Government cryptologists -- who may be working for the CIA, the FBI or the National Security Agency, among other agencies -- start out earning anywhere from $35,000 to $50,000, as of 2009. Cryptologists who go to work in the private sector can make starting salaries from $45,000 to $60,000. If you have a skill set in particular demand, you may do much better: Specialists in high-end digital encryption can begin their careers making above $80,000.
Cryptologists are experts in working with codes and ciphers. Some cryptologists come up with new ways to encrypt information and keep it secret. Other cryptologists work on analysis, finding ways to break codes or computer encryption programs and learn a message's content. Law enforcement and national security agencies, private corporations and universities employ cryptologists.
Specific employers may fall anywhere within the starting salary range, or outside it. The National Security Agency, for example, says that mathematicians -- cryptology is a branch of math -- with the right skills can begin work with starting salaries of almost $52,000, as of 2011. In certain circumstances, employees may qualify for extra money: Employees who work the night shift may earn a higher pay for doing so. Employees can also earn holiday pay, overtime, Sunday premium pay and bonuses.
Landing a cryptologist job usually requires at least a four-year degree; having a graduate degree in addition would be an asset when job-hunting. Usually cryptologists major in computer science, information security or applied mathematics and take cryptology courses as part of their degree field. If you plan to work in national security or the military, foreign-language experience makes you more desirable as an employee, particularly if you're fluent in languages of nations considered a significant security threat.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't provide career statistics for cryptologists specifically, but does present a general picture for professional mathematicians. The 2010 median annual wage of mathematicians at all levels of experience, in all specialties, is above $99,000. Mathematics jobs are concentrated in less than 20 states, so your career prospects may depend on where you're willing to work.