Average Salary: $45,740
Expected Lifetime Earnings: $1,910,000
Private detectives make a median annual wage of between $40,000-$50,000 (source). The average rate for a private detective is a really great fifty bucks an hour—and the really good Hollywood-class private eyes make ten times that figure. Besides your daily (or nightly) rate, you can also charge extra for things like data encryption, overtime, and planting evidence.
Shmoop Disclaimer: Please don't plant evidence.
To calculate a quote for a case, a private detective will estimate how many hours they need to work. Once they figure out the hours, they give the client a quote before investigating. The client must review cases that run longer than the amount estimated for the investigation. And it always takes longer than expected.
Most private detectives start out in an entry-level position at a firm. Oftentimes, insurance companies and other businesses will hire a firm to conduct background checks or investigate questionable claims.
Private investigating firms typically pay their employees on an hourly basis. This isn't your typical day job. You may need to follow someone in the middle of the night or put in twelve hours or more in a day while investigating financial fraud for a major client. You can make more money if you take on what's considered to be high-risk cases, like investigating hazardous waste.
Generally, it's best to meet clients in an office rather than a back alley. You'll also have to get a business license (source). Keeping up on the paperwork is pretty mundane but completely necessary stuff. It's not all car chases and fake moustaches when it comes to being a private detective (sorry).