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How Much Does a Private Investigator Cost in 2022?

Michelle Wilson - April 14, 2022

How Much Does a Private Investigator Cost in 2022?

Many of us will navigate through life without ever encountering a private investigator anywhere but the pages of a bestseller or on the big screen. Unfortunately, a few of us won’t be so lucky, needing the investigation services we famously see on the big screen. This situation leads us to two essential questions. How much does a private investigator cost, and are the services actually worth the expense?

Before impulsively hiring someone, here are a few things to consider:

How Much Does a Private Investigator Actually Cost?

For most jobs and positions, finding the average income level is easy. Unfortunately, finding reliable sources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics isn’t possible. According to the BLS, the median income of a private investigator sits at $25.64 per hour. The top 10% of all private investigators earn $46.64 per hour, but these rates aren’t standard or specific to the industry. Like lawyers, many investigators charge by billable hours, and not all hours are considered billable.

A given week may contain anywhere from 10 to 60 billable hours for some investigators, with the nonworking time bringing down the rolling average. Instead, it’s more beneficial to consider the cost of hiring a quality private investigator. Thumbtack, a popular contractor-hiring website, indicates the nationwide range is between $99 to $150 per hour, but occasionally rates can dip below $65 per hour or fall as high as $200 per hour. While most investigators will bill hourly, others enforce a minimum charge of service. Most often, these charges include two to eight hours of service. Occasionally, some investigators may charge a retainer (an up-front payment service), ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars. It’s always wise to inquire about the expected retainer costs or projected timeline for completion. Likewise, always establish what you’re trying to answer or solve before contacting the private investigator.

Are There Extra Rates for Private Investigators?

Periodically, clients may incur additional charges for services not covered in the hourly rate. These include additional fees for photography, rental or surveillance equipment, travel costs, activities that require multiple investigators, hazard pay, or testimony in court. For long-term investigations, many private investigators will offer a discount. These professionals may provide a small flat-rate quote for services (for example, looking up a license plate).

Are Private Investigators Worth the Cost?

Knowing whether the expense of a private investigator is work it (or whether you need to hire them) is also imperative. Occasionally, the decision will be out of your hands, especially if you’re working with legal counsel, but you’ll often want to balance your needs against the cost.

When your billable rate per hour is higher than a detective’s, it makes financial sense to hire the investigator. In the opposite example, where a private investigator’s rate is considerably more than what you make, it doesn’t make sense to take on the expense. Unfortunately, most people hold a far more difficult decision. A professional investigator offers specialized skills and expertise, accessing services or databases you couldn’t otherwise view.

Alternative Method of Hiring

Thankfully, hiring a private investigator doesn’t have to hold an all-or-nothing mentality. Most people can accomplish much of the work themselves, using readily accessible tools. These efforts can sharply reduce the number of billable hours you’ll need to cover, making it a more affordable option overall. While this may not eliminate the need for a professional, it may reduce the level of involvement in activities requiring professional experience.

Becoming Your Own Private Investigator

If you’re looking to locate an individual or find information about someone, a people search tool is often the most accessible starting point. These search functions work with basic details about an individual, using the name, phone number, email address, or basic information to start your search efforts.

These results can effortlessly turn into more information to develop the search, with current or previous addresses, social media accounts, or the actual name of an alias you’ve been given. Discovering a social media account can lead to further review and consideration of the accounts. Receiving a physical address might help with property record location.

Other Web-Sleuthing Resources

Tracking people down is often called web sleuthing. Many people engage in these activities as a hobby, but many of the same tactics and principles apply when performing a private investigation of your own. Outside of a background check company, there are many other resources to help in your search.

Newspaper Archives

Newspaper archives, for example, operate through a publisher or an aggregator. These websites offer an excellent data source but may require someone to dig back several years. Unfortunately, many databases are hidden behind paywalls, demanding payment for access. If you’re determined to find records, consider the public library as a reliable technique for free access or shell out some cash to see the documents.

Web-Sleuthing Communities

Additionally, look to web-sleuthing communities online for guidance and assistance. Many like-minded individuals gather in online forums and social media pages, happy to share research sources and tips. Always remain cautious with the information you share online, regardless of your intent. Refrain from offering specific or identifying details, especially in public.

The More You’re Willing to Do, The Less You’ll Have to Pay

The direct payoff of your investment in effort, time, and occasionally subscription fees when you need to hire a private detective, you’ll significantly reduce the scope of any investigation. The reduced size will effectively minimize the resources and time required for your investigator. In turn, this lowers the number of billable hours and reduces the impact on your wallet.

Thankfully, you won’t need to turn to Nancy Drew to unravel the truth; you’ll need to record, organize, and collate all information pertinent to an investigation. Reducing the burden on the private investigator will also reduce the financial impact it holds. Should you be diligent with providing the investigator everything they need to complete the investigation effortlessly, you’ll reduce the back-and-forth contact. Compiling everything for your private investigator doesn’t just save money; it also helps expedite the process overall.


While many people will go through life without requiring a private investigator, they hold a valuable purpose for those wanting to get to the bottom of something significant. For those looking to hire a PI, understanding the basic functioning can help reduce the overall costs and time the process might take. Being willing to perform some of the work for your case can help keep expenses minimal, particularly the gathering of background details.

Individuals wanting to build a case with minimal effort should expect to pay anywhere from $65 to $200 an hour for billable hours. Before signing a contract, always talk to the service provider about the expected budget, time frame, and extended fees beyond the typical hourly rate. If the cost is beyond your projected budget, always ask them about hybrid services where you offset the expense through preparation and profile development.

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