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What Is the CFP Capstone Course?

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A financial advisor considering the CFP Capstone course.

Acquiring a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) credential could broaden your career horizons and help you grow your book of business. There are several requirements financial professionals must meet, including completing the CFP Capstone course. The course is designed to enhance your knowledge and skillset in preparation for working with clients and is required for all CFP candidates unless you qualify for the Capstone Alternative.

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What Is the CFP Capstone Course and What Does It Cover?

The CFP Capstone course is a comprehensive course that aspiring certified financial planners must complete. The course, which focuses on the development of a financial plan, is typically completed after all other education and study requirements for CFP certification have been met and spans eight core financial knowledge topics.

Those topics include:

  • Professional conduct and regulation
  • General principles of financial planning
  • Risk management and insurance planning
  • Investment planning
  • Tax planning
  • Retirement savings and income planning
  • Estate planning
  • Psychology of financial planning

CFP candidates must take the Capstone course through a CFP Board registered program. The Capstone is a 45-hour course that may take anywhere from four to eight weeks to complete, depending on which program you decide to enroll in.

Who Is Required to Take the CFP Capstone Course?

The CFP Board is clear about who must take the course. The Capstone requirement applies to:

  • Students who enroll in CFP Board registered programs on or after January 1, 2012
  • Students who complete the coursework requirement for CFP certification through multiple CFP Board registered programs, even if they enrolled before January 1, 2012
  • CFP candidates who qualified for the Accelerated Path if their first time taking the CFP exam is March 2012 or later

Qualification for the Accelerated Path requires a specific degree, designation, or certification. Examples of individuals who may qualify include licensed attorneys, licensed certified public accountants, chartered financial consultants and professionals who hold a Ph.D. in financial planning, finance, business administration or economics.

The only group of students excluded from the requirement are those who enrolled in a CFP Board registered program before January 1, 2012, and maintained continuous enrollment in a single program of study at the same institution. If you’ve only recently entered the financial planning field or are considering it after finishing your degree, you’ll need to complete the Capstone course or the Capstone Alternative. We’ll dive into how the latter works a little later.

How Much Does the CFP Capstone Course Cost?

How much you’ll pay to take the CFP Capstone course can depend largely on where you enroll. The CFP Board allows you to complete the coursework via approved Capstone programs, but they aren’t all alike in terms of cost.

Here are three examples of the fees for various programs:

  • Dalton Education. Dalton offers a comprehensive Capstone course that includes recorded lectures, practice questions, live office hours, CFP exam prep, and access to supplemental study materials. Students also get Dalton’s Guarantee to Pass 100% money-back guarantee for a total price of $2,995.
  • Boston University. Boston University offers two Capstone courses, one that includes course materials and textbooks and another that includes course materials, textbooks and exam review. Costs range from $995 for the core course with no textbook included to $1,995 for the exam review option, with textbooks.
  • Florida Atlantic University. Florida Atlantic University offers on-campus or live virtual coursework for CFP candidates who need to complete the Capstone requirement. The course spans 15 sessions and the fee is $800.

When comparing different courses, it’s important to consider the fees and what they cover. For example, are you just paying for the course or does the fee also include textbooks, exam prep or extra study materials?

Location is another consideration. Some courses may be offered virtually or in person, while others may only be available via one avenue or the other. You’ll also need to consider how coursework fits into your schedule if you’re expected to attend virtual or in-person lectures at specific times each week.

Also, keep in mind that some programs may allow rolling enrollment while others have specific start and end dates.

CFP Capstone Alternative

A financial advisor researches the requirements for the Capstone Alternative.

Some CFP candidates may qualify for the Capstone Alternative. This course allows eligible candidates to fulfill the educational requirement by developing and presenting a financial plan without having to complete the required 45 hours of classroom coursework.

Experienced financial planners who are eligible for Accelerated Path and meet the CFP Board’s experience requirement may be able to complete the Capstone Alternative in place of the full Capstone course.

To meet the CFP experience requirement, candidates must complete:

  • 6,000 hours of professional experience in the area of financial planning, OR
  • 4,000 hours of apprenticeship experience that meets additional Board requirements

The Capstone Alternative assumes that candidates have experience with developing financial plans and have mastered the eight core knowledge areas listed above. Candidates who complete the final project successfully are considered to have met the coursework requirement for CFP exam eligibility. You can submit an online form to the CFP Board to find out if you’re eligible for the Capstone Alternative.

Candidates who have received a Certificate of Eligibility from the CFP Board can enroll in the Capstone Alternative through one of two programs:

The American College’s Capstone Alternative costs $1,130 to enroll, as of February 2024. The course takes approximately two months to complete. The College for Financial Planning doesn’t disclose course fees online.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does the CFP Capstone take?

The CFP Capstone course spans 45 hours of classroom coursework, culminating in the development of a financial plan. In terms of how long it might take someone to complete the course, a typical range is anywhere from four to eight weeks. Depending on the program, you may have up to six months to complete the course once enrolled.

Do all CFP candidates have to complete the Capstone course?

The Capstone course is required for all CFP candidates unless you meet the guidelines for the Capstone Alternative instead. This option is reserved for financial planners who hold certain degrees or professional certifications and have the requisite number of hours of experience working in the financial planning industry.

How do I find a CFP Capstone course?

Any Capstone course you enroll in must be CFP Board registered. The CFP Board offers an online search tool you can use to find eligible programs. When comparing programs, remember to look at what you’ll pay and what’s included in the cost, as well as the structure and format of the course itself.

Bottom Line

A financial advisor considering a certification as a financial planner.

Becoming a certified financial planner could help you level up your career and get closer to your professional goals. While the requirements to become a CFP are extensive, they’re designed to ensure that you’re fully prepared to help clients map out their financial plans. The Capstone course is a chance to test your skills in that area and show what you’ve learned as a CFP candidate.

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  • Aside from the Capstone course, the CFP exam is another key requirement you’ll need to meet to obtain certification as a financial planner. You may consider enrolling in a Capstone course that includes CFP exam prep as part of the covered curriculum. Once you’ve passed the CFP exam, remember that you’ll need to meet continuing education requirements to maintain your certification.

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