December 13, 2021

How Much Does a Private Investigator Cost?

One of the most common questions people have when deciding whether or not to hire a private investigator is how much does it cost?

There are many factors that go into determining how much a private investigator costs. This includes whether the private investigator works on an hourly basis or a flat rate basis, if a retainer is required, and the extent of the job. 

Before you hire a private investigator, it is very important to have a conversation with them. This ensures that you understand the fees, disbursements, and an estimate of what the job may cost.  

Different Ways Private Investigators Charge for Their Services


Most private investigators charge their clients by the hour. The total cost is determined by how many total hours the investigator works on your job.  The more complex the job is, the more expensive it is. 

Private investigators typically charge between $65 to $200 per hour depending on their experience level and how difficult the job is. The national average hourly rate for a private investigator is $105 an hour. 

In some cases, you can negotiate a private investigator's hourly rate. Be sure to agree on an hourly rate in writing before instructing the investigator to start the job. 

Flat Rate

Private investigators normally charge a flat fee for routine services like: background checks, process serving, or court document retrieval.  

You pay a set price for the investigator's services, and it doesn't change based on how many hours the investigator worked on your job.  


Many private investigators ask their clients to provide a retainer before they begin working on a case.  

A retainer is an up-front amount of money you give the private investigator to charge against while completing the job.  Your retainer may be used to pay for disbursements related to your case or used to pay the private investigator's hourly rate.  

The amount of a retainer your private investigator asks for depends on the scope of your case and how much work they anticipate doing. 

Retainers can range anywhere from $500 to $5,000. If the private investigator doesn't use the full retainer amount, the balance will be returned to you when your case is closed.  

Initial Consultations

Before a private investigator opens a file for you, you'll have an initial consultation where you explain what services you require, and the investigator advises whether they can assist or not.  

The cost of an initial consultation varies from agency to agency. Some private investigators charge you their standard hourly rate for the consultation, some charge a lower hourly rate, and some like Universal Investigations Agency Inc. give you a free phone consultation.   

Factors that Impact the Cost of a PI

Experience and Expertise

One of the biggest factors that impacts the cost of a private investigator is their level of experience.  

The more experience, expertise, and reputation a private investigator has, the more they'll charge you for their services. 

You're paying for their knowledge. They may cost more than a private investigator who is new to the business, but the likelihood of your case being done correctly and effectively with an experienced private investigator is much higher. 

Number of PIs Working on Your Case

If you're paying by the hour, the number of private investigators working on your case will impact the amount you pay.  

Private investigators in an agency have different hourly rates. If the private investigator asks a junior to assist on your case, you may pay less in hourly fees.  If they ask a senior to assist on your case, you may end up paying more.  

Travel Fees

Private investigators may charge for travel fees. This includes the cost of mileage driving from place to place, plane or train tickets, and hotels. 

Your private investigator will only charge travel fees for expenses directly related to your case. If there is a lot of travel involved, it may cost hundreds of dollars.  

However, if your case is relatively straightforward and simple, the travel expenses likely won't be a major disbursement.  

Other Factors that May Affect Price

There are many standard disbursements your private investigator may incur to complete your job.  

They may include:

     - Data retrieval costs

     - Search fees

     - Administrative costs such as printing

Other non-disbursement factors that may impact the price of your case include:

     - The risk involved (if the job is risky, you'll pay more)

     - If any specialized equipment is required 

     - Expenses from third-party companies the private investigator has to partner with

How to Save Money on PI Services

Come Prepared

One of the best ways you can save money when hiring a private investigator is come prepared to every meeting.

Have the details of the case at your initial meeting and know exactly what questions you want to ask at any subsequent meetings after your case is open. 

This may save you a lot of time and money if you're paying by the hour.


A contract sets out the scope of the investigation and fees. It protects both you and the private investigator.  

A contract can help you save money when using a private investigator because it sets the limits of the case. If the investigator goes outside the agreed upon contract, you may be able to argue  that you don't need to pay for those services.

The contract should also outline what are considered reasonable disbursements. This is so you have an idea of the amount and kind of disbursements you may become subject to.  

You should never commit to using a private investigator or give them a retainer without first singing a contract. If you don't understand the contents of the contract, have a lawyer review it before you sign it.  

Purchase Hours in Bulk

It is tempting to only pay your private investigator one hour at a time, but that might end up costing you more in the long run.  

Most private investigators allow you to buy hours in bulk. This gives the private investigator the means to hone in on your case and not have to take on other cases in between yours.  

If you only pay them one or two hours at a time, they may stop working on your case until you pay them for more hours. This means any momentum on your case is lost and at a standstill. 

Additionally, some agencies offer a discount on their hourly fee when you purchase hours in bulk. You may save a lot of money if you purchase 10 hours upfront in bulk rather than paying for 1 hour 10 times.  

Be Transparent

It is important to be upfront and honest with a private investigator. You need to give them all the information necessary to work on your case even if it is a little bit uncomfortable or personal to share.  

The more information you give them, the easier their job is and the less hours they have to dedicate to your case.  

Don't hold back. It is better to give a private investigator more information than they need than not enough information.  

Don't Hire a Cheap Private Investigator 

Hiring a private investigator is a financial commitment. You may be tempted to hire the cheapest private investigator you can find, but that may not save you money in the long run. 

You want a private investigator who knows what they're doing and has the resources to complete your job.  

A cheap private investigator may work more hours than a more expensive and experienced private investigator. The extra hours the cheap private investigator works may cost you more than the price of a more expensive private investigator. 

In the worst case scenario, the cheaper private investigator may not be able to complete the job properly, and you'll be forced to find a new, more experienced private investigator to do the same job.  

When push comes to shove, it is often better to pay more upfront for a more experienced private investigator than settle for a cheap, inexperienced private investigator.  

Why Hiring a PI is Worth it

There are many reasons you should consider hiring a private investigator.  

Private investigators have the knowledge and experience to solve your case. A private investigator has access to resources you, as a private citizen, don't have.  They know how to work within the limits of the law to get the information you need, and their evidence is normally upheld in court as permissible.  

Talk to a Private Investigator

Now that you understand how much it costs to hire a private investigator and how their fees are calculated, it is time to speak with one.  

Contact Universal Investigations Agency Inc. for your free phone consultation. With over 25 years of expertise, we're here to help you with any private investigation needs you have.  

Our private investigators are here to answer any questions you might have about your case. Just call for a free consultation. We're here to help with any of your private investigation needs.
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