How Much Does a Private Investigator Cost?

Hiring a private investigator (PI) can be a daunting task especially if you have never done so. If you have only been exposed to private investigators through movies and TV shows, you may have an incorrect view of what a PI actually does. Contrary to popular belief, they do not walk around in a trench coat while carrying a magnifying glass. Instead, private investigators can be indispensable in terms of acquiring information for personal and legal reasons. In this article, we will be delving into the scope of how a private investigator can help you, what the cost of services are, and the usual method of payment. As with most occupations, the experience and results an investigator promises can drastically affect the price.

Before diving into the many services offered by a PI, you should be prepared to have an initial consultation. These meetings help outline exactly what you are expecting from the other party and if both parties feel comfortable working together. The vast majority of PI’s will offer a free consultation, but high-end investigators may charge for the first meeting. It may be tempting to hire an expensive PI without consultation, but initially spending a little bit of money to avoid a large mishap is usually the advisable decision. Your PI will be privy to sensitive information and have responsibilities that could alter your relationships and life for good. For that reason, it is important to assess the PI critically in every encounter.

The exact price you can expect to pay is largely dependent on the scope of the task that you are giving them. When you ask for a more difficult task, you are taking more of the private investigator’s time. A PI usually prices tasks in two ways: Either you are charged a flat fee for the task or you are charged an hourly fee. Most PI’s charge by the hour, but even if you are given a cost estimate that is a flat rate, they have likely factored in the difficulty of the assignment and have charged you accordingly. Therefore, if you want to be cost-effective it’s important to be fully aware of the exact outcome that you want before seeking out the services of a private investigator.

There is a myriad of different services that you can get from a PI but the most popular are:

  • Locating a loved one
  • Finding incriminating evidence of your partner being unfaithful
  • Gather or obtain information to help you build a legal case against someone
  • Sweep your workplace and home to see if you are being watched
  • Find and uncover someone’s social media presence

Some of these tasks are quite straightforward and can be done in a single day. For example, sweeping your home to make sure there aren’t any bugs will probably take a few hours at most. Sweeping is a type of tasks that the PI can charge a flat fee for. Complex tasks that require stake-outs or have ambiguous timelines, like discovering if your partner is being unfaithful, will be less likely to have a flat fee. Some private investigators also charge extra for additional services like confronting the cheater or taking pictures of your unfaithful partner for evidence.

PI’s can also ask for a retainer before they begin their task. A retainer is essentially a fee that is paid before the task is started. When you are renting a house, usually the landlord asks for a down payment on the off-chance that you leave the house in a worse condition than it was initially. A retainer functions in a similar way. The PI usually asks for a small retainer that is then used towards the full price of what the PI is charging. If the task is completed early or the costs that were anticipated never were realized, the PI often returns the portion of the retainer that was never used. Essentially, it is a small way of making the PI’s feel at ease that they are going to be monetarily compensated. This allows them to focus on the task at hand and deliver as soon as they can.

The cost for an investigator varies but a typical contract to hire a PI includes the following:

  1. An hourly fee depending on the length of the contract
  2. Compensation to cover travel costs or hotel stay
  3. Compensation to rent necessary equipment like a GPS tracker
  4. Extra charges for photographic evidence

With all that taken into account, the current market rate for a PI is $50 to $75 per hour. It’s important to note that geography, demand, and experience can all play a factor. Spending an hour sweeping a house may be cheaper than several hours following an individual throughout the day as they go about their errands. The regulatory rules for who can be a PI are also quite diverse. In some states, there are several licenses that you have to obtain before being allowed to legally declare yourself a PI. In other states, all you need is a business license to call yourself a PI. A PI having a private investigator license in a state that doesn’t require one can be a sign that the PI goes above and beyond to make clients feel comfortable. All of these variables can raise or lower the costs outside of that projected price range.

Hiring a cheap PI has one obvious advantage: You get to save money and get similar services. However, this can have disastrous effects. Commissioning a cheap mechanic could leave your vehicle in a worse state than when you brought it in. Hiring an amateur private investigator can cause similar outcomes. Private investigation is a profession that requires professional discreteness and experience with varying difficulties of problem-solving. If you are looking to have a PI solve a difficult problem, especially if it’s a problem that concerns your loved ones, it is highly suggested that you do your research and pay the fair market rate. Just like in almost all things in life, you get what you pay for.