Hiring a cheap private investigator (PI) can provide invaluable insights, evidence, and peace of mind when you need discreet assistance with issues like infidelity, finding missing persons, corporate investigations, and more. However, their services often come with hefty hourly rates and fees that make professional investigations cost-prohibitive for many clients.
The good news is that there are ways to find quality private investigation services on a budget. With some research, rate comparisons, and cost negotiations, you can hire experienced private eyes without breaking the bank.
Typical Costs of Hiring a Private Investigator
Private investigators typically charge between $50-$150 per hour on average, with rates varying based on factors like:
- Experience level – Long-time PIs with extensive expertise or specializations can charge premium rates over $100/hour, while new investigators may only charge $50-$70/hour.
- Type of services – Surveillance work, complex corporate investigations, and high-risk assignments involving things like infidelity or child custody battles tend to have higher rates. More basic services like public records searches, background checks, and interviews may be cheaper.
- Location – Investigators working in major metro areas and large cities tend to have higher rates compared to ones operating in small towns and rural locations.
You can also expect to pay additional fees for things like travel, equipment, databases, administration, etc. Common PI services and average costs include:
- Background checks – $50-$300
- Surveillance (like tracking a cheating spouse) – $50-$150/hour
- Deep financial and assets investigations – $100-$300/hour
- Computer forensics (examining devices) – $100-$250/hour
- Undercover investigations – $75-$150/hour
- Corporate investigations (like internal theft) – $100-$250/hour
Full-service private detective agencies providing comprehensive investigations with surveillance tech, multiple investigators, and exhaustive databases tend to charge between $100-$500+ per hour.
Ways to Reduce Private Investigator Costs
If those rates seem unaffordable for your budget and needs, there are some options to reduce private investigator costs:
Hire New or Inexperienced Investigators: Brand new PIs who are just starting out often charge lower hourly rates, sometimes as little as $25-$50/hour, compared to their veteran counterparts. This can be a great money-saving option if you find a properly licensed new investigator who is eager to build their reputation and portfolio. Just don’t expect the highest level of expertise.
Use Investigators Charging Flat Rates: Some investigators offer flat rate pricing based on the type of service, rather than hourly billing. This allows you to lock in a set fee upfront. A PI may charge a flat $800 for a standard week-long infidelity surveillance, for example.
Go With Independent Investigators: Solo independent PIs tend to offer much lower rates than large full-service private detective agencies. You can easily save 50% or more.
Compare Rates to Find the Best Deals: Don’t hire the first PI you come across. Search listings and directories to contact several investigators and compare rates for your specific needs. Price shop for the best deals.
Ask About Discounts: Many PIs are willing to offer discounted or lower rates for certain situations, such as pro bono work for low-income clients, reduced fees for public servants, or other special circumstances. It never hurts to politely ask.
Hire for Specific Limited Tasks Only: If you have a small focused need, only hire a PI for that specific task rather than a comprehensive open-ended investigation. You can save money by avoiding unnecessary services.
Finding Cheap Private Investigators
Here are some of the best ways to find affordable yet legitimate private investigators in your area:
Search Online Directories: Running internet searches for phrases like “cheap private investigator YourCity” or “affordable private investigator YourCity” can turn up local results. Look for solo PIs rather than large firms.
Check out established PI directories like PrivateEye, Expertise, Private Investigator Directory and others. Focus on customer reviews and experience more than just lowest rates.
Get Referrals From People You Know: Speaking to people in your personal or professional network who have hired private investigators can yield recommendations for ones they were happy with.
You can also contact legal aid offices and public defenders, who regularly work with PIs for low-income clients.
Join Relevant Forums and Groups: Becoming a member of forums and groups related to private investigations, both locally and online, provides an opportunity to ask other members for referrals to affordable but reputable PIs.
Consider Hiring Student Private Investigators: Many colleges and investigation schools pair students working towards their PI licenses with certified professional investigators who supervise their training cases. This can provide investigative services at discounted student rates.
Just be sure the students are insured and operating under proper licensing guidelines.
Questions to Ask Prospective Affordable PIs
When speaking to prospective private investigators, make sure to ask plenty of questions to determine if their rates and qualifications meet your needs, such as:
- What is your hourly rate or fee structure, and what is included?
- Do you offer any flat rates, discounts, or pro bono services based on client circumstances?
- What is your estimated total cost for my specific type of investigation and needs?
- Are you a licensed, insured private investigator? May I see your credentials?
- How many years have you worked in the investigations field? What is your specialty?
- Can you provide 2-3 references from past client work?
Avoid any investigators who seem evasive, make claims that seem unrealistic, or pressure you to spend more than your budget allows.
Vetting and Hiring an Affordable PI
Make sure to thoroughly vet any affordable PI before hiring them. Check for proper state licensing. Conduct interviews, research their backgrounds and qualifications, check reviews, and request 2-3 references you can call directly to ask about the PI’s work and professionalism.
Review any contracts very carefully before signing and paying fees. Get everything in writing upfront. While cost is important, avoid unbelievably cheap investigators who may end up being scammers.
Do your due diligence to feel confident you are getting a high quality investigation – just at an affordable price.
Q: Are cheap private investigators still high quality?
A: There are many experienced, properly licensed PIs who simply offer more affordable rates. However, be very wary of investigators well below market rates, as extremely cheap prices may be a red flag for scams or poor quality. Do your research.
Q: How can I get the lowest price from a private investigator?
A: Negotiating rates, hiring for limited tasks rather than open-ended contracts, using independent PIs instead of large firms, and shopping around for the best deals are good ways to reduce costs. Discounts may also be possible depending on your situation.
Q: What services should I avoid getting from a very cheap PI?
A: Use caution with low-cost surveillance, computer forensics, corporate investigations, or anything requiring extensive time, proprietary databases, or specialized tools. Focus affordable PIs on simpler services like public records searches.
Q: Are there any legal or ethical concerns with hiring an inexpensive PI?
A: There are no specific legal issues as long as the PI is properly licensed. However, avoid PIs suggesting illegal tactics or excessive invasions of privacy. Vet their professionalism thoroughly.
With some diligent research and rate comparisons, there are ways to find quality private investigators while sticking to a budget. Be sure to vet credentials, experience, and professionalism, regardless of low rates. Hiring affordable help from a licensed PI can provide the expertise and insights you seek without breaking the bank.