Guide for Military Veterans Who Want to Become Financial Planners
A Comprehensive Guide for Military Veterans Pursuing Careers in Financial Planning
For military veterans leaving active duty, the transition back to civilian life can be challenging. It might feel overwhelming to decide on a new career path after committing so much to the service, but it also provides an exciting opportunity to leverage the skills you gained in the military and apply them to a civilian role that you’re excited about.
Veterans are highly disciplined, skillfully trained and effective communicators who are capable of creating solutions to problems in highly challenging and dynamic circumstances. Plus, with almost 1.3 million Americans serving in the military at any given time, they are an enormous part of the American workforce.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 19.5% of military veterans work in management, business or financial operations occupations. Given that the median annual salary for a financial advisor in 2019 was $87,850 with a bachelor’s degree and the projected employment growth is 4% from 2019-2029, veterans who pursue a career in financial planning have a decent career growth path if they decide to become a financial advisor.
But if you’re wondering how to become a financial advisor and where to start, we’re here to help. This guide can serve as a playbook to help you understand whether becoming a financial planner is right for you.
Paul D. Allen, CFP, co-founded the Military Financial Advisors Association, a professional network of fee-only fiduciary financial advisors whose expertise is in serving military families. He said that military veterans are ideally situated to become financial advisors because of their ability to build relationships and their vast network of personal and professional contacts. Allen, who retired from the U.S. Navy, and a partner founded the MFAA to serve military families and help veterans become financial planners and advisors.
“We formed the MFAA for two reasons. The first was to make it easier for military and veteran families to find a financial advisor who specializes in working with military and veteran families. The second is to help service members and veterans make the transition into financial planning careers,” Allen said.
Keep reading for our ultimate guide for how military veterans can pursue rewarding careers as financial planners and advisors.
Bachelor’s Degrees for Veterans
Financial planners are licensed professionals who help American families and businesses work toward achieving their financial goals. If you want to become a certified financial planner, the first step is to get a bachelor’s degree.
Firstly, you’ll have to decide whether to pursue a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree focusing on a liberal arts education or a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree, which has a laser focus on your technical degree field. The third option is a Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A.), which is a soup-to-nuts business degree program with courses in business strategy, human resources and marketing.
From there, you’ll want to choose your specialization. Common choices for financial planners include bachelor’s degrees in the following fields:
- Financial Planning: Insurance, investments, taxes, retirement and estate planning
- Finance/Financial Services: Corporate finance, risk management and investment analysis
- Business: Business management, business law, accounting and administration
- Accounting: Detailed record-keeping and analysis for general planning
- Trust and Wealth Management: Macroeconomic studies and their legal and financial implications
How To Choose a University
Picking out where to attend college is a huge decision, and it’s no different for veterans. There are many factors to consider, from your budget to specialization, location to private vs. public. Consider vetting schools that are already approved by the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) Board, which are pre-approved to meet curriculum requirements for the CFP certification down the road.
Here’s a rundown of the most important factors when choosing a college for your bachelor’s degree:
- Tuition & Fees: The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) website allows users to search for schools based on different criteria and compare costs for public vs. private schools, location, degree program, etc. It’s a great tool for compiling an initial list of schools to research.
- Program Specialization: The U.S. Department of Education has a College Scorecard tool that lets users research schools based on their field of study, costs, admission requirements and more. It’s a great place to start by searching for the degree you think you want to pursue.
- Location: If you end up loving two schools pretty equally but one is closer to your hometown, that school likely is your best choice as you won’t have to factor in the costs of moving across the country and the added stress of acclimating to a new place while you’re attending school.
- Public vs. Private: Private schools tend to offer more scholarships but are more expensive to attend than in-state public schools. If you’re interested in working in finance on Wall Street, it might be worth it to get a fancy, private-school diploma, but public college is good enough for most folks and provides a great return on investment for your education.
- Tuition Assistance (TA) DECIDE: The Department of Defense’s TA DECIDE tool helps TA participants make informed decisions about where to attend college and is uniquely tailored to the TA student. There also is a list of participating institutions in the program that is searchable.
Research an Accredited Program
Once you’ve covered the bachelor’s basics, make sure that school is accredited. The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), recognize six accrediting bodies for colleges based on strict standards for collegiate studies in curricula, administrative policy, academic rigor and other factors.
