What All Those Financial Planner Identification Letters Mean


When looking for an expert to help you with money matters, choosing among potential advisors can be a challenge. Most advisors will have some sort of letters after their name: there are nearly 100 designations open to financial industry professionals.

Some references are more important than others. These, for example, show that the recipient has completed a demanding course of study, passed a difficult exam, is committed to a code of ethics, and has met ongoing continuing education requirements:

* Accountant. The CPA designation is perhaps the most recognized financial designation. Many CPAs know the tax code, but this is not always the case. You can request specific expertise in tax planning.

* Personal financial specialist. Some CPAs also earn a PFS designation, which indicates a wide range of expertise.

* Certified Financial Planner. A CFP likely has some investment knowledge, but this credential shows proficiency in comprehensive financial planning, from college budgeting and funding to insurance and retirement planning.

* Approved life insurer. Someone with a CLU has extensive life insurance training and can likely provide sophisticated estate planning advice.

* Licensed Financial Advisor. The same organization that awards the CLU also awards the ChFC. This latter designation shows that the carrier can provide comprehensive planning, but it’s fair to expect them to focus on life, health, disability and long-term care insurance.

* Chartered Financial Analyst. CFA holders have completed a multi-year program of study and passed a rigorous exam. Many financial planning firms will have CFAs on staff to help screen promising investments.

The above designations are well established and appreciated, but they are certainly not the only ones available. Some financial advisors will show you a business card with different designations; some advisers will, for example, obtain a CFP and then add a specialized designation such as a Certified Investment Fiduciary (AIF) or Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA).

How do I know if an advisor or potential advisor has valid designations? Go online and search for the designation, then go to the responsible body’s website. You can read about the curriculum required to earn the degree and how much continuing education is needed in order to maintain it.

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