Financial Planning Professional Designations

Deciding to pursue professional certification is completely voluntary, as the required licensing and registration associated with financial planning professionals are not dependent on holding one of these designations. However, pursuing a program that leads to one of these elective certifications is sure to increase the knowledge of any financial planner, and as a result, the value of the services they offer their clients. In recent years, particular attention has been given to the relevance of these designations, as they indicate that the holder has proven competence through the stringent education, experience, and ethical components of these programs.

While a wide variety of specialized certifications are available to financial planners to highlight their particular area of expertise, the following are the most popular credentials obtained by financial planners. Included here are descriptions of the five designations that qualify designees for state or federal level investment adviser registration.

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Would-be investment advisers and investment adviser representatives who hold these designations are exempt from further examination:

Financial planners who work with the elderly to assist with retirement and estate planning issues are held to a unique level of scrutiny. The sensitive nature of this type of work has drawn particular attention to the level of prudence and responsibility required of these professionals. The elderly are frequently advised to work with planners who have demonstrated competence and who operate under a strict ethical code, as would be the case with professional certification designees. Popular designations specific to estate and retirement planning are also featured here:

Certified Financial Planner (CFP)

Issued by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) credential denotes competency and expertise as a financial planner. Under the CFP Board’s Standards of Professional Conduct, CFPs must abide by a code of ethics, practice standards, disciplinary rules, and professional rules of conduct. Principles that must be upheld by CFPs include integrity, objectivity, competence, fairness, confidentiality, professionalism, and diligence.

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Three years of full-time, relevant experience is required to become a CFP (2000 hours = 1 year).

  • Six months of this experience must have occurred within the past 12 months before applying for CFP certification.
  • Experience may be obtained up to 10 years before taking the CFP exam or up to 5 years after taking the CFP exam.
  • All experience requirements must be fulfilled within 5 years of taking the CFP exam
  • This experience must include at least one of these six elements:
    • Establishing and defining client relationships
    • Gathering client data and goals
    • Analyzing and evaluating a client’s financial status
    • Developing/presenting financial planning recommendations/alternatives
    • Implementing financial planning recommendations
    • Monitoring financial planning recommendations
  • Experience must be reported after passing the CFP exam


Candidates must have at least a bachelor’s degree in any field from an accredited college or university before pursuing CFP certification. They may take the CFP exam while still pursuing a bachelor’s degree, but they must obtain a bachelor’s degree within 5 years of passing the exam. Included within the curriculum must be courses covering the following financial planning topics/subjects that will be tested in the CFP Exam:

  • General principles of financial planning
  • Insurance planning and risk management
  • Employee benefits planning
  • Investment planning
  • Income tax planning
  • Retirement planning
  • Estate planning

Candidates may also elect to complete a program of study in financial planning with an institution that is registered with the CFP Board in order to fulfill the financial planning requirements.

Candidates that hold any of the following professional certifications, degrees or designations, have already fulfilled the educational requirement to become a CFP:

  • Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC)
  • Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
  • Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU)
  • Ph.D. in business or economics
  • Doctor of Business Administration
  • Licensed attorney (even if the license is inactive)
  • Licensed CPA (even if the license is inactive)

Candidates may also request a transcript review by the CFP board of courses they have taken to see which, if any, satisfy the financial planning requirement.


After completing the education requirement, candidates may sit for the CFP Exam. This written exam combines multiple-choice and scenario questions, and measures knowledge, critical thinking ability, comprehension, problem-solving ability, analysis and evaluation of financial planning topics.

  • The test takes 10 hours to complete over a day and a half
  • It is offered three times yearly, in March, July and November
  • Candidates may apply for the exam online and pay the $595 exam fee via credit card
  • The CFP exam is offered many in cities across the nation
  • Locations and test dates are disclosed when the application is filed

Ethics Requirement

After completing the educational, experience and examination requirement to become a CFP, candidates must fulfill the ethics requirement. This involves passing the CFP Board’s Fitness Standards for Candidates and Registrants.

Application for CFP credential

Once candidates have fulfilled the education, experience, examination and ethics requirement, they may apply online to complete the CFP certification application. Candidates must pay a $100 application fee and a $325 annual certification fee. They will be contacted via postal mail when the CFP Board has approved their application.