Additionally, finance students will want to make sure the program is accredited through one of the following agencies: The International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE), the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) and the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP).
Financing your Degree in Financial Planning
Once you’ve settled on the school you want to attend and your major, congratulations! You’re one step closer to securing your future. The next step is the not-so-fun part – figuring out how you’re going to pay for college. Luckily, veterans have much more appealing options for paying for college than civilian students.
The GI Bill can Help Veterans Pay for College
The GI Bill is legislation that rewards veterans for their service by offering college tuition benefits. Many veterans receive support for school or job training through the Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33). For up to 36 months, you can receive benefits that help you get your bachelor’s degree, including:
- Tuition and fees: For veterans that qualify for the highest level of benefits from the GI Bill, this can cover the full cost of public, in-state tuition and fees.
- Money for housing: For students that are enrolled in school more than half the time, the GI Bill provides a monthly housing allowance, which varies based on the location of your school.
- Money for books and supplies: Funds in the amount of up to $1,000 per school year.
- Money for relocation from a rural area to your school: This $500 payment helps veterans moving from low-density rural areas to schools that are more than 500 miles away and require an airline ticket to get there.
In order to be eligible for these benefits, you must meet one of the following requirements:
- You served in the military for at least 90 days since September 11, 2001. These 90 days can be consecutive or with breaks in service.
- You received a Purple Heart on or after September 11, 2001, and were honorably discharged, even if you did not serve 90 days.
- You served for at least 30 days continuously on or after September 11, 2001, and were honorably discharged with a service-connected disability.
Before you apply for GI Bill benefits, you can use the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) GI Bill Comparison Tool, which shows you what benefits you would receive from the schools you wish to attend. Keep in mind that not all colleges and universities offer the same GI Bill benefits. For example, public schools may cover 100% of a veteran’s tuition, while private institutions may cost more money. Plus, the benefits you can receive from the GI Bill are sometimes dependent on how long it’s been since you served.
Another resource for veterans is the Yellow Ribbon Program, which can help fund higher out-of-state, private school or graduate school tuition that isn’t covered by the GI Bill. Once you receive Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, you will receive a Certificate of Eligibility (COE). Then, you can use your COE to work with your school’s certifying official to apply for your school’s Yellow Ribbon Program.
The college you choose will make the final decision about your Yellow Ribbon funding, not the VA. Each school has a certain number of students they can fund each year, so funding is presented on a first-come, first-served basis. Your school also decides the amount of subsidy you will receive, which is based on the cost of tuition and the other types of aid you’re receiving from the GI Bill and other scholarships or grants.
Finally, in order to receive federal student aid, you will need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). On October 1, the FAFSA form for the following school year becomes available. So, make sure to complete the FAFSA in the fall before you plan to begin pursuing a degree.
How is the Montgomery GI Bill different from the GI Bill?
The Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB-AD) helps veterans who served for at least two years on active duty pay for education or job training programs. But, if you’re eligible to receive benefits from both the Montgomery GI Bill and the Post-9/11 GI Bill, it can be confusing to figure out which benefits serve your education needs best. Veterans can only receive benefits from one of these programs at a time.
Here, the VA outlines its requirements for MGIB-AD benefits. There are five categories with various criteria that must be met, but the first category is most general. In order to qualify in the first category, you must meet all of the following requirements:
- You have a high school diploma, GED or 12 hours of college credit.
- You entered active duty for the first time after June 30, 1985.
- You had your military pay reduced by $100 per month for your first 12 months of service.
- You either served for three years, two years (if that was your agreement when enlisting) or four years if you were in the two-by-four program.
One key difference between these two programs is that you must have served at least two years on active duty to receive MGID-AD benefits, whereas the GI Bill stipulates a minimum of 90 days of active duty. The MGID-AD also requires that you already have a high school diploma, GED or 12 hours of college credit. Additionally, the MGID-AD supports students who served prior to September 11, 2001, whereas the Post-9/11 GI Bill only applies to more recent veterans.
