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12 Essential Financial Planning Certifications for 2021

Top 12 Financial Planning Certifications to Consider

Are you passionate about financial planning and investment analysis and are wondering what certifications are best suited for you? If so, then this article is for you.

In this article, we will provide an overview of the financial planning job market and highlight the top 12 certifications to consider in 2021.

Overview of the Financial Planning Job Market

Financial planning is an essential aspect of personal finance. It involves creating a roadmap to attain financial goals, such as saving for college, buying a house or planning for retirement.

As such, financial planners are in high demand to help individuals navigate the complex world of finance. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of financial advisors is projected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, which is as fast as the average for all occupations.

The growth is attributed to increased demand for personal financial advice from the aging baby boomer population, who are approaching retirement and seeking advice on how to maximize their retirement savings. Additionally, younger generations are increasingly seeking financial advice as they navigate economic complexities such as student loans and the rising cost of living.

Top 12 Financial Planning Certifications to Consider

1. Certified Financial Planner (CFP)

The CFP certification is a comprehensive financial planning credential that covers all aspects of personal finance like investment analysis, retirement planning, insurance planning, estate planning, tax planning, and professional conduct and ethics.

The CFP credential is recognized globally and requires a minimum of three years of financial planning experience. 2.

Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

The CFA certification is a globally recognized credential that is tailored for investment analysis and portfolio management. It covers topics such as ethics, financial analysis, portfolio management, and economics.

It is an ideal certification for professionals who want to work in the investment banking, asset management, and hedge fund industries. 3.

Certified Private Wealth Advisor (CPWA)

The CPWA certification is tailored for professionals who work with high net worth clients, affluent families, and businesses to help them manage their wealth. The certification covers topics such as advanced financial planning, wealth management strategies, asset protection, and tax planning.

4. Chartered Special Needs Consultant (ChSNC)

The ChSNC certification is tailored for professionals who work with families that have children with special needs.

The certification covers topics such as government programs, legal frameworks, investment strategies, and tax implications relating to special needs planning. 5.

Accredited Estate Planner (AEP)

The AEP certification is tailored for professionals who help clients plan their estate and plan for the transfer of their assets to their heirs. The certification covers topics such as estate planning, business planning, charitable planning, and tax issues.

6. Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC)

The AFC certification is tailored for professionals who offer financial counseling services to military families.

The certification covers topics such as money management, credit management, debt reduction, and retirement planning. 7.

Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor (CRPC)

The CRPC certification is tailored for professionals who help clients plan for their retirement. The certification covers topics such as retirement planning, retirement income management, and wealth management.

8. Certified Fund Specialist (CFS)

The CFS certification is tailored for professionals who work in the mutual fund industry.

The certification covers topics such as mutual fund analysis, portfolio management, and marketing. 9.

Certified Equity Professional (CEP)

The CEP certification is tailored for professionals who work in the equity compensation industry. The certification covers topics such as stock options, restricted stock units, employee stock purchase plans, and other forms of equity-based compensation.

10. Certified Pension Consultant (CPC)

The CPC certification is tailored for professionals who work in the pension industry.

The certification covers topics such as retirement plan design, administration, and compliance. 11.

Certified Financial Crimes Specialist (CFCS)

The CFCS certification is tailored for professionals who work in the anti-money laundering and financial crime prevention industry. The certification covers topics such as fraud prevention, risk management, and investigations.

12. Certified Philanthropic Advisor (CPFA)

The CPFA certification is tailored for professionals who work in the philanthropic industry.

The certification covers topics such as charitable giving, tax implications, and donor advisement.

Importance and Value of Having a CFA Designation

The CFA designation is globally recognized and highly respected in the investment management industry. It is a rigorous credential that requires several years of education, work experience in investment management, and the passing of three levels of exams.

According to a recent survey by the CFA Institute, professionals with the CFA designation earn an average of 29 percent more than their peers. Additionally, the CFA designation is favored by many employers and a requirement for many job positions in top investment firms.


In conclusion, having a financial planning certification is an essential part of a successful career in the financial planning and investment management industry. Through obtaining one of the 12 certifications highlighted in this article, you can expand your knowledge base, specialize in a niche area, and increase your credibility and earning potential.

The Importance of Certified Financial Planner (CFP) Certification

Financial planning is a highly complex and dynamic field that is critical for individuals and businesses alike. Financial planners help clients achieve their financial goals by providing advice and guidance on budgeting, retirement planning, education savings, taxes, and insurance coverage.

To be successful in this field, financial planners need to have a comprehensive understanding of a wide range of financial topics, as well as a commitment to ethical standards and mastering financial recommendations. One of the most sought-after certifications in financial planning is the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) certification.

The CFP certification is an advanced credential that provides a broad coverage of financial planning topics. This certification consists of five core components that include extensive training in financial planning, risk management, client communication, and ethical standards.

