire forensic accountants with managerial backgrounds as finance managers or chief financial officers, who oversee a company's entire fiscal operation. Forensic accountants who work for security and risk management departments of large corporations keep track of changes to relevant laws and regulations. They make sure the company complies with federal and industry standards and regulations. Forensic accountants in all settings ensure the security, legitimacy, and accuracy of their client's or employer's financial transactions and documents.
Annual Median Salary: $65,823
Forensic accountants review financial statements to uncover fraudulent incidents and to help streamline financial operations. They identify opportunities to allocate resources including time and money more efficiently, and to consolidate services and processes.
Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Forensic Accounting?
Many employers require forensic accountants to be certified public accountants (CPA). To sit for the CPA exam, candidates must complete 30 credits beyond the 120 credits required for a bachelor's degree. However, not all entry-level forensic accounting positions require CPA certification. Graduates of an on-campus or online forensic accounting degree have plenty of professional opportunities without obtaining additional credentials.
Employers value forensic accountants for their ability to analyze and interpret financial information. Forensic accountants improve this ability through experience, but a bachelor's program provides the basic skills professionals need to perform these duties. Additionally, successful forensic accountants typically possess qualities including integrity, perseverance, and diligence.
Accreditation for Forensic Accounting Bachelor's Programs
Regional or national accreditation demonstrates that an institution meets set standards of quality. Schools should hold accreditation from an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and/or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Public, nonprofit schools often hold regional accreditation, while for-profit schools typically seek national accreditation.
Both ED and CHEA recognize two main accrediting bodies in the business field: the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) and the International Accrediting Council for Business Education (IACBE). The AACSB and the IACBE accredit business and accounting programs at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels.
Only students attending accredited institutions qualify for federal financial aid. Additionally, most institutions only accept transfer credits earned from accredited schools.
Forensic Accounting Professional Organizations
Professional associations often hold regional and national conferences, which allow members to expand their professional network and stay apprised to the latest news and developments in the field. Rapid technological advances and increased statutory oversight continue to impact the field and the practice of forensic accounting. Joining a forensic accounting professional organization can help individuals keep up with changes in the field. Members of associations may also have opportunities to influence factors shaping the profession.
American Board of Forensic Accounting
ABFA members receive access to continuing education units, certification review courses, and resource materials such as monthly newsletters and forensic accounting tools. The ABFA also offers benefits for non-CPA members, including certification programs to become a registered forensic investigator, government forensic accountant, or licensed healthcare auditor.
Association of Certified Fraud Examiners
ACFE members can access self-study continuing professional education units, including a preparation course for the certified fraud examiner test. Members can also access podcasts, a bimonthly magazine, and the ACFE resources library, which houses an extensive collection of anti-fraud literature, tools, and videos.
National Association of Forensic Accountants
NAFA facilitates communication among members by publishing a newsletter several times a year. The newsletter includes recent research findings and development in the field of forensic accounting. The organization also provides members with training in various aspects of the profession, including forensic accounting investigation, fraud investigation, and litigation support.