Continuing Education Requirements

Every two years, designees must pay $325 to maintain the CFP certification. They must also report 30 hours of continuing education (CE) hours every two years. This must include:

  • Two hours of CE from a CFP Board-approved program on ethics and professional standards
  • 28 hours from one or more of the accepted subjects for CE. Registered CE sponsors and providers may be found here.
  • Designees may receive CE credit for live presentations, college courses (one semester credit = 15 CE hours, one quarter credit = 10 CE hours), self-study programs, completing professional licenses and/or taking examinations, serving as an instructor or speaker, and authoring subject-related articles and books

Personal Financial Specialist (PFS)

Bestowed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) credential gives financial planning authority to Certified Public Accountants (CPAs). Among other things, the AICPA provides to its members professional advocacy services, professional development opportunities, networking, guidance and discounts. Under the AICPA’s Code of Professional Conduct, a PFS must always act with independence, due care, integrity and objectivity.

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Other Necessary Credentials

Before becoming a PFS, candidates must first hold a CPA license issued by their state. This shows that they have completed the CPA exam, met the requirements of education and experience necessary to become a CPA, and agree to the codes and standards of the AICPA as a member.


Candidates must have two years of full-time experience in the business or teaching of personal financial planning, equivalent to 3000 hours. This must be completed within five years of applying for PFS certification. Experience must be within the PFS Body of Knowledge and may include 1000 hours of tax compliance. The nine practice areas in the PFS Body of Knowledge are:

  • Fundamentals of financial planning and the personal financial planning process
  • Income tax planning
  • Insurance planning
  • Investment planning
  • Retirement planning
  • Employee benefits
  • Performance management
  • Charitable planning
  • Special needs

If claiming teaching for experience, candidates must have been a full-time professor and taught at least four accredited college courses, with 50 percent of the material taught being from the PFS Body of Knowledge.


Candidates must have completed 80 hours of Personal Financial Planner (PFP)-related education within the past five years. This education should focus on the PFS Body of Knowledge practice areas (see above). Types of courses that count include:

  • Courses from an accredited college or university (1 semester credit = 5 hours of PFP education; 1 quarter credit = 3 hours of PFP education)
  • Approved Continuing Professional Education (CPE) (1 hour of CPE=1 hour of PFP education)
  • Being a presenter/instructor at a college course or CPE course (the length of the presentation plus two hours preparation time = PFP education hours)


One of the following three PFP-related exams must be passed prior to PFS certification:

Application for PFS Credential

The PFS Application kit may be downloaded here for candidates that have met all of the requirements. Candidates must join the AICPA if not already a member and submit the PFS application along with a fee of $350. Candidates apply online or mail applications to: Member Service Center, PFS Credential, AICPA, 220 Leigh Farm Rd., Durham, NC 27707. Candidates are not officially granted PFS until they receive notification and a welcome kit from AICPA by postal mail.

Continuing Education Requirements

Once designees have received their PFS credential, they must fulfill certain requirement to maintain it. These include:

  • Paying an annual fee of $350
  • Maintaining AICPA membership in good standing
  • Maintaining a valid, unrevoked CPA license
  • Completing 60 hours of Continuing Professional Education (CPE) every three years (must be related to the PFS Body of Knowledge)
  • Submitting a signed Statement of Intent to uphold all of these requirements and the AICPA Code of Conduct

Chartered Investment Counselor (CIC)

Offered by the Investment Advisor Association (IAA), the Chartered Investment Counselor (CIC) denotes an investment adviser who has excellent professional qualifications and upholds the responsibilities of the position.  All CICs must uphold the IAA’s Standards of Practice, which outlines professional responsibilities, fiduciary duties, professional qualifications, responsible and ethical business practices, and rules regarding fair compensation and accurate and balanced communications with clients and the public.

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Other Necessary Credentials

Before becoming a CIC, applicants for the credential must hold the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) charter. See the section on CFA certification below for criteria and qualifications to obtain this professional designation.