Scholarships for Veterans
In addition to federal support, many private scholarships exist to support veterans in their pursuit of higher education. There are special scholarships for affiliation, ethnic or minority groups, disability status, religious affiliation, type of military/veteran status, graduate programs and more. Here is a list of some of the scholarships available for veterans:
Award: $4,000 (two scholarships awarded per year)
Deadline: April 30, 2021
The AMVETS scholarship offers assistance to veterans or active-duty military who have exhausted all federal funding available through the GI Bill or the MGIB-AD. To be eligible for the AMVETS scholarship, you must meet a list of requirements, including evidence of honorable discharge, a demonstrated financial need, a high school diploma or GED and good academic standing. This scholarship only applies to undergraduate students; it cannot be used to pursue graduate degrees. In order to apply, you also need to submit a short essay. The scholarships are awarded based on financial need, academic potential and merit.
American Legion Auxiliary Non-Traditional Student Scholarship
Award: $2,000 (one awarded per year)
Deadline: March 1, 2021
The American Legion Auxiliary is a community of volunteers serving veterans, active duty and military families. The Non-Traditional Student Scholarship helps students seek a degree later in life or pick up where they left off if they had to leave college before finishing their degree. This scholarship can apply to a four-year or two-year degree program, technical program, certification, trade program or professional program. You must be an American Legion member to qualify.
Tillman Military Scholars Program
Average Award: $11,000
Deadline: February 28, 2021
The Pat Tillman Foundation empowers military service members, veterans and spouses to become part of the next generation of leaders. The Tillman Scholar program aims to develop a community among a yearly class of scholars in addition to providing financial awards. You can apply this award to undergraduate, graduate or professional degrees, but you must be in school full-time to qualify. Additionally, Tillman Scholars are expected to maintain a 3.0 GPA, meet their expected graduation date and engage in the Tillman Scholar community to be eligible for the renewal of their award.
The American College Penn Mutual Center for Veterans Affairs Scholarship
The American College of Financial Services formed the Penn Mutual Center for Veterans Affairs in 2012, which supports veterans who want to pursue careers in financial services. Through the Penn Mutual Center, more than 500 scholarships have been awarded to veterans and military spouses to learn how to become a registered financial advisor, among other things in the sector. Scholarships are awarded based on financial need, service status, education potential and achievements, as well as other factors like income level, disability, family situation and volunteer experience.
Career Planning & Additional Support for Veterans
In addition to scholarships and the GI and Montgomery GI bills, more than 660,000 veterans use VA benefits to fund their education. So, the VA created the VA College Toolkit, which supports both veterans and the schools that they attend to make it possible for veterans to transition from life in service to life in school. Through the Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership Program (VITAL), veterans have access to mental health care to support them through their lifestyle changes.
Veterans also can seek assistance from the Department of Defense’s Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Educational Support (DANTES) program, which offers free education and career-planning support for veterans. DANTES also can help veterans figure out how to pay for their education.
Another program is the Department of Defense’s Career Path DECIDE program, which is available for all U.S. Armed Forces active-duty service members and veterans. DECIDE helps veterans and active-duty soldiers determine their interests and match those with the career paths they’re most qualified for based on their military service. The program gives you the chance to learn about different civilian career pathways, projected growth rates and a personalized career plan. Then, DECIDE helps you identify any knowledge gaps, address them and gives you an estimated timeline to complete the steps and land in a job. Contact a counselor to be matched with your personal advisor.
Each state and territory in the U.S. offers unique benefits through individual state Departments of Veterans Affairs. Some states like California or Florida even offer tuition fee waivers for veterans’ spouses and children.
Professional Designations for Financial Planners
After earning a bachelor’s degree, veterans can take the next step in their financial planning education to pursue a professional certification.
Financial advisor requirements include various different types of postgraduate certifications and licenses. These designations help you develop more specific knowledge to help you work toward your career in financial planning and garner trust from future clients – when you possess advanced certifications, it proves that you are a competent, ethical member of the financial sector.
So, while these professional certifications may not always be required, they make it much more possible to maintain a thriving practice.
Professional Certifications for Financial Planners
When you become a certified financial planner, certification types may vary depending on what work you plan to do. For example, do you want to coach people through investment strategy or do you want to help a family develop a savings strategy for their children’s education? Some certifications also vary by state; so, a financial advisor license in California isn’t necessarily the same as a financial advisor license in New York.
