How Much Is A Private Investigator?

If you just came across this post, you’re probably wondering how much it costs to pay a private investigator. While there is no set standard price for these services, a few criteria can lead you to find the average cost of a private investigator. In this guide, we’ll investigate (no pun intended) how much it is to get a private investigator near you and determine all the costs. So, here is what you should know. But first, let’s strip down the nature of the private investigation and how the cost factor comes in.

What Is A Private Investigation?

private investigator

Private investigations are services by private agencies or individuals meant to help law enforcement, corporations, or individuals. It involves thorough research practices like going through legal records, family, history, and background checks. It may also include in-person interviews with witnesses, friends, colleagues, or family. Private investigators use several tools to carry out their investigations, including database surveillance software, recorders, bug detectors, etc. A combination of necessary research and field experience makes an investigator efficient.

Private Investigations Are All About Your Needs

In most private investigation instances, the services revolve around surveillance, pre-matrimonial investigation, background checks, bug sweeps, or insurance checks. These basic services are straightforward for investigators and usually do not require special tools for the investigation process. You’ll notice these services will cost cheaper than sophisticated cases.

As the nature of the investigation gets complicated, so does the price. That’s because private investigators will need special equipment and approaches. Such costly investigations include cheating spouses, financial fraud, tax evasion checks, missing person investigations, and others. The array of investigations carried out depends on your needs, and the price will more often depend on this factor.

Other Factors Affecting Price Of A Hiring A PI

Apart from the nature of your investigation, a few other factors determine how much a private investigator will charge. Let’s have a look at them.

Level of Expertise

As you’d guess, the more experienced an investigator is, the higher the price tag. However, private investigation is a service, and experience has proven to sharpen one’s investigation skills. Also, if you have investigators who have criminal law or intelligence backgrounds, expect high costs. Moreover, experienced investigators will probably get the results you need to be worth the price in the long run.

Amount Of Resources Required

Just like diamonds, no two cases are the same. This means each investigation will require a different set of resources. In most cases, the investigator must pay additional fees to get information, restricted access areas, etc. All these costs will amount to the total price of your investigation. Plus, if the investigation requires extensive human surveillance, the investigator may need to build human networks, conduct interviews, and use other investigative tactics to gather intelligence.

Location Of Investigation

Some investigations maybe a few miles away and will require the PI to travel. Sometimes the investigator may have to travel out of state or city. In complex or high-profile cases, sometimes the investigator will be required to travel to another country. Such instances spur additional costs like gas, air travel fare, visa, among other charges. If the private investigator needs to travel to complete an investigation, the travel fees will be added to the total cost of the investigation.


Some private investigators require an upfront amount similar to a deposit before they carry out investigations. The retainer is usually a non-refundable amount required to cover the costs of investigations. Although retainers can be a certain percentage of the total amount, it depends on the private investigator. While there is no standard percentage or amount of retainer, Divorce Magazine estimates the typical retainer for a private investigator at $1,000 minimum and up to $5,000 on higher-end cases.

So, How Much Does A Private Investigator Cost?

Looking into the price of hiring a PI, you should consider paying an hourly or at a flat rate. More often, private investigators charge hourly since they usually know the amount of work needed to carry out a particular investigation. For example, some investigations will need hours of surveillance to get a single point of information. However, most PIs are willing to work around your budget and the amount you’d be able to spend.

Generally, in terms of hourly rates, private investigations cost anywhere from $50 an hour up to $500+ an hour depending on the factors mentioned earlier in this post. As of 2022 national average hourly rate in the US is somewhere around $105 an hour with the cheaper PIs costing somewhere in the $65 range. But keep in mind, you get what you pay for.

In some instances, the private investigator will charge depending on the nature of the case and give you a flat fee. Flat fees take into consideration all costs involved in carrying out the investigation. It is crucial to note that only simple cases apply to getting a flat fee charge. Cases such as missing persons, document retrieval, background checks and bug sweeps are less complex, and PIs usually charge a few hundred to a couple of thousand dollars, including tax and extra costs.

How To Impact Investigation Costs

Most folks think Investigations are bound to be lengthy, but there are ways in which you can speed up the process. Use these tips to make your investigation move fast.

Be Transparent

Investigations are delicate, and at times you may hold on to sensitive information in fear of personal implications. While it makes sense up to some point, giving half information to private investigators only slows the process further. If you have any information you feel is useful to the investigation, give it out to help catch the perpetrator or criminal.

Pay Investigation Hours in Bulk

It is always tempting to pay hourly investigations by the hour, hoping that the case may be solved earlier than anticipated. However, this tactic only makes it more difficult as the investigators cannot move forward with the case if anything unexpected happens. For instance, if you only paid for a two-hour survey to investigate a person and the person for some reason comes to the target location a few hours late, or the meeting takes longer than usual, the PI will only work based on hours paid. Eventually, they may not get the information needed due to a limited amount of hours paid.

Trust Your Investigator

We believe that by the time you hire an investigator, you need their services. That said, you need to trust the investigator so that the case is easier to solve. Bringing in your “hunches” now and then may deviate the investigation process.

Choose Wisely

When looking at the cost of hiring a private investigator, think through the kind of services you need. A tech-savvy team is bound to solve your case faster and with better accuracy than a cheap rookie team. Besides, an experienced private investigator will only give estimates based on experiences rather than assumptions. Rookie investigators may mislead you with cheaper costs and later come to add extra through flimsy lies.

Additional tips & Considerations

Private Investigations does not have standard pricing, so it is easy to get overcharged. If you’re having doubts about a certain agency, ensure you ask for a proposal showing the investigation activities they intend to carry out. These include laid out objectives, associated costs, and expected challenges. You should at least be aware of these before signing anything or giving out your credit card information.

If you’re working on a budget, then make sure the investigation agency knows this. Investigators are human and understand any cost constraints that a client may face. So, it is better to be upfront about your budget before agreeing on anything. No matter the case urgency, outlining your budget makes it easy for investigators to prepare how to work around the process.

While we don’t recommend rookies, it is crucial to find an experienced private investigator for your services. The type of experience you need, has to be specific to your area. For instance, if you live in Florida, an investigator with experience with Florida cases is better off than one with experience in New Jersey. Local experience means they can maneuver easily in government departments, facilities, etc. In addition, such private investigators already have a network within the area, so simple cases may be faster for them to deal with.

Lastly, if you have a niche case, it is best to look for a private investigator with specific experience in the niche. You can check this by asking for prior similar cases or evidence to show they were working in a similar department. Trained detectives will solve your cases easily and are more likely to do well in court cases.

In Conclusion

Private investigation is a crucial process and before you hire anyone, be sure to ask about costs and how long they expect the investigation to last. A quality PI can answer these questions with ease. They should also be able to give you a rough estimate of the total costs. You don’t want to pay thousands extra when you could solve a case by paying a few hundreds of dollars.


Post Updated (09/27/22)

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