Broad Coverage of Financial Planning Topics

The CFP certification curriculum covers a vast array of financial planning topics, including budgeting, retirement planning, education savings, taxes, and insurance coverage. These topics represent the essential aspects of personal finance, making the CFP designation a highly sought after qualification for professionals in the financial planning industry.

Budgeting is one of the most critical components of personal finance. Many individuals struggle to manage their finances and save money for the future.

A CFP has a comprehensive understanding of budgeting principles, methods, and innovative tools to help clients save and invest their money efficiently. Retirement planning is another essential component of financial planning.

Individuals need to plan for retirement, considering how long they want to work, where they want to live, and the kind of lifestyle they hope to enjoy in retirement. With a CFP certification, a professional can provide effective retirement planning strategies to clients, considering their specific needs and goals.

Education savings is essential for parents who want to help their children with tuition fees for higher education. A CFP can provide tailored advice on the most effective education savings options for a family considering factors such as taxes, investment risk, and overall long-term financial goals.

Tax planning is essential for individuals, businesses, and other organizations. Managing tax liabilities efficiently can be complex due to frequent changes in tax laws and regulations.

A CFP is well-versed in the tax laws and can help clients to maximize their tax benefits and reduce their liabilities. Insurance coverage is another important aspect of financial planning that a CFP is trained on.

Insurance coverage, including life, health, disability, and long-term care insurance, is critical because it helps to protect assets and reduce financial risk in the event of unforeseen circumstances.

Ethical Standards and Mastery of Financial Recommendations

The CFP certification not only provides extensive coverage of financial planning topics but also involves a commitment to ethical standards. The CFP Board Code of Ethics and Standards of Conduct requires CFP professionals to act as fiduciaries, always acting in the client’s best interest.

A CFP is required to put the clients interests ahead of their own, maintain integrity, and disclose any conflicts of interest. Moreover, a CFP must pass a rigorous exam that includes a comprehensive assessment of financial recommendations.

This ensures that a CFP has achieved mastery and competency in providing financial recommendations to clients.

Certified Private Wealth Advisor (CPWA) Certification

The Certified Private Wealth Advisor (CPWA) certification is another advanced credential that provides specialized training for wealth managers who work with high-net-worth clients. Being a CPWA means that a wealth advisor has completed an in-depth and advanced educational program that covers strategies for minimizing taxes, monetizing and protecting assets, maximizing growth, and transferring wealth.

Advanced Credential for Wealth Managers Working with High-Net-Worth Clients

The CPWA program provides specialized training for wealth managers who serve high-net-worth clients. Such clients have complex financial needs that require specialized services beyond the standard wealth management services offered by financial advisors.

Wealth managers need to customize their services to meet the clients’ financial goals and objectives, considering family dynamics, tax implications, philanthropy, risk management, and other factors. Strategies for Minimizing Taxes, Monetizing and Protecting Assets, Maximizing Growth, and Transferring Wealth

The CPWA program provides wealth managers with advanced strategies and tactics that enable them to provide specialized services to high-net-worth clients.

Such strategies include minimizing taxes through tax planning, monetizing assets such as businesses and properties, protecting assets through proper asset allocation, maximizing growth through investment strategies, and transferring wealth to future generations.

Special Needs and Life Cycle of Wealth

CPWA training also includes specialized knowledge about the special needs of certain clients, such as those with disabilities. Wealth advisors need to take into account the unique needs of these clients in wealth management planning.

In addition, the life cycle of wealth is an essential component of CPWA training. Wealth management is not just a one-time event; instead, it involves a continuous process of wealth creation, preservation, and distribution.

The life cycle of wealth is a framework that wealth advisors use to understand the interdependency of the four stages of wealth-management life cycles: accumulation, preservation, distribution, and transfer. This enables wealth advisors to provide clients with customized and comprehensive wealth management plans that are tailored to their specific financial needs.


The CFP and CPWA designations provide specialized training and skills for professionals in the financial planning and wealth management industries. The CFP certification provides broad coverage of financial planning topics, as well as a commitment to ethical standards.

The CPWA certification provides specialized training for wealth managers who work with high-net-worth clients, including strategies for minimizing taxes, monetizing and protecting assets, maximizing growth, and transferring wealth. A CFP or CPWA designation helps to establish credibility and mastery in the financial planning and wealth management industries.

Chartered Special Needs Consultant (ChSNC) Certification: Addressing the Unique Concerns of Special Needs Families

The financial needs and considerations of families with special needs individuals are unique and require a specialized understanding. The Chartered Special Needs Consultant (ChSNC) certification equips financial services professionals with the technical, collaborative, and quantitative skills needed to address these concerns and provide holistic financial planning advice.

Understanding the Unique Concerns of Special Needs Families

Families with special needs individuals face distinct challenges when it comes to financial planning. The care and support required for individuals with disabilities can be extensive and lifelong.

