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afcAccredited Financial Counselor (AFC) is one of many certifications and designations that financial professionals can earn. The AFC indicates that a professional values sound financial principles and is trained to teach people their worth. Here’s what it takes to get this designation, how it differs from other popular designations, and which clients it serves best.

Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC): The Basics 

If you have a financial advisor, then you’re probably familiar with the many designations these professionals attach to their names. They can be a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) to a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), even a Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC), among others.

An Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC) is one such designation. It comes from the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education (ACFPE), a nonprofit centered on financial education, counseling, and coaching. 

While targeting the basic tenets of sound personal finance, an AFC designation also denotes a professional’s other abilities. It indicates they can educate clients on financial principles, assist clients with paying off debt, and help identify and change poor money management habits. It also suggest that a professional guides clients along a more successful path to their financial goals and supports clients as they work through financial challenges. 

As a result, a financial professional with an AFC designation is a solid choice to middle- to low-income clients, since many of their guiding tenets focus on paying off debt, reversing bad money habits, and forging a path to financial security and, eventually, financial prosperity

Accredited Financial Counselor Requirements 

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AFC candidates must fulfill the education requirements, pass the AFC exam, and meet AFCPE’s experience guidelines. As a result, candidates must complete at least 1,000 hours of financial counseling and submit three reference letters before being considered for an AFC designation. 

There are several different ways to fulfill the educational piece of this designation. Firstly, a self-paced study option that must be completed within three years from the date of registration ($1,350-$2,000). Secondly, there’s a Financial Education Challenge option ($800) and a Professional Designation option ($1,075 to $1,625). Those must be completed within one year of registration. In addition, there is a University program option ($490) and a Distance Learning Program ($490).

The AFC exam has 165 multiple choice questions. Consequently, candidates have three hours to complete the computer-based test. Candidates receive test results immediately after the exam. If you fail the exam, however, you have to wait 30 days until you can take it again. Candidates can take the exam up to five times. 

To maintain an AFC designation, professionals must complete 30 hours of continuing education every three years. They also must pay a $55 annual fee.

AFC vs. CFP

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Though the Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC) and the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designations may seem similar, there are a few important distinctions.

Certified Financial Planner is the more well-known designation of the two. A CFP can advise clients on financial matters such as financial planning, taxes, and retirement. Alternately, an advisor with an AFC designation will focus more on assisting clients with financial challenges. Those may include paying off debt and correcting damaging money management habits

While either of these designations stand alone, some financial professionals choose both. Some experts believe that a CFP designation denotes a financial professional better suited to a high-income individual. Meanwhile, a professional with an AFC designation is likely may be more helpful to low- and middle-income clients. The latter may provide a professional with a more well-rounded education. 

Some consider the process of obtaining a CFP designation more difficult than that of an AFC designation. 

The Bottom Line

A financial professional who’s earned the Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC) designation understands the importance of establishing sound financial principles and has the training to help educate people on their value.  

The AFC exam has 165 multiple choice questions and candidates have three hours to complete it. The AFC is similar to the more standard Certified Financial Planner (CFP). However, there are several key differences. Additionally, a finance professional may choose to pursue one or both of these certifications. 

Financial Tips

  • If you’re under financial stress and think an AFC can help you, perhaps consider a financial advisor with those credentials. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • Did credit card debt bury you and leave you uncertain where you should start digging yourself out? SmartAsset’s credit card calculator can tell you what you’ll need to do to pay down that debt.
  • Think you can’t run away from a problem like debt? Think again. SmartAsset’s Best Cities to Get Out of Debt can help you find cities with high paying jobs and low cost of living.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/skynesher, ©iStock.com/Chainarong Prasertthai, ©iStock.com/draganab

Rachel Cautero Rachel Cautero writes on all things personal finance, from retirement savings tips to monetary policy, even how young families can best manage the financial challenges of having children. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, Forbes, The Balance, LearnVest, SmartAsset, HerMoney, DailyWorth, The New York Observer, MarketWatch, Lifewire, The Local: East Village, a New York Times publication and The New York Daily News. Rachel was an Experian #CreditChat panelist and has appeared on Cheddar Life and NPR’s On Point Radio with Meghna Chakrabarti. She has a bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg University and a master's in journalism from New York University. Her coworkers include her one-year-old son and a very needy French bulldog.
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