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Course and Certification Options for Financial Planners


Professional certifications can give you a competitive edge as you grow your advisory business. There are a variety of credentials you might obtain, each of which has specific education and exam requirements. Deciding which financial planner course to take can depend largely on your career path and specialty.

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Certifications for Financial Planners

Financial planners and advisors have a multitude of options when earning professional designations. If you’re new to the financial services industry or are contemplating a career change, you might consider pursuing any of the following credentials.

  • Certified Financial Planner (CFP. Certified financial planners work with clients to help them realize their financial goals. The CFP mark is issued by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards.
  • Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA). Chartered financial analysts primarily focus on investment decision-making and portfolio management. The CFA designation is offered by the CFA Institute.
  • Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC). Chartered financial consultants may offer general financial planning advice or specialize in certain areas of planning, such as estate planning or insurance. The American College of Financial Services offers the ChFC designation.
  • Wealth Management Certified Professional (WMCP). Wealth management certified professionals offer their services to clients who need comprehensive wealth planning solutions. This designation is offered through the American College of Financial Services.
  • Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU). Chartered life underwriters are knowledgeable about life insurance and related products, such as annuities. The American College of Financial Services is the issuing organization for this financial planning certification.
  • Retirement Income Certified Professional (RICP). Retirement income certified professionals work primarily in the area of financial planning for retirement. This designation is also offered through the American College of Financial Services.
  • Certified Private Wealth Advisor (CPWA). Certified private wealth advisors work with high-net-worth clients who need advice on things like estate planning, charitable giving and legacy preservation. This certification is administered by the Investments & Wealth Institute.
  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Certified public accountants advise clients on tax-related issues, and they can also offer financial planning guidance. The CPA designation is awarded at the state level by the Board of Accountancy.

That’s a brief list of designations you might hold as a financial planning professional. The credential (or credentials) you decide to earn can determine which financial planning courses you must complete.

Financial Planner Course Options

Professional certification programs typically specify that any coursework you complete must be part of an approved curriculum. If you’re interested in earning a CFP mark, for instance, you can only complete courses that are approved by the CFP Board.

With that in mind, here are some examples of financial planning education programs you might consider.

Kaplan CFP Education Program

Kaplan offers CFP Board-approved coursework options for CFP candidates. The scope of course content is the same; the difference lies in what’s included in each package. You can choose from self-study or on-demand classes, or live online classes with CFP exam prep included.

The curriculum spans the essential knowledge areas required by the CFP Board:

  • 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

Kaplan also offers coursework to meet the CFP Capstone requirement, which is required for all candidates unless you’re on the accelerated path to certification.

CFA Institute Chartered Financial Analyst Coursework

The CFA Institute offers CFA coursework and exam review for financial planners who are pursuing a chartered financial analyst designation. Candidates who enroll in the program have access to a complete online curriculum as well as mock exams and study plans. All of this is included with your registration for the Level I CFA exam.

Topics covered in the program span:

  • Ethical and professional standards
  • Quantitative methods
  • Economics
  • Financial statement analysis
  • Corporate issuers
  • Equity investments
  • Fixed income
  • Derivatives
  • Alternative investments
  • Portfolio management and wealth planning

The CFA Institute suggests allowing a minimum of six months or 300 hours of study time to fully prepare for the exam.

The American College of Financial Services ChFC Program

Chartered financial consultant candidates can complete a 100% virtual study program through the American College of Financial Services. You must complete eight required courses and pass the ChFC exam to receive your designation. The required courses are as follows:

  • Fundamentals of financial planning
  • Fundamentals of insurance planning
  • Fundamentals of income taxation
  • Planning for retirement needs
  • Investments
  • Fundamentals of estate planning
  • Personal financial planning: Comprehensive
  • Contemporary applications in financial plan

The typical completion time for the program is less than 18 months.

American College of Financial Services Wealth Management Certified Professional Program

The American College of Financial Services offers a virtual program for those seeking a WMCP designation. The coursework covers these topics:

  • Fundamental considerations in the wealth management process
  • Time value of money principles
  • Credit and lending
  • Education funding
  • Measurement of risk and return
  • The asset allocation process
  • Investment strategies
  • Tax implications and strategies in the financial planning process
  • Insurance products in wealth management
  • Retirement planning considerations
  • Equity compensation and nonqualified deferred compensation plans
  • Business ownership and planning
  • Estate planning

The study program also includes a practice exam to help you prepare for the final WMS exam.

The American College of Financial Services Chartered Life Underwriter Program

The American College of Financial Services also offers a chartered life underwriter study program that’s 100% virtual and can be completed in about 15 months. You must complete five courses in total, though certain classes are electives.

Course options include:

  • The tools and techniques of life insurance planning
  • Legal aspects of life insurance
  • Fundamentals of estate planning
  • Planning for business owners and professionals
  • Fundamentals of financial planning (elective)
  • Fundamentals of insurance planning (elective)
  • Income taxation (elective)
  • Planning for retirement needs (elective)
  • Investments (elective)

Earning the RICP designation, the wealth management certified professional (WMCP) designation or the chartered special needs consultant (ChSNC) designation allows you to receive elective credit in the CLU program.

Continuing Education Financial Planner Courses

A financial advisor earning continuing education (CE) credits to maintain her professional designation.

Once you earn a professional designation, you’ll need to maintain it. That usually means earning continuing education (CE) credits.

How often you’ll need to complete your continuing education requirements, as well as the number and type of credits you’ll need can depend on your credentials. For example, CFP professionals must complete 30 hours of continuing education each reporting period and two of those hours must be in ethics.

Many of the organizations that offer financial planner course programs also offer continuing education credits. Additionally, you may be able to find CE coursework offered elsewhere, in the form of workshops, webinars or lectures.

As you search for courses to satisfy CE requirements, remember that:

  • Courses must be approved by the organization or entity that issues your designation
  • Continuing education hours must be reported by the organization or entity that issues your designation

Here’s one more tip: don’t wait until the last minute. Your certification may be suspended or revoked if you fail to earn the appropriate number of credits within the reporting window.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where can I find an affordable financial planning course?

Numerous companies offer financial planning courses online, with options ranging from basic self-study programs to premium packages that include one-on-one mentoring. A self-study program may be the most budget-friendly choice, though you’ll need to be disciplined about completing the coursework.

Do financial planning courses include exam prep?

Some financial planning course packages include exam prep along with access to study materials, such as flashcards or practice tests. You may also have the option to purchase exam prep separately from your coursework or study for the exam independently.

What financial planning continuing education courses do I need?

The answer depends on which designation or certification you hold. Financial planners may need to complete continuing education courses in the areas of ethics, general financial planning, wealth management or investments, depending on their designation.

Bottom Line

A financial advisor exploring financial planner course options.

Finding a reputable financial planner course or study program may require a little research. As you compare options, consider which study formats are available (i.e., self-study, on-demand classes, live classes, etc.), what’s covered and how much you’ll pay. And if you’ve got a solid network, you might ask other financial planning professionals which courses they’d recommend.

Tips for Growing Your Advisory Business

  • If you’re ready to start attracting new clients, an online lead generation service can help. SmartAsset AMP (Advisor Marketing Platform) is our holistic marketing service financial advisors can use for client lead generation and automated marketing. Sign up for a free demo to explore how SmartAsset AMP can help you expand your practice’s marketing operation. Get started today.
  • In addition to completing coursework and taking an exam, there may be other boxes you need to check off to obtain a professional certification or designation. That can include earning a college degree or obtaining a minimum amount of professional work experience. Reviewing the requirements for different credentials can help you better understand what to expect as you work toward certification.

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