Financial planning for special needs families must consider factors such as the cost of ongoing medical care, specialized education, therapies, assistive technologies, and financial support for the individual’s lifetime. The ChSNC certification provides financial professionals with the knowledge and expertise to navigate these unique concerns.

ChSNC professionals understand the implications of government programs and benefits such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid, and Special Needs Trusts. They can guide families through the complex process of accessing and maximizing these resources while minimizing the impact on eligibility for government assistance.

Technical, Collaborative, and Quantitative Skills for ChSNC Professionals

Financial planning for special needs families requires a multidimensional approach that extends beyond traditional financial advisory services. ChSNC professionals possess the technical skills necessary to analyze complex financial situations and create comprehensive financial plans that align with the long-term goals and needs of special needs individuals and their families.

The collaborative skills of ChSNC professionals play a crucial role in the financial planning process. They work closely with other professionals, such as special needs attorneys, social workers, educators, and healthcare providers, to ensure a coordinated approach to the individual’s care and financial wellbeing.

Collaborative efforts with professionals in various fields allow for a comprehensive understanding of the unique needs of the individual and the development of a tailored financial plan. Quantitative skills are essential for ChSNC professionals to create robust financial plans that account for factors such as inflation, projected costs of care, and the growth potential of investments.

They analyze financial data, consider cash flow requirements, and project future expenses to ensure that adequate funds are available to meet the individual’s needs throughout their lifetime. Additionally, ChSNC professionals are skilled in evaluating insurance coverage, estate planning, and tax implications, taking into account the unique circumstances of special needs families.

Accredited Estate Planner (AEP) Certification: Promoting the Team Concept of Estate Planning

Estate planning is a critical component of financial planning, especially for individuals and families with substantial assets. The Accredited Estate Planner (AEP) certification recognizes professionals who have met rigorous requirements and have demonstrated their understanding of estate planning strategies and techniques.

Requirements and Benefits of the AEP Designation

To obtain the AEP designation, estate planning professionals must meet specific educational and experience requirements. They must have a minimum of five years of professional experience in estate planning and must complete a comprehensive education program approved by the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils (NAEPC).

This rigorous qualification process ensures that AEP professionals possess the requisite knowledge and expertise to provide comprehensive estate planning services. The benefits of obtaining the AEP designation are significant for both estate planning professionals and their clients.

For professionals, the AEP designation enhances their professional reputation and demonstrates their commitment to ongoing education and ethical standards. It distinguishes them as experts in their field and signifies their dedication to providing high-quality estate planning services.

For clients, working with an AEP professional offers the assurance that their estate plan will be designed and executed with the utmost attention to detail and professionalism. AEP professionals bring a deeper understanding of sophisticated estate planning techniques, tax considerations, and charitable giving options.

They are well-versed in minimizing estate taxes, protecting assets, and facilitating the smooth transfer of wealth according to their clients’ wishes.

Promotion of the Team Concept of Estate Planning

The AEP certification promotes the team concept of estate planning, emphasizing the collaboration between professionals from various disciplines. Estate planning is a complex process that requires expertise from not only estate planning professionals but also attorneys, accountants, financial advisors, and insurance specialists.

The team concept recognizes that no single professional can possess all the knowledge required to develop a comprehensive estate plan. AEP professionals understand the importance of assembling a cohesive team of professionals to address the multifaceted aspects of estate planning.

They collaborate with attorneys to draft or review legal documents such as wills, trusts, and powers of attorney. They work closely with accountants to minimize estate and inheritance taxes and ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations.

By embracing the team concept, AEP professionals can leverage the expertise of other professionals to create a well-rounded and customized estate plan for their clients.


The ChSNC and AEP certifications play a pivotal role in addressing the unique concerns of special needs families and providing comprehensive estate planning services. ChSNC professionals possess the technical, collaborative, and quantitative skills necessary to navigate the complex financial needs of individuals with disabilities.

AEP professionals, on the other hand, demonstrate their expertise in estate planning strategies and techniques while promoting the team concept of estate planning. By attaining these certifications, financial professionals can better serve their clients and provide the specialized guidance required for the unique circumstances of special needs families and high-net-worth individuals.

Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC) Certification: Guiding Individuals through the Financial Life Cycle

Financial management is a critical skill that impacts individuals throughout their lives, from early adulthood to retirement. The Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC) certification equips financial professionals with the knowledge and tools to help individuals understand the financial life cycle, modify ineffective money management behaviors, and develop successful strategies for achieving their financial goals.

Understanding the Financial Life Cycle and Modifying Money Management Behaviors

The financial life cycle refers to the different stages of an individual’s financial journey, from the early stages of building wealth to the later stages of retirement planning. The AFC certification provides financial professionals with a comprehensive understanding of the financial life cycle and the various challenges and opportunities that arise at each stage.

