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Those who wish to get a forensic accounting degree must follow a course that involves college education, formal examinations and certifications. Financial accountants first get a bachelor’s degree in a financial discipline, such as accounting, finance or economics. Some schools offer forensic accounting as a major, but if not, a master’s degree in forensic accounting can be obtained.
Many forensic accountants choose to become Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) before getting a forensic accounting degree. Becoming a CPA requires 150 credit hours of college courses, or about five years of education at both undergraduate and graduate levels. Upon completion, hopeful forensic accountants must pass the Uniform CPA Exam, a four-part test. Additionally, those hoping for a forensic accounting degree must have at least two years of experience in general accounting work. This is why many forensic accountants begin as a general accountant before obtaining the extra education and licenses required for a forensic accounting degree.
Additional certificates that are recommended for forensic accountants are the Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) and the Certified Financial Forensic Accountant (CFFA). These licenses require passing additional four-part tests, the CFE and CFFA exams. Before taking these, the candidate must have a bachelor’s degree and two years of experience in the field. After passing the CFE test, the forensic accountant can apply for an additional industry certification called the Forensic Examiner Diplomate (FED).
Upon completion of the courses, examinations and licenses required for a forensic accounting degree, the forensic accountant can join groups such as the American College of Forensic Examiners. Membership in such a group, together with the certifications, denotes an advanced level of expertise in the field of forensic accounting. A forensic accounting degree signifies that the accountant has a high level of knowledge in financial crime because forensic accountants investigate financial crimes using accounting and auditing procedures. Additionally, this type of accountant helps settle disputes over contracts, helps clients deal with bankruptcy and acts as a witness in litigation cases.
Forensic accountants should have top-notch communication skills because they deal with clients on a regular basis. Good analytical thinking abilities are also crucial, as well as a solid understanding of accounting, finances and budgets. Forensic accountants should be curious by nature and able to juggle numbers and statistics. Because of the interaction with the law, these accountants must be able to organize materials, present data and facts in a clear, coherent manner and make them easy for those with no financial background to understand.
Those who earn a forensic accounting degree can expect to earn a higher salary than regular accountants because of the legal work involved. Forensic accountants can work either in a firm or as a consultant, as an internal auditor, IRS auditor, bankruptcy specialist, bank examiner or chief financial officer. Forensic accounting is a fast-growing industry because of widespread financial fraud.
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