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How to Become a Certified Financial Planner

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If you offer financial planning services to clients, it helps if you can show that you have the highest level of experience and credibility. The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards manages certification for this profession. Its CFP credential demonstrates that you have proven expertise and that you work to specific standards. To earn certification, you must meet education, exam, professional experience and ethics requirements.

Education Requirements

You need at least a bachelor's degree to become a CFP. There is no required discipline, but your degree must come from a college or university accredited by the U.S. Department of Education. You can take the CFP exam before you have a degree, but the CFP board will not certify you until you graduate. The organization gives you five years from the date that you pass the exam to meet the degree requirement.

Finance-Specific Training

You must meet financial education requirements before applying for the exam. You can take a CFP board program or courses that meet all of the personal financial planning requirements. These cover general and specialty planning areas, communication skills, and professional conduct and responsibilities. You'll also take the CFP capstone course of financial plan development, typically at the end of your studies. This recaps everything you've learned. Alternatively, you may be eligible for "Challenge Status" if you have other degrees or credentials, such as a Ph.D or CPA, and take the capstone course.

Take the Exam

Apply for the exam online via the CFP website and schedule a test at a Prometric center either online or by phone. The computer-based exam features 170 multiple-choice questions split into two three-hour sessions, with a 40-minute break in between. Questions test your knowledge of the client-planner relationship, information gathering, financial status assessment and the recommendation process. You'll also answer questions about professional and regulatory standards. You get a preliminary result when you're done and official results within 10 business days. As of July 2014, the exam fee was $595.

Professional Experience

To earn CFP certification, you must meet professional work experience requirements that test your ability to administer financial planning services in one of two ways. The first requires you to have three years, or 6,000 hours, of experience -- direct, supervisory, support, teaching or internship -- in personal financial planning. You’ll take the second apprenticeship option if you’ve worked under the supervision of a CFP professional for two years, or 4,000 hours. You can take the exam before you have professional experience, but you must meet this requirement within five years of passing the exam to become a CFP.

Ethical Standards

Before you can use your CFP certification, you must meet the board's ethics and fitness requirements. This involves a disclosure statement and a background check. You must also agree to meet the board's Standards of Professional Conduct and to its use of disciplinary rules and procedures. The board will approve your certification once you have met all requirements and paid a $125 application fee and a $325 annual certification fee, as of July 2014.