On average, private investigators charge $105 per hour. Most people pay between $99 and $150 per hour for private investigation services.
Private investigator hourly rate:
National average hourly rate
Hourly rate range
The cost to hire a private investigator (PI) can also depend on the investigator’s experience, the complexity of the matter and the types of services you need. While many private investigators charge an hourly rate, some may charge a flat fee for basic services.
Read this guide to learn how private investigator fees work and the expense you might expect to incur. Then, contact private investigators near you to schedule an initial consultation.
What’s in this cost guide?
There are many reasons you might need to hire a private investigator. Whether it’s to run an employee background check, provide surveillance, locate missing relatives or uncover infidelity, the total costs can vary widely. Depending on what kind of investigation is involved and what information you need to find, a private investigator may charge a fee based on the following:
It’s common for private investigators to charge by the hour, particularly for jobs that are lengthy and involve extensive research. Your location, the PI’s experience and the specific services you’re requesting can influence hourly rates.
For example, Curtis Moore Investigation charges $55 to $75 per hour. Fieldwork (anything out of the office) incurs $0.45 to $0.55 per mile in addition to the hourly rate. Meanwhile, Sky Investigations charges $65 per hour.
A detective agency or private investigation firm might charge a flat rate for a simple pre-employment background check, bug sweep, document search or other services. These tasks are generally straightforward, one-time efforts. Typically, they take place in the office setting and don’t require the private investigator to do fieldwork. For example, Sky Investigations offers comprehensive background investigation services for a flat fee of $100.
If your situation involves an ongoing investigation, a PI will usually ask for a retainer upfront. PIs often use retainers for cases involving infidelity investigations, child custody and child support matters, and continued surveillance. The amount of a retainer fee can vary widely, depending on how much work will be involved.
By paying the retainer, clients are putting a down payment on services to be rendered. For example, both Krollpfeiffer & Co. and Pennington Elite Investigations require a $1,500 retainer before beginning investigative services.
No matter what kind of fee arrangement you’re entering into with the private investigation firm, get a contract outlining the services you’ve agreed upon and the fees you will be charged to avoid any misunderstandings. A contract will include your fees and other financial obligations. It can also include deadlines.
Before hiring a private investigator, it’s a good idea to schedule an initial consultation. When you call to set up the meeting, make sure you know whether the private investigator will charge for it. Some might offer a free consultation to discuss your situation and determine if they can help. Others may charge you a fee.
When you’re considering hiring a detective agency, think about your budget and how much you can afford to spend on the investigation. It’s not necessarily a good idea to select the least expensive firm, but you shouldn’t assume that the most expensive one is the best, either. Instead, carefully consider the specifics of your situation and what each firm can provide.
Here are some factors that can influence private investigator rates:
Types of services
Some private investigation firms specialize in complex and highly sensitive matters, while others focus mainly on procedural investigations. Depending on the situation you’re facing, you may consider paying more for the expertise you need in a specific niche rather than choosing a firm that provides more generalized services.
Type of investigations
One of the factors that can make private investigator costs vary so widely is the type of investigation, the amount of work needed and the level of discretion necessary.
Number of PIs working on your case
If you’ve hired a PI firm for a complicated investigation, the firm may need to assign more than one detective to your case. The more PIs who work on your case, the greater your total cost may be.
Reputation and experience
Private investigation firms that are well-established and have been in business for many years will likely charge more than a newly opened detective agency. A PI who has an extensive career in law enforcement or intelligence will likely charge more than someone who's starting out and has less training.
Private investigators will generally charge fees connected with their travel expenses, especially if the investigation entails going to another city or state. You may need to reimburse them for gas mileage, train tickets, plane tickets and any other transportation modes necessary for the detective to carry out their assignment.
How much you spend on an investigation comes down to how much time and work it involves. In many cases, a reputable private investigator can uncover information and evidence that most people can’t. But you might be able to save some money on PI services if you can do some of the research yourself.
You can also save money by providing the private eye with as much information in advance as necessary, so the work goes more quickly. Limiting the scope of the investigation is another good way to keep costs down.
Private investigators are trained and skilled in obtaining information. So whether you’re seeking information for personal or business purposes, there are many reasons it might be a good idea to hire a professional. You may consider hiring a PI to:
- Investigate infidelity or cheating allegations
- Conduct employee background checks
- Look for a missing person
- Uncover fraud
- Help uncover hidden assets and funds
- Investigate identity theft cases
- Conduct surveillance
- Gather facts to present in court in support of a custody dispute
- Collect photos and other relevant evidence in a personal injury case
- Testify in court on their findings
- And much more
By uncovering relevant information, a private investigator can help ensure the safety of you and your loved ones, as well as identify any potential threats to your business and financial interests.
If you need to hire a private investigator, you might not know where to start. Cost is just one factor in finding a private investigator who’s a good fit for you. As with hiring any other professional, it’s important to do your due diligence on the best private investigators in your area. Here are a few steps you should take:
Step 1: Compare private investigators online.
Search for private investigators near you, and carefully consider the results. Look for ones who are skilled in the type of investigation you’re looking to pursue and within your budget. Once you have narrowed down your options, make a list of a few detectives you’d like to contact.
Step 2: Ask PIs a lot of questions.
After you’ve made your initial list of private investigators you think you’d like to call, compile a list of questions to ask to determine whether you’d like to move forward with scheduling a consultation.
For example, you might ask them what their policies are concerning confidentiality, how they ensure discretion and who at the firm will be handling your case. You might also ask what they can and can’t do during their investigation, and how confident they are that they will meet your objectives.
Step 3: Gather your notes.
Investigations are often complicated. This means that you might not know what details are relevant to your case and would be helpful to discuss with the private detective. To start getting organized, write down your story or the sequences of events. You'll also want to keep thorough notes — this can help ensure that you don't forget any details that might be critical to share with the investigator.
Step 4: Get free estimates and use them to make a cost-effective decision.
After you've compiled your list of potential PI firms and questions, message or call each private investigator to ask them what their rates are to estimate how much your investigation will cost.
Step 5: What credentials should the professional have?
Before you hire any private investigators, make sure they have the necessary insurance, credentials, certifications and licenses. You should also ask them about their relevant work experience in a case like yours.
If you need more tips on how to choose a private investigator, visit Thumbtack’s Safety page.
If you’re ready to hire a PI to help you with your investigation, use Thumbtack to find the best private investigators near you and schedule a consultation today.