Email FacebookTwitterMenu burgerClose thin

How to Find a Financial Planning Certificate Program


The distinction between financial advisors can sometimes hinge on the depth of their knowledge and the trust they inspire. Financial planning certifications are not merely a form of professional validation – they may be a testament to an advisor’s commitment, expertise and adherence to ethical standards. Professionals who pursue these certifications, especially the certified financial planner (CFP) and chartered financial consultant (ChFC) designations, enhance their reputation and demonstrate a mastery of complex financial strategies. The financial planning certificate program you ultimately choose will vary based on the certification you wish to pursue, among other factors.

SmartAsset’s Advisor Marketing Platform offers financial advisors services like client lead generation, automated marketing and more. Learn about SmartAsset AMP today.

About Financial Planning Certification

Financial planning certifications can act as key professional endorsements that affirm an individual’s proficiency and dedication to the highest standards in financial planning. While these certifications might appear to be just titles, they actually reflect a deep-rooted understanding and capability in addressing an array of financial matters.

Accredited bodies grant these certifications to those who have completed rigorous educational and ethical requirements, thereby providing assurance to clients and employers.

Professionals in finance often seek certifications to bolster their credibility, deepen their knowledge and propel their careers forward. Different certifications are sought after for their specialized training in areas such as investment strategies, retirement planning, tax considerations and estate management, which enable professionals to deliver comprehensive counsel throughout a client’s financial journey.

While it’s important to note that these credentials are widely recognized as marks of commitment, one should not view them as absolute guarantees but rather as indicators of a professional’s earnestness in their field.

Becoming a Certified Financial Planner (CFP)

When it comes to financial planning, the CFP credential stands out for its industry-wide recognition. This certification is highly valued by both financial professionals and their clients for its representation of expertise and ethical practice in financial planning.

To become a CFP, one must meet a series of requirements:

  1. Educational prerequisites: Hold a bachelor’s degree and complete a CFP Board-registered education program, covering key financial planning topics across seven courses.
  2. Professional experience: Accumulate sufficient professional experience in the financial planning field. You’ll need either 6,000 of professional experience related to financial planning or 4,000 hours of apprenticeship experience.
  3. Exam: Pass a rigorous 170-question multiple-choice exam that tests the practical application of financial planning knowledge.
  4. Ethics and continuing education: Adhere to ethical standards, act as a fiduciary and complete 30 hours of continuing education every two-year reporting period.

The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. (CFP Board) is a non-profit organization that administers the CFP certification and institutes a code of ethics and standards that all CFPs must follow.

How to Find a CFP Program

A financial advisor studies for the CFP exam at home.

Prospective financial planners seeking to obtain CFP certification have at their disposal a variety of methods and resources to find the CFP Board registered program that’s right for them. Crucial to this search is the use of online tools, such as the CFP Board’s own “Find an Education Program” directory, which categorizes the 300+ accredited programs based on geographic region and delivery format.

Those interested in the credential can choose from three different formats for the CFP education program:

  • Classroom/blended: A mix of in-person classroom learning and online course study.
  • Online instructor-led: The program is administered online by an instructor.
  • Online self-study: Candidates go through the material entirely online and at their own pace.

Moreover, engaging with professional networks can also help a prospective candidate learn more information about different CFP programs. Organizations such as the Financial Planning Association (FPA) and the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) can offer recommendations and facilitate valuable professional connections.

Finally, the CFP certification can also be earned on a standalone basis or as part of a higher education degree (bachelor’s, graduate or Ph.D.).

Becoming a Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC)

The ChFC is another significant financial planning certification, developed as an alternative to the CFP but without a board examination and bachelor’s degree requirement. Instead, candidates take a series of final exams at the end of each educational course.

The ChFC designation, which is is offered by the American College of Financial Services, can also bolster a financial planner’s expertise and reputation in the field.

To earn the ChFC designation, candidates must fulfill the following requirements:

1. Education courses: Complete a series of eight college-level courses through the American College of Financial Services encompassing a broad range of financial planning disciplines, each with a final exam. However, candidates only need a high school diploma (or high school equivalent) to qualify.
2. Experiential requirement: Acquire three years of professional experience within the financial planning field and or related career.
3. Ethics and continuing education: Commit to ongoing ethical conduct and complete 30 hours of continuing education every two years.

How to Find a ChFC Program

Finding a ChFC program is relatively straight-forward since the American College of Financial Services offers the education program directly. As a result, prospective ChFC candidates can enroll in the program on the American College of Financial Services website.

Once ready, applicants will submit their application through the organization’s online portal. After submitting their application, a candidate will undergo a review process, during which the institution assesses their qualifications and determines their eligibility for enrollment.

Other Financial Planning Certification Programs

A financial advisor who holds the chartered financial consultant (ChFC) designation stands while colleagues meet in the background.

The financial planning industry offers a multitude of certifications beyond the widely recognized CFP and ChFC credentials. These alternative certifications cater to various specializations within the financial sector, allowing professionals to hone their expertise in distinct areas.

For instance, the chartered life underwriter (CLU) designation is particularly relevant for those specializing in life insurance and estate planning, while the chartered retirement planning counselor (CRPC) certification focuses on pre- and post-retirement needs.

Building on the foundation of specialized certifications, the personal financial specialist (PFS) certification stands out as a tailored option for accounting professionals looking to integrate financial planning into their repertoire. Offered by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), the PFS designation is an exclusive certification for licensed certified public accountants (CPAs). To obtain this credential, candidates must have substantial education and experience, as well as a passing score on a rigorous examination that covers a wide array of topics, including estate planning, investment strategy and retirement planning.

Meanwhile, the registered financial consultant (RFC) and the certified investment management analyst (CIMA) each caters to distinct niches within the financial planning sector. The RFC, offered by the International Association of Registered Financial Consultants, emphasizes a holistic approach to financial planning. It requires education, experience and adherence to ethical standards, which thereby equip professionals to serve a wide range of client needs comprehensively. In contrast, the CIMA certification, conferred by the Investments & Wealth Institute, is geared towards professionals with a deep understanding of advanced investment management, including portfolio construction, asset allocation and performance measurement.

Bottom Line

Financial planning certifications like the CFP and ChFC can demonstrate a financial advisor’s expertise, ethical commitment and dedication to providing comprehensive, client-centered advice. With a variety of certifications available, professionals can choose the path that best aligns with their career aspirations and areas of specialization. Finding a financial planning certificate program often begins with picking a particular certification and familiarizing oneself with the organization or entity that administers it.

Tips for Growing Your Financial Advisor Business.

  • A professional credential like the CFP or ChFC can strengthen your credibility as an advisor. Here’s a closer look at 10 financial advisor certifications that you may want to consider.
  • Whether you’re veteran financial advisor or just getting started in the business, adding new clients and new AUM are the bedrock of growth. SmartAsset AMP (Advisor Marketing Platform) is a 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.

Photo credit: © Productions, ©, ©