It’s important to note that professional certifications are different from academic certificates that you would earn by taking classes at a particular college or university. Academic certificates only reflect the level of education you attained; they aren’t reflective of your mastery of the concepts a financial advisor needs to be successful in dealings with clients.
On the other hand, professional certifications in financial planning typically require a good deal of education plus relevant experience in the field. It’s also important to note that these professional certifications are completely optional. However, they might help you provide better service to your clients by enhancing your overall subject matter expertise.
There are five professional designations that qualify holders for state or federal level registration, which we’ll discuss in more detail here.
Certified Financial Planner (CFP)
After you have worked for three years as a financial planner, you’re eligible to apply for CFP certification from the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. First, you must pass the CFP exam, which tests knowledge in the following areas that often appear on financial license exams:
- Financial planning process and principles
- Tax planning
- Income and retirement planning
- Estate planning
- Risk management and insurance
The CFP exam registration fee is $925. You can take the test in March, July or November.
Personal Financial Specialist (PFS)
The Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) certification is bestowed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Candidates are required to already possess a CPA license from their state and must have two years of full-time experience in personal financial planning.
Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
The CFA Institute grants the Chartered Financial Analyst designation, which is recognized internationally – there are more than 100,000 CFAs around the world. In order to earn this designation, you must pass three financial services exams on topics like quantitative methods, economic principles, financial reporting, corporate finance and more.
Chartered Investment Counselor (CIC)
Once you earn your CFA certification, you can explore how to get your Chartered Investment Counselor designation from the Investment Adviser Association (IAA). The qualifications for this certification require that at least half of your work involves portfolio management and investment counseling.
Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC)
The American College offers the ChFC certification through an online curriculum at their school, which holds a strong reputation among financial planners. Students can study independently or in live online webinars.
Figure Out Which FINRA Designation is for You
If you plan to work with trusts in a fiduciary capacity, you will need to take the FINRA examinations. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc. (FINRA) is the self-regulatory body for financial planners and advisors. Most often, financial planners would need to consider these FINRA designations:
- The Series 65 exam qualifies a candidate as an investment adviser. While you cannot sell securities, you can offer investment advice.
- The Series 66 exam tests your ability to register as an investment adviser representative and as a securities agent.
- In order to test for a Series 66 license, you must first pass the Series 7 exam.
- The Series 7 exam qualifies those who pass to work as a General Securities Representative. For this series exam, applicants are responsible for finding a Series 7 sponsor.
Without a Series 65 or 66 licenses, advisors cannot legally offer specific advice on securities investments. And certainly, if working for one of the big firms with the storefront locations like Edward Jones, a Series 65 certification would be required to handle investment advising.
FINRA test registration costs can range from $40 to $265, depending on the series.
The Ultimate Professional Designation: Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
Once you’re settled into your career and want to invest a few years into getting the ultimate designation, you could consider becoming a Certified Public Accountant, or CPA. In order to obtain a CPA license, veterans must pass the Uniform CPA Examination, have a bachelor’s degree and a minimum of 150 semester hours of college credit in accounting, business and ethics.
Since a typical bachelor’s degree only requires 120 credit hours, you’ll likely be taking master’s-level or additional bachelor-level accounting and business finance courses in order to meet the requirements to become a CPA. The exam is a 16-hour four-part test covering regulation, financial accounting and reporting, business environment and concepts and auditing and attestation. It can be completed over the course of 18 months.
To earn a passing grade and obtain your CPA license, you must score a 75% on all sections. In Q4 of 2020, pass rates ranged between 48% to 55% among the four sections. However, the AICPA’s website offers sample tests to help test-takers prepare for the examination.
Exams can be scheduled year-round, and candidates must apply for the examination. The cost typically is around $200 per part for a total of $800.
Plan to Join a Professional Financial Planning Organization
Once you’re established in your career as a financial planner or advisor, you may want to consider joining a professional organization. Some financial planners choose to join organizations like the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) and the Financial Planning Association (FPA).
Through NAPFA and FPA, you can meet experts in the financial sector who share your commitment to becoming great at the work that you do. Plus, membership in a professional organization allows you to remain cognizant of industry trends as they emerge, helping you keep on the cutting-edge of your field.
While there are many paths veterans can take on the road to becoming a financial professional, only one will be yours.