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Certified Retirement Counselor

Retirement planning is one aspect of personal finance that every advisor should know well. Correspondingly, there are dozens of professional certifications advisors can add to their bona fides and expertise. One of these is Certified Retirement Counselor® (CRC®). The title sounds on the money, but what does a CRC do and how can one help you plan retirement? We’ll explore this credential and why it can be a professional advantage in the financial advisory field. You can use the information if you’re ready to find a financial advisor who can help you through the steps of retirement planning.

What Is a Certified Retirement Counselor?

An advisor with CRC at the end of their title will be well-versed in numerous subjects related to retirement and have some institutional creditability. The CRC certification is a product the International Foundation for Retirement Education (InFRE) has offered since 1997. InFRE is a nonprofit organization that advocates for high service and ethical standards in the financial sector. It also sees its work as urgent, since millions of baby boomers will retire in the next decade and many are not adequately prepared for the transition.

Earning the CRC certificate entails passing an exam and adherence to InFRE’s code of ethics. CRC holders must re-register annually, which requires evidence of continuing study and a renewal fee. There is no mandatory curriculum, although InFRE offers comprehensive study guides. Bundled together, the guides and exam fee cost applicants between $925 and $1025. As of 2018, InFRE reported 2036 active CRC certificates. The pass rate for the 110 candidates who took the exam in 2018 was 80%.

Who Can Become a Certified Retirement Counselor?

InFRE sets modest education and work experience prerequisites for earning a CRC. A bachelor’s degree in any subject from an accredited college or university, combined with work experience, is the standard, although a high school diploma or GED will suffice with more experience. Candidates need a minimum of two years of relevant, retirement related experience within the past five years, or five years of experience in the last seven. Any criminal activity or professional misconduct must be disclosed on an initial statement.

Admittance standards are not absolute and InFRE can modify the selection criteria in certain situations. But in general, this certification is more suitable for professionals with an established skill set than beginners.

What Do CRC Candidates Learn?

InFRE wants CRC candidates to know about more than just the financial realities of retirement. They also should understand the process of accumulating a retirement nest egg and to be advocates for long-term financial planning.

As stated, there is no required course of study with this certification. Theoretically, a financial advisor could pass an exam on the strength of their existing professional knowledge. For those who need study materials, InFRE’s course offerings cover five general areas. These include retirement planning; fundamentals of investments; retirement plan design; retirement income management; and guidance on counseling and education practices. InFRE also updates its exam every five years to keep pace with changes within the financial advisory industry. Once the candidate is ready, they can take the four-hour, 200 question exam on four different dates during the year.

Established CRCs can meet the continuing education requirements through a variety of sources, including employer-sponsored education sessions, workshops and even review of InFRE study guides. InFRE also supplies CRCs with a handbook that includes an extensive list of topics that can become the basis for continuing education.

 Should You Work With a CRC Instead of Another Expert?

Certified Retirement Counselor

Retirement experts may have a virtual alphabet soup’s worth of credentials. Are some more impressive than others? Almost certainly. Some credentials require very little in the way of study or professional standards. In contrast, a professional with the CRC credential probably invested significant time earning it and must live up to InFRE’s code of ethics and continuous education to keep it.

That said, you may want an advisor to have even more rigorous training. Compare the credentials of a Personal Financial Specialist (PFS), a certification offered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). CPAs are the only financial professionals eligible for the PFS. They must be in good standing in their field, submit recommendations and have the equivalent of 3000 hours of professional or teaching experience.

PFS certification allows CPAs to broaden the range of services they can provide clients. Although CPAs may have knowledge of many aspects of business, typically they focus on taxes and accounting. But a CPA/PFS can branch into retirement planning and wealth management and compete more directly with CRCs.

Both PFS and CRC certifications require initial fees in the hundreds of dollars, exam fees and ongoing education. From a professional’s perspective, the investments of time and money are roughly equal. The combination of CPA and PFS certification may carry a little more authority for clients who want deep financial expertise. That said, some clients may prefer to work with an advisor with a less specialized background or one that focuses exclusively on retirement issues, as a CRC may well do.

The Bottom Line

CRC certification can demonstrate that a financial professional has specialized knowledge around funding and managing retirement. While there are many financial certifications that address some areas of retirement planning, the CRC covers most of the territory. For professionals, it can be a valuable differentiator if their client base is close to retirement age or running behind in their planning. Affiliation with the nonprofit InFRE, which is more focused on education than selling products, is another asset.

 Retirement Tips

Certified Retirement Counselor

    • It’s never too soon to start thinking about the future. SmartAsset’s retirement guide has resources, including a retirement calculator, that can help you understand how investing and smart planning can start today.
    • You may find it worthwhile to research a few financial certifications to get a sense of of the expertise your advisor might need to have. 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 5 minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/alvarez, ©iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages, ©iStock.com/kali9

Sarah Fisher Sarah Fisher has been researching and writing about business and finance for years. She has worked for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and her work has appeared on Business Insider and Yahoo Finance. Sarah has a bachelor's degree from Georgetown University and is from New York City. When she isn't writing finance articles, she dabbles in animation and graphic design.
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