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What Is a Certified Personal Finance Counselor (CPFC)?


Certified personal finance counselors (CFPCs) are professionals trained to assist individuals in making informed money decisions, aiming to foster financial stability and growth. Advisors and other professionals working in the finance industry may pursue this credential to offer advice on budgeting, debt management, saving and basic investment concepts. Here’s a closer look at the CPFC certification process and what you can expect when working with one.

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What Is a Certified Personal Finance Counselor (CPFC)?

The CPFC is a professional designation awarded to individuals who have demonstrated a thorough understanding of the basics of personal finance management. The program aims to help certain financial professionals improve their clients’ financial literacy and make more informed money decisions.

While some financial advisors may focus on wealth management and investment strategies, CPFCs could be primarily focused on educating clients about the fundamental principles of finances. To earn the CPFC designation, candidates must complete a self-study education program and pass a certification exam. The curriculum covers essential financial topics such as:

  • Budgeting
  • Setting financial goals
  • Credit and debt management
  • Saving and investing strategies
  • Retirement planning
  • Insurance

The curriculum also touches on counseling techniques and communication skills., an offshoot of the Institute for Financial Literacy, oversees the CPFC designation, ensuring that all counselors adhere to high ethical standards and possess the knowledge to offer effective financial guidance.

Certification Process

A woman smiles after passing the online exam for the certified personal finance counselor (CPFC) credential.

The CPFC certification process is relatively straightforward. To be eligible for the credential, a person must be 18 years old, have a high school diploma or GED and have “some experience in a field related to the program,” according to Fincert’s bylaws. The program was originally designed to help credit counselors develop and hone certain skills that would help them in their one-on-one work with clients.

Candidates receive a training manual that’s broken into four distinct parts.

  • Part I: Focuses on enhancing communication and counseling skills, covering listening techniques, communication barriers, cognitive and emotional issues, and decision-making processes.
  • Part II: Outlines the basics of financial management including money management, credit, debt handling, investments, retirement and insurance.
  • Part III: Explains consumer protection laws relevant to financial transactions.
  • Part IV: Serves as a resource guide with worksheets, a glossary, forms, web resources, and the code of ethics.

Candidates then must pass an exam using remote proctor technology within a year of accepting their application. If they don’t pass, they can retake the exam, but they have to wait at least 15 days after their last try. They can take the exam up to three times, unless allows more attempts in writing.

Who Can Benefit From a CPFC?

Individuals and families at all economic levels can benefit from the services of a financial professional with the CPFC designation. Whether someone is struggling with high levels of debt, planning for future financial goals, or simply seeking to improve their financial literacy, a CPFC can provide guidance.

For those just starting out in their financial journey, a CPFC can lay the groundwork for healthy financial habits, while for others, they can offer strategies for debt management or retirement planning.

CPFC vs. CFP®: What’s the Difference

A couple meets with a certified financial planner (CFP) professional to discuss their financial plan.

While they may sound similar, the certified personal finance counselor and Certified Financial Planner™ (CFP®) designations are significantly different.

The former can offer a finance professional with the credentials to help clients with the basics of personal finance and financial literacy. The CFP® designation, on the other hand, is viewed as the gold standard of financial planning credentials and signals a greater degree of knowledge and training.

CFP® professionals are generally geared toward individuals seeking comprehensive financial planning and investment advice, making them ideal for clients with more complex financial needs and wealth management goals. However, advisors who hold the CFP® designation can also help ordinary clients with more modest financial needs and goals.

The credential is awarded to financial professionals who go through an intensive and rigorous education program before passing a 170-question exam. Once certified, CFP® professionals are required to adhere to a set of ethical standards, including acting as a fiduciary.

Bottom Line

The certified personal finance counselor (CPFC) designation is designed to help financial professionals provide basic financial literacy education to clients. CPFCs go through a self-study education program that focuses on foundational elements of personal finance, including budgeting, setting financial goals, investing, among others.

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