The following experiential criteria must be met prior to applying for the CIC credential:

  • Candidates must currently be employed in an eligible occupational position by an IAA member firm. Eligible occupational positions:
    • Are ones in which at least 50 percent of work time is spent in investment counseling and portfolio management
  • Candidates must provide proof of five years of work experience in one or more eligible occupational positions. For at least one of these years, they must have been employed at an IAA member firm
  • Candidates must provide a sealed reference letter from the CEO, managing principal, or senior supervisor at an IAA firm in which they have been employed for at least one year
  • Candidates must provide three additional sealed reference letters attesting to their moral character, by people who meet one of the following conditions:
    • Is currently employed at an IAA firm (only one letter may be from a co-worker)
    • Currently holds the CFA charter
    • Is currently a client


While there are no specific educational requirements to obtain the CIC credential, candidates must have passed the CFA exam and currently hold a CFA charter, which means they must have satisfied the educational requirements to become a CFA. (See the CFA section below for those requirements).


Candidates must have passed all three parts of the CFA examination prior to applying for the CIC credential. (See the CFA section below for exam requirements).

Application for CIC Credential

Applications must be received by April 1 and October 1 each year for review by the IAA. Once applicants have met all of the qualifications above, they must request the Chartered Investment Counselor Application and mail it, along with a fee of $100, to Investment Adviser Association, Attention: CIC Registrar, 1050 17th Street, N.W., Suite 725, Washington, D.C. 20036-5514. Contact the IAA at (202) 293-4222 with questions.

Continuing Education Requirements

There are no continuing education requirements from the IAA for CICs. However, designees must fulfill all of the continuing education requirements to keep their CFA credential (see CFA section below). Candidates must also submit a form to the IAA each year verifying that they still work for an IAA firm in an eligible occupational position and that they have not had disciplinary proceedings against them for professional conduct. If they no longer work for an IAA firm, they may still maintain their CIC by completing an ethics related questionnaire annually and pay annual independent CIC dues of $500 to the IAA.

Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

Granted by the CFA Institute (formerly known as the Association for Investment Management and Research), the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation is an internationally recognized credential for investment professionals. There are more than 100,000 CFAs around the world. All CFAs must be well versed in the Candidate Body of Knowledge (CBOK), which includes ethical and professional standards, as well as information on quantitative methods, economic principles, financial reporting and analysis, corporate finance, equity investments, fixed income, derivatives, portfolio management, wealth planning and alternative investments.

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To become a CFA charter holder, candidates must have four years of qualifying investment work experience. This must reflect at least one of the following areas:

  • Applying or evaluating economic,  financial, and/or statistical data in making investment decisions about securities or similar investments
  • Supervising people who practice these activities
  • Teaching these activities

Work experience may be obtained prior to applying for enrollment in the CFA Program, or may be accrued during enrollment in the CFA Program.

  • At least 50 percent of work experience must be directly involved in making decisions and require the candidate to be responsible for producing a work product that adds to the decision-making process
  • Part-time positions do not fulfill the work experience requirement
  • Managing personal investments does not fulfill the work experience requirement


The main educational component of obtaining the CFA Charter is completion of the CFA Program.

  • Candidates must have a bachelor’s degree, or be in the process of getting one, before applying to enroll in the CFA Program.
  • Candidates who do not have a bachelor’s degree must have four years of professional work experience (not necessarily related to investments) or have a combination of college experience and work experience totaling four years.

Candidates must complete the CFA Program, a self-study program at the graduate level, before they will be granted the CFA charter.

  • Included within the CFA Program are the 10 topics in the Candidate Body of Knowledge (CBOK) (see above).
  • Practice analysis through attending in-person meetings and contributing to the Global Body of Investment Knowledge (GBIK) discussion is also mandatory

The CFA Program curriculum is based on the CBOK and is organized into 18 study sessions for each of the three exam levels. The latest curriculum materials may be purchased here.


Candidates must pass three exam levels (Level I, II and III) in order to earn the CFA Charter.

  • The Level I, multiple-choice exam is offered in June and December
  • The Level II, item set questions exam is offered in June (candidates may not take this exam until they have completed their bachelor degree, experience or combination experience/work requirement under the Education section above)
  • The Level III exam, consisting of item set and essay questions, is offered in June

Registration must be completed online for all three exams. Test center locations are disclosed upon registration.

