Private Investigator Employee Salary-How do You Live on it? #173

How do you live on a private investigator employee salary for an investigation company?  That is the question that was asked in my recent survey sent to newsletter subscribers. And it is a good question that I thought I would discuss in this article to provide some more light on private investigator salaries, especially the salary of an employee.

Here is the question:

“It seems there isn’t a lot of income for P.I.’s unless you own the company, or you are in management with a large company. How do you live on that income?”

The comment/question by this reader is pretty much spot on for the most part.  The only way for most investigators to make real money is to be in upper-level management within an investigation company or to have their own agency.  Having your own agency does not mean you are guaranteed more money but you will certainly have the potential to make more money.

When I say real money I think that number can be different for everyone but in my mind, I am thinking at least $75,000 a year.

With all that being said, the private investigation industry isn’t a this or that industry (either a business owner or employee).  But I will get into the that in a bit.

How Do You Live on a Private Investigator Employee Salary?

I believe the average income for an employee working for an insurance investigation company ranges from $35,000 a year to $45,000 a year.  There are many variables related to those numbers but taking into account personal experiences and knowing many employees in that industry, that is about the average.

The reason I used insurance investigation companies as an example is because I think they represent the majority of employees in the private investigation industry.  And I believe this is because working for an insurance investigation company is the fastest way to become a private investigator.

Private Investigator Employee Salary

When I Started as a Private Investigation Employee This Was My Salary

I have mentioned this in the past but I will discuss it a little more in-depth here as to how much I worked and what my pay rate was in 2004.

I was hired at the rate of $15.50 an hour and was provided all the equipment I would need including a company cell phone. I provided my own vehicle and I was paid something like .28 cents a mile for my travel and possibly miles driven during a case (I can’t remember for sure).  And if I worked enough days during a month and had a high video percentage I would receive a bonus for that month that varied between $100 and $500.  

My checks varied every pay period depending on how much work there was and how well my cases went.  

It was game for me each day.  I would first have to confirm the individual was home, get video of the individual, follow the subject, not lose the subject and of course not get caught by the subject.  

So my checks varied between (off memory and generally speaking) $1,000 and $1,500 every two weeks.  And I received anywhere from $250 to $500 every two weeks depending on how much travel mileage I had each pay period.  And If I had a really good month I had a bonus at the end of the month ($100 to $500).

There were some bad paycheck weeks where I hardly made anything but it didn’t happen all the time (thank goodness).  Those lean times can be very scary for an employee of a private investigation company.  Sometimes you fear the busy work will never come back but it always did. 

Full-Time Private Investigation Employee Salary in 2017 for Insurance Investigation Company

So I have a friend that is making $23-$24 an hour for an insurance investigation company.  They have a gas card from the company that pays for their gas (for work), they have health benefits, receives a few weeks of vacation a year, and they receive approximately $250 a month for vehicle maintenance.

It doesn’t sound like a great deal of money hourly but this investigator consistently works 50 to 60 hour weeks.  And with overtime incorporated, this investigator frequently takes home over $2,000 to $2,300 every two weeks which isn’t too bad.  This investigator is a workhorse and is a very good investigator which contributes to how this investigator is able to work so many hours.  Working that many hours each week isn’t for everyone but it allows this investigator to make more than the average investigator working for a company.

I have noticed a trend in the insurance investigation industry that is benefiting field investigators.  I have noticed companies are willing to pay more to investigators with experience then they would do in the past.  And because of this, you have a good chance of having a starting salary around or over at least $23 an hour.  There are various reasons for the increase in pay but I will dig deeper into that topic another day.

So How do You Live on a Private Investigator Employee Salary?

In my early years as a private investigator, my wife and I didn’t have very many bills.  All of our vehicles were paid for when we first got married and we really had no debt.  

My wife and I both worked full time and money really wasn’t a problem because the rent for our apartment was about $960.  I think my wife made like $13 or $14 an hour.   And when work was slow we had money put away to help get us through those times.

We had enough money each month to pay the bills, to save and live comfortably.  And the fact that my wife had a consistent paycheck that wasn’t affected by different seasons was nice to have as well. We lived within our means and had no children (for the first year).

Everyone’s situation is different but in this industry, it is helpful to always save for the times when work is slow.  Basically, that is what we did as a young married couple. 

Or Be LIke My Investigator Friend

Though I did work quite a bit early in my career as an employee I don’t think I have worked 50 to 60 hour weeks as consistently as I know my friend does (the one mentioned earlier).  

You can try to work as many hours as my friend to elevate your salary as an employee and it should be a livable salary for most people.  

My friend is also very good with money and is a good saver.  My friend has been in this industry for a long time and knows the importance of preparing for slow seasons in the investigation industry.

On a personal note, I don’t think working 60 hours each week is living.  You earn a great living working 60 hours a week but there is little time for anything else because your life just becomes consumed with work. I have talked about work-life balance for private investigators in the past if you want to read more about that.

Salary of a Private Investigator Employee

Don’t Fit This Industry Into a Box

I think there is a misconception that either you’re an employee or you’re a business owner. As if you can’t be both in this industry.  

Having a diverse income stream can be the difference between paying your bills each month or being broke.  Working for yourself and a company can add stability to your income each month.

Who says you can’t work part-time for an investigation company, sub-contract work with other companies and pursue your own business all at the same time? Can I get an Amen?

Take the experience of being a private investigation employee and start your own private investigation business.  And as you continue to pay your bills as an employee you can slowly develop your business until maybe someday you don’t need to be an employee any longer.

Or continue to be an employee and work your own business part-time forever.  Maybe you supplement that work with a side-hustle. It is up to you how you want to design your life and your financial dreams.

I hope this helps anyone wondering what a private investigation employee’s salary can be (or not be).  

Let me know if you have any questions and I will do my best to answer the questions in the comment section.