Field agents for the FBI, also called special agents, undergo a 21-week training program and background checks before winning their badge. After training, agents are then assigned to one of the FBI field offices. Because the cost of living can differ between cities, the U.S. government offers a salary addition called a locality bonus. This bonus means that typical FBI field agent salaries can vary between $50,000 and upward of $70,000 a year.
New special agents are paid on the government General Schedule shared by employees of all federal agencies at a level of GS-10, step 1. As of 2013, this was $43,441 per year. In addition, special agents qualify for locality pay, which awards additional salary depending on where the agent is stationed, and availability pay. Locality pay ranges from an additional 14.6 percent per year all the way up to 35.5 percent. Availability pay is a 25 percent bonus of base salary due to agents having to work more than 40 hours over the course of a given week.
FBI agents living in the highest locality bonus area, San Francisco, are awarded an additional 35.5 percent of their base salary, giving them a base and location salary of $61,860 per year. Agents in the New York City metro area are also awarded one of the highest location bonuses of 28.7 percent, making their location and base salary $58,916. The lowest location rate is 14.6 percent, awarded to agents outside of major urban areas and in certain designated special pay zones, giving an agent a location and base salary of $52,252. In addition to the locality pay bonuses above, availability pay bumps the base salary up another 25 percent. A new field agent assigned to San Francisco, for example, would earn another $15,465 in availability pay for a total salary of $77,325.
Agents assigned to New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Washington, D.C., Boston and Newark are also eligible for a one-time relocation bonus of $22,000. This bonus only applies to agents moving from lower-cost areas of the GS scale to higher-cost areas. This extra payment is meant to help agents transition into areas with a higher cost of living.
Becoming a Field Agent
Field agents for the FBI must be U.S. citizens or a citizen of the Northern Mariana Islands. The FBI has a minimum entry age of 23 years of age. At the opposite end of the scale, agents must still be of 36 years of age when given special agent status. Some waivers are available for agents in certain cases. A four-year degree from an accredited college is required, as well as three years of work experience. Agent candidates must also posses a valid driver's license and be available for assignment anywhere they are appointed by the FBI.
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