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What Is a Certified Retirement Counselor (CRC)?


Retirement planning is one aspect of personal finance that most financial advisors typically know well. Correspondingly, there are dozens of professional certifications advisors can add to their profile and expertise. One of these is certified retirement counselor (CRC). Financial advisors with this certification are experts in retirement planning, retirement income management and more. If you want a financial advisor to help with your retirement plans, consider using SmartAsset’s free advisor matching tool.

What Is a Certified Retirement Counselor (CRC)?

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. These study guides come in a bundle of five, for a total cost of $520.

The fee for the CRC exam is $550, and a retake will cost you another $250. However, if you purchase your CRC exam and study guides together, you’ll save $100 on the latter. That would make your total cost for both $970 ($420 for the study guides and $550 for the exam).

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?

Certified Retirement Counselor

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 we state above, there is no specific course of study necessary to earn 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?

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 3,000 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.

Bottom Line

Certified Retirement Counselor

A 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 focuses on education rather than selling products, is another asset.

Retirement Tips

  • You may find it worthwhile to research a few financial certifications to get a sense of of the expertise you might want your advisor to have. Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • 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.

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