Application for CFA Charter

Once candidates have completed the educational, experience and examination requirements, they must pledge to adhere to the CFA Institute Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Practice. Designees must also join the CFA Institute (with annual dues of $275) and apply for membership in one of the 135 local CFA societies around the world (local dues vary). Designees must activate their CFA membership online.

Continuing Education Requirements

Maintaining the CFA charter requires designees to renew their membership annually by paying the annual dues to both the CFA Institute and to their local society, as well as sign the CFA Institute Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Practice yearly. Continuing education for CFAs is a voluntary program recommended by the CFA Institute. It consists of completing 20 hours of education in CBOK areas and 2 hours in Standards, Ethics and Regulations each year.

Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC)

Awarded by the American College, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, the Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) credential requires completion of an extensive educational program in financial planning. The ChFC credential denotes integrity, professionalism and adherence to the ethical guidelines of the American College’s Center for Ethics in Financial Services.

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Candidates must complete three years of full-time experience in business within the five years preceding their application for the ChFC award.

  • Possessing an undergraduate or graduate degree from an accredited college or university counts as one year of full-time experience
  • Part-time experience may be applied, with 2000 hours equaling 1 year of full-time experience
  • Business experience must be claimed in one (or more) of the following areas:
    • Insurance and health care
      • Field underwriting/management
      • Sales and service activities
      • Supervision and management of persons involved in these activities
    • Financial services and employee benefits
      • Client service and management
      • Direct contact with clients
      • Supervision and management of persons involved in these activities
    • Teaching of subjects related to the ChFC curriculum at a college/university level
    • Government regulatory service experience (administrative, operational or supervisory)
    • Activities related to the protection, conservation, accumulation or distribution of the economic value of human life, such as working as an:
      • Attorney
      • Actuary
      • CPA
      • Real estate investment adviser
      • Investment adviser
      • Trust officer
      • Stockbroker


The ChFC educational curriculum is only offered through the American College. It consists of completing seven required courses and two elective courses, at an average cost of $599 per course (plus an admission fee of $135 and a shipping fee of $25 per course). Students may choose from self-study classes, live online webinars, and Horizons individual and group study programs. Required courses include:

  • Financial Planning: Process and Environment
  • Fundamentals of Insurance Planning
  • Income Taxation
  • Planning for Retirement Needs
  • Investments
  • Fundamentals of Estate Planning
  • Financial Planning Applications

Two elective courses must be chosen from the following:

  • The Financial System in the Economy
  • Estate Planning Applications
  • Executive Compensation
  • Financial Decisions for Retirement

Candidates that have passed the CFP Exam can receive transfer credit for some courses.

Course credits are only good for five years, after which time they expire. This means that the educational component must be completed in a five-year period. In order to register for ChFC courses, candidates may apply online.


All examinations for certification by the American College are administered through Pearson VUE testing centers.  Examinations must be taken after the completion of each class in the ChFC curriculum. Candidates must apply for their examination no more than two weeks before the exam quarter begins. After completing each exam, they will be notified immediately on screen if they have passed. Exams may be retaken at least two business days to one year later for a fee.

Application for ChFC credential

After completing educational, experiential and examination requirements, candidates must take the Professional Pledge of the American College Board of Trustees. They will be awarded the ChFC charter once all requirements have been fulfilled.

Continuing Education Requirements

30 hours of continuing education (CE) must be completed every two years to maintain the ChFC. All American College courses count for CE credit. The numbers of credit that each course counts for varies depending upon the state in which designees are licensed. Check the current CE grid for ChFC here.  Designees may request CE Certification for completed courses by filing this form.

Certified Retirement Financial Advisor (CRFA)

Issued by the Society of Certified Retirement Financial Advisors (SCRFA), the Certified Retired Financial Advisor (CRFA) designation denotes completion of an educational program focused on financial issues involved with retirement. It has been approved by many financial organizations, including American Equity Insurance Company, Centaurus Financial Inc., FSC Securities Corporation (includes Sage & Royal Alliance), LPL Financial, PlanMember Securities Corporation (in Carpinteria, CA), Transamerica Insurance, Investment and Retirement and others. The mission of the Society of Certified Retirement Financial Advisors involves instilling principles of objectivity and competency in all CRFAs.

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While any candidate may apply to take the CRFA exam, in order to be successful, candidates should meet the following requirements.

