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CostHelper > Personal Finance  > Employment > Private Investigator

Private Investigator Cost

How Much Does a Private Investigator Cost?

average costHourly Rate: $40-$300 Plus Expenseshigh costRetainer: $500-$10,000+
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  Typical costs:
  • Private investigators typically charge an hourly rate plus expenses. Depending on the type of work done, the location and whether the case requires one investigator, two or more, the hourly rate can vary $40-$300 an hour but typically averages about $50-$100 an hour. Often an investigator charges for a minimum number of hours of work, typically 2-8 depending on the type of services needed. Most investigators charge for the time spent talking with the client (a brief initial consultation may be free) or typing up a formal report, and the hourly rate can be higher for out-of-town, evening or weekend work.
  • Expenses can include an administrative or set-up fee of $50-$150 per case; $0.20-$0.75 per mile driven; hotel or other travel costs; fees for taking photographs or video ($5-$10 per photo or a flat rate of $30-$50); and any charges like government record/filing fees or lab tests.
  • Like lawyers, most private investigators require a deposit known as a retainer before they start working on a case. The retainer is based on an estimate of the number of hours of work that will be required; it might be $500-$2,000 for a simple project or $3,000-$10,000 or more for a complicated and time-consuming situation. As the work is done, the billable amount is deducted from the retainer. If the job takes more hours than expected, the private investigator will ask for authorization to keep working and require additional payment. If the case takes less time than predicted, the remaining amount of the retainer might be refundable, although it can be subject to the minimum charge. For example, Morris Investigations[1] in Texas charges $75 an hour and $0.60 per mile for a single investigator and vehicle; $50 a day for the use of a GPS tracker with a three day minimum; and $6 each for 5"x7" digital photographs or a flat $30 video fee, with a minimum $1,000 refundable retainer for a domestic surveillance case.
  • Results cannot be guaranteed and total costs vary depending on the number of hours needed to find the desired information. A straightforward domestic infidelity case that is easily resolved might cost $500-$1,500, but could be $2,000-$5,000 or more; a criminal defense investigation that takes 25 to 50 hours might cost $1,000-$6,000 or more; and a complicated search for a birth parent or an adoptive child might be $5,000-$10,000. For example, Versatek Security[2] in Virginia estimates the majority of domestic cases cost $1,000-$2,000.
  • A private investigator may charge a flat fee for specific projects like background checks or research. A standardized records search might cost $20-$200 or more, depending on what is included; and monitoring a GPS tracking device could cost $50-$75 a day (with a 3-7 day minimum). For example, RB Investigations[3] in Arizona charges $25 to verify a social security number, $75 to check a motor vehicle or driving record, and offers pre-employment and background search packages for $85-$185, with a minimum "no hit" fee of $25 even if a records search finds nothing.
Related articles: Attorney Fees, Divorce, Criminal Attorney

What should be included:
  • Give the investigator accurate and thorough information about the situation. The investigator will typically ask multiple questions about the circumstances and goals of the investigation, then suggest the best way to proceed with the case. The exact steps needed will depend on the situation, and a successful surveillance operation may require more than one investigator. Advanced Surveillance Group in Michigan describes the work done by private investigators in infidelity case examples[4] .
  • Private investigators are not law enforcement officials and must follow all local, state and federal laws.
Shopping for a private investigator:
  • Laws governing private investigators vary by state; the Private Investigators Association of America explains the license regulations for each state as well as contact information for state associations, which often provide directories of their members. Or search the membership directory of the National Association of Investigative Specialists[5] . Or ask for recommendations from local attorneys, accountants, insurance companies or other business associates.
  • Talk to several private investigation firms about their experience, hourly rates and typical retainer amounts. Ask which investigator or investigators would be working on this case, how long that person has been licensed, their background and training, and their specific experience with this type of case. Ask for and contact references; verify that the company is properly bonded and insured; and check for complaints with the Better Business Bureau[6] .
  • The investigator should provide a written agreement outlining all fees and the specific work to be done. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division posts a sample private investigations contract[7] .
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What People Are Paying - Recent Comments
Criminal Investigation
Amount: $1,000.00
Posted by: Very Happy Client !. in San Antonio, TX.Posted: January 3rd, 2015 10:01PM
Investigator: Access Investigations, LLCType of Work Done:
A family member was being accused of a 2nd Degree Felony in Bexar County (San Antonio), Texas. Access Investigations,LLC investigated the case and showed that the wrong person had been in jail for 3 YEARS! For the crime. Very very pleased with the outcome, the Investigator kept me informed of the investigation. The case had been investigated by two other private investigations firms, but they found nothing helpful. Access Investigations, LLC got it done in less than a month!! I highly recommend them, they are professional experienced investigators their rates are 0better than other companies that were called too.
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Tracking Device
Amount: $50.00
Posted by: Unknown just yet in Oklahoma City, OK.Posted: March 15th, 2013 08:03PM
Investigator: Don't want to specify yetType of Work Done: Domestic
He did not provide a written statement of prices. He told me $50 a day for the tracking device. I thought that was the total fee. He had us leave it on for 9 days. he keeps tracking his feet. He told us it would be ready a certain day and it is 5 days letter and still not ready. Now he said we misunderstood him that if he wants us to rush thru it then it will cost more $!!!!!! e said he could do the tracking device the slow way to save $ or the fast way and cost more $. So far I spent $250 on a background check which took for ever for them to explain it to me!!! They emailed it to me is that normal? Then I gave a $1500 retainer for the tracking device and whatever else we decide. So I have $1,750 total. I am not satisfied with his unprofessionalism, his stall tactics, and just stupid stories trying to impress me about how great he is. He thinks he is Dick Tracy, I think he is full of himself!! Please correct me if I just don't understand how all this works!! Is there more charges?????
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