The services a private investigator can provide to you are invaluable. But, how much are you willing to spend for those services?

Whether you’re trying to catch your cheating spouse or locate a missing family member, there’s no question that hiring a PI will get you closer to the truth.

However, the cost of hiring one can be more than you expected. In this article, we’ll break down exactly what you’re paying for and how to get the most bang for your buck.

How much does a private investigator cost? Keep reading to find out.

The Services

PIs are handy for investigating several different types of cases. Here are some of the most common:

  • Infidelity
  • Missing persons
  • Child safety/custody
  • Fraud, theft, organized crime
  • Background checks and research
  • Locate stolen property
  • Find hidden assets

Another common reason people hire PIs is to locate their birth parents or find out more about their (or their child’s) adoption information. Through digital forensics, they can find out more than an average person can on their computer.

Attorneys will often hire private investigators to do research on their case and its main players.

PIs find the information you’re looking for through special research methods. These can include surveillance, interviews, and record-checking. Sometimes they use the legal system to gain access to information regular civilians wouldn’t be able to find.

Some methods come at an additional cost but are beneficial to the investigation, like a Tech monitor.

How Much Does a Private Investigator Cost?

The short answer: it varies.

Private investigators may charge on an hourly basis or by a retainer. They could be working for an organization which will include additional fees for getting a whole team working for you, or they could work for themselves.

If they charge an hourly rate, it will depend on the investigator’s experience and qualifications as well as their location. Sometimes there’s an hourly rate for surveillance services and a different hourly rate for interviews or other services.

When hiring a PI by the hour, always ask if there are bulk hour packages that will provide you a discount for paying for multiple hours.

If they charge a retainer, it could be more or less than the cost of the actual work they end up doing. You could pay $1500, but they only worked $1000 worth. That’s why it’s crucial to know upfront if you get the remaining money back in that situation or the PI keeps the whole retainer.


There are also different expenses the PI can incur while working on your case which you will have to pay. These can include:

  • Flights and transit
  • Driving mileage
  • Tolls
  • Hotels
  • Court appearances
  • Administrative costs

Some PIs will also charge an extra fee if they will be putting themselves in any danger for your investigation.

It’s always best practice to purchase more hours or a higher retainer than you need. If your maximum budget doesn’t cover the full investigation to get the information you need, then you’ll have to buy more anyway.

How to Pick the Right PI

Private investigators come with a variety of skills, backgrounds, and success rates. Do your research on the person you will be hiring.

Inquire if they have a PI license and the qualifications that were required to obtain one. Some states, like Wyoming, Idaho, and South Dakota, don’t require private investigators to be licensed.

An important word of advice is to check if the potential PI you’ll be hiring has an office with a physical address. PIs that work out of restaurants and hotels constantly are more likely to be scammers looking to disappear with your money.

When interviewing potential private investigators, learn what types of cases they specialize in, their background (if it includes criminal justice), and get to know their personality.

If you can get a referral from someone you trust, you’ll be able to feel safer with that PI.

The Initial Consultation

The first meeting with your hired PI is a time to get to know them and see if you feel comfortable with them.

PIs need to know a lot about you, your situation, and the person they’re hired to investigate. Confidentiality is important, so make sure you can trust them.

In this meeting, you should discuss what your expectations are for hiring a PI. They may clear up unrealistic expectations and give you a better sense of what they can do for you.

You should also discuss your budget in detail. Let them know your maximum budget.

Having a contract is a crucial component of hiring a PI. It should include who is responsible for paying different expenses and up to how much, your budget, what you do and don’t want the investigator to do in the investigation, and their commitment to your confidentiality.

On the flip side, the PI is going to decide if your case is ethical, legal, and achievable.

Tips for Getting the Most for Your Money

If you hire a PI on retainer, ensure they refund the portion of the retainer that’s unused.

Include everything in the contract, every single detail about money owed and services expected to be provided.

Choose a PI in your city, or nearby, to avoid the cost of flying them to you.

If you don’t feel comfortable or safe with them, don’t hire them. Keep searching until you find a PI you trust and are willing to spend money on.

Interested in Learning More?

Private investigators can help you find the person, information, or evidence you’ve been searching for. Their assistance is invaluable, but it also comes at a price.

How much does a private investigator cost? As much as you’re willing to pay to get the answers you need.

For more information on finding a private investigator and what we can do for you, contact us on our Contact page or at one of our South Carolina offices like our new private investigators in Charleston SC

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Stillinger Investigations is the Best Private Investigator in Columbia SC! Brian Stillinger is the owner of one of the most prominent private investigation companies in South Carolina.
At Stillinger Investigations, we have 125+ years of combined investigative experience and a diverse team with a wide range of backgrounds and qualifications.
We are a private investigation team focusing on adultery, child custody, insurance fraud, civil litigation and criminal defense investigations. With 12 full-time, licensed investigators, we provide prompt, thorough, dependable service to attorneys, insurance companies and individual clients throughout the Southeast US. We maintain a full range of technical and surveillance equipment, including specialize
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