Experience and Education

Candidates should have the following experience/education prior to taking the CRFA exam:

  • Two years of work experience in the investment industry, or a securities license, or equivalent classroom training in investments.
  • Two years of work experience in the insurance industry, or equivalent classroom training.
  • Two years of experience in tax planning and preparation, or equivalent training with a tax professional
  • A basic understanding of trusts, which may be gained from classroom training or experience working with a legal advisor

Candidates who choose to receive education through CRFA may register for the self-study program, available in a comprehensive or segment format. This includes five CRFA webinars and training on the Code of Ethics.


The CRFA exam is a 100 question, four-hour, closed book test of specific to knowledge and approach to situations involving retirement planning. Examinees must receive a score of 70 or above in order to pass the exam. For examinees that attended a class sponsored by the SCRFA, the exam fee may be included in the tuition. If not, the exam fee of $295 must be paid at the time of application. The exam application may be faxed to 405-376-1455 or emailed to or

Once exam applications are approved, candidates may schedule their exam online via the ISO Quality Testing network. Exam locations and times will be disclosed upon registration.

Topics covered in the exam include:

  • Tax Issues for Retirees
  • Investment Concepts in Retirement
  • General Retirement Principles
  • Government Programs/Social Security
  • Estate Planning
  • CRFA Ethical Standards

Application for CRFA credential

After receiving a passing score on the CRFA exam (70 or above), candidates will automatically be granted the CRFA credential.

Continuing Education Requirements

Fifteen hours of continuing education (CE) is required each year to renew the CRFA credential. Courses should be directly related to classes and subjects in the initial CRFA training class.  Classes from these approved providers count for CE credit. Designees must include their CE credits when they renew their CRFA annually, along with a fee of $295 for charter members or $345 for non-charter members. Designees must also read and sign the Code of Ethics each year.

CRFA is also registered in some states as an approved continuing education provider for licensed insurance professionals. They may be found here.

Chartered Trust and Estate Planner (CTEP)

The Chartered Trust and Estate Planner (CTEP) designation is granted by the American Academy of Financial Management (AAFM), an international self-regulatory organization for management professionals. With members in more than 150 countries, the AAFM code of ethics includes the exercise of independent professional judgment and acting with integrity, competence, and dignity while promoting the same qualities in others in the profession.

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Candidates must have at least three years of experience in estate planning and trusts before applying for CTEP certification.

Education – Candidates must fulfill one of the following requirements:

  • Obtain an undergraduate or graduate degree from an AAFM-accredited school in financial services, law, accounting, tax, or finance
  • Obtain a CPA, MBA, MS, PhD or JD degree from an accredited organization or school
  • Complete at least five courses from a business or law program at a school accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), the European Quality Improvement System (EQUIS), the American Bar Association (ABA) or from a program approved by the AAFM
  • Complete the AAFM Executive Certification Training course


The type of exam candidates must take varies according to the educational pathway they chose. Candidates that opt for the third option above (complete five courses) must take the CTEP Comprehensive Exam. All other candidates may apply for CTEP certification after completing the experience and education requirements without taking an exam. Contact the AAFM for more information.

Application for CTEP Certification

Once candidates have fulfilled the above requirements, they will submit their CTEP application online for certification along with a certification registration fee of $300 (a secure link is provided to make the payment online). When approved, candidates will become CTEP members of the AAFM.

Continuing Education Requirements

All CTEPs must complete 15 hours of continuing education (CE) per year, which may be fulfilled in a variety of ways:

  1. Take an approved online ethics course
  2. Attend the two day (which counts for 15 hours) AAFM  Approved Annual Congress
  3. Take a course from AAFM’s Online Approved Law School Program
  4. Provide evidence of work done as a professor, teacher, or trainer
  5. Complete 15 hours or 2 days of approved courses for lawyers or CPAs
  6. Complete 15 hours of executive education from an AACSB or ACBSP accredited business school
  7. Publish an Article with AAFM’s International Journal
  8. Attend an AAFM -Approved Global Economic and Wealth Management summit
  9. Provide a list of continuing education/professional development courses taken from other organizations such as the ABA, American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), or the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).
  10. Email AAFM  a record of attendance of outside events