Table of Contents

    Requirements To Become A CFP

    Certified Financial Planner

    For those unfamiliar, the acronym CFP stands for certified financial planner. CNN Money reported in 2017 that CFP jobs were expected to grow by 30% over the following ten years. Accordingly, it could be an excellent career path for you. 

    Before you take the plunge, read on to explore the background behind CFP’s meaning and what it takes to become one.

    What Is A Certified Financial Planner?

    A certified financial planner or CFP by definition is a financial advisor who helps clients meet their short-term and long-term financial goals. There are many kinds of financial advisors; however, the designation CFP signifies that they’re certified, licensed, and have met the highest levels of ethical standards.

    Certified financial planners develop ongoing relationships with their clients. They possess a tremendous level of fiduciary responsibility, making decisions and advising clients on financial matters that impact their lives. Accordingly, they must always put their client’s best interests first.

    Most people seek out a financial planner to help them develop strategies around goals such as retirement, saving for college tuition, launching a small business, buying a home, and traveling the world. These individuals also assist clients with more routine issues, such as handling a sudden influx of money. Should it be invested or be used to pay off debt? What about the tax implications?

    A certified financial planner can distill the full picture of a client’s financial life by examining income tax returns, investment statements, retirement accounts, and other savings account activity, sources of income, and lists of liabilities. Once the picture is complete, the planner can help the client develop a strategy to meet their financial ambitions.

    Some certified financial planners work independently, while others are part of large financial or insurance companies.

    What Skills Do You Need To Be A Successful CFP?

    Becoming a successful financial advisor takes more than a college degree and passing the licensing exam. You need to develop particular skills that enable you to assist a diverse client base. At a minimum, if you want to be successful, you need the following skills:

    Financial Analysis

    • In-depth understanding of accounting practices, banking information, and financial markets
    • Knowledge of how investment markets operate
    • Comfortable computing complex mathematical problems
    • Thorough familiarity with tax law and providing advice, especially related to medical savings accounts and retirement plans


    • Consumers seek out the advice of a CFP because they can’t generate solutions to their money problems. They rely on you to find the most appropriate resolutions to their financial difficulties. No two clients are the same. Therefore, you need to know how to create individualized solutions that are relevant for each person

    Strong communication and listening skills

    • A certified financial planner must have strong, active listening skills. This means the ability to focus your thoughts on a client’s needs and problems. Once you’ve absorbed all the information, you must explain complex details and financial information, and in a way the client can understand.


    • A CFP must be tech-savvy, meaning that you’re competent using computer programs, such as financial analysis software, spreadsheets, resource planning programs, and basic word processing applications

    Do You Need A College Degree To Be A Certified Financial Planner?

    At a minimum, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. It’s recommended that you pursue a major in estate planning, risk management, investing, finance, or tax law. Degrees in accounting, business, or finance will best prepare you to master the licensing exam. You’ll want to be sure to enroll in courses that cover financial forecasting and investment planning.

    The CFP Board requires that you graduate from an accredited college or university before you can sit for the certification exam. Many large financial firms require candidates to have a master’s degree.

    How Do You Become A CFP?

    After you complete a CFP Board-registered education program, you’re eligible to sit for the exam. The exam is offered three times a year at approved locations. There are 170 multiple-choice questions on the exam, which you complete on a computer. The licensing board suggests that you should spend at least 250 hours preparing to take it.

    Once you’ve passed the exam and become licensed, you’re ready to join a financial planning or investment firm. Alternatively, you can open your own office. You’ll need to take continuing education classes. If you decide to join a firm, you may need to complete specialized coursework relevant to the clientele you’ll be supporting.

    A CFP serving as a financial advisor on investment products and financial planning is required by Federal regulations to be licensed by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). If you’re going to offer advice on insurance products, such as annuities or life insurance, you’ll most likely be required to obtain an insurance broker’s license from your state regulatory agency.

    How Long Does It Take To Become A Certified Financial Planner?

    The number of years required to become a CFP depends on many variables, such as your educational achievements and previous experience.

    After completing your university studies, it can take between 18 to 24 months before you’re ready to begin working as a financial planner. While the exact number of years may be flexible, there’s a typical pathway that most certified planners follow before setting up shop or joining a firm.

    • Bachelor’s Degree, including specific course work required by the CFP Board
    • Internship (six months to one year, during college)
    • Passing the licensing exam

    The Bottom Line

    US Census Bureau data indicates that more than 78 million people over the age of 65 will live in the US by 2035. Many of these retirees will turn to the services of a certified financial planner to help them maximize their retirement savings. 

    Parents will also need advice related to the challenges of saving for sending their kids to college, paying off debt, and funding their retirement plans. Accordingly, you could also enjoy a successful career as a financial advisor in a fast-growing services segment if you assemble the necessary experience, licensing, and high ethical standards.