Financial counselors with the AFC certification help individuals identify and modify ineffective money management behaviors that may be hindering their financial progress. This could include addressing issues such as overspending, excessive debt, or a lack of budgeting and savings habits.

By working with clients to develop effective strategies and providing education on personal finance topics, AFC professionals empower individuals to make positive changes in their financial habits and achieve greater financial stability.

Assisting Clients in Developing Successful Strategies for Financial Goals

One of the primary roles of an AFC professional is to assist clients in developing successful strategies for achieving their financial goals. Whether it’s saving for a down payment on a house, paying off debt, or planning for retirement, AFC professionals provide guidance and support throughout the process.

AFC professionals work with clients to establish realistic and achievable financial goals. They consider factors such as income, expenses, and individual priorities to create a customized plan that aligns with the client’s specific circumstances.

This may involve helping clients set up a budget, develop a debt repayment plan, establish an emergency fund, or identify investment opportunities to grow their wealth. By providing ongoing support and accountability, AFC professionals ensure that clients stay on track with their financial goals.

Regular check-ins and adjustments to the financial plan can help individuals navigate unexpected financial challenges and make necessary modifications to their strategies as needed. Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor (CRPC) Certification: Creating a Roadmap to Retirement

Retirement planning is a significant focus for many individuals, particularly for aging baby boomers who are approaching retirement age.

The Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor (CRPC) certification enables financial professionals to navigate the complexities of retirement planning and to provide individuals with a comprehensive roadmap to retirement. Expertise in Creating a “Roadmap to Retirement” for Clients

Planning for retirement involves careful consideration of financial resources, income needs, investment strategies, and potential risks.

With the CRPC certification, financial professionals have the expertise to guide individuals through the intricacies of retirement planning and create a roadmap tailored to each client’s unique circumstances. A CRPC professional begins by assessing the client’s financial situation, including assets, liabilities, income, and expenses.

They work with the client to determine retirement income needs, factoring in anticipated expenses such as housing, healthcare, travel, and leisure activities. By considering long-term inflationary trends and the potential impact of investment returns, a CRPC professional can develop a realistic retirement income plan.

Furthermore, a CRPC professional analyzes the available retirement savings vehicles, such as employer-sponsored retirement plans, individual retirement accounts (IRAs), and annuities, to determine the most suitable options for each client. They provide guidance on contribution limits, tax implications, and investment selection to maximize retirement savings potential.

Knowledge of Complexities of Retirement Planning and Baby Boomers’ Needs

The CRPC certification equips financial professionals with a deep understanding of the complexities of retirement planning. They are knowledgeable about government programs such as Social Security and Medicare, helping clients navigate the application process and understand the benefits they are entitled to receive.

A significant aspect of retirement planning for many individuals is understanding the unique needs of the baby boomer generation. As the baby boomer population ages, they face specific challenges, such as managing healthcare costs, estate planning, and determining the optimal age to claim Social Security benefits.

CRPC professionals stay updated on the latest regulations and trends in retirement planning, allowing them to provide informed guidance to clients in this demographic. CRPC professionals also understand the emotional aspects of retirement, as transitioning from a work-focused lifestyle to one of leisure and relaxation can be daunting for many individuals.

They provide emotional support and financial education to help individuals navigate this significant life transition.


The AFC and CRPC certifications play a valuable role in guiding individuals through various stages of their financial lives. AFC professionals assist individuals in understanding the financial life cycle and modifying ineffective money management behaviors, enabling them to achieve greater financial stability.

CRPC professionals provide expertise in retirement planning and create comprehensive roadmaps to retirement, addressing the complexities of retirement planning and the unique needs of aging baby boomers. Together, these certifications enhance the capabilities of financial professionals and empower individuals to make informed decisions about their financial futures.

Certified Fund Specialist (CFS) Certification: Utilizing the Latest Tools and Investment Strategies

In the ever-evolving landscape of finance, staying up to date with the latest tools and sophisticated investment strategies is crucial. The Certified Fund Specialist (CFS) certification equips financial professionals with the knowledge and expertise necessary for effective risk management, tax planning, and estate planning within the realm of mutual funds.

This cutting-edge certification focuses on technological trends and advancements specifically related to mutual funds. Utilizing the Latest Tools for Risk Management, Taxes, and Estate Planning

One of the key benefits of the CFS certification is that it provides financial professionals with access to the latest tools and resources for effectively managing investment risks.

They learn how to analyze factors such as market volatility, liquidity, and asset allocation to ensure that their clients’ portfolios are properly diversified and aligned with their risk tolerance and financial goals. Furthermore, the CFS certification equips professionals with the knowledge and skills required for effective tax planning.

They are up-to-date with the latest changes in tax laws and regulations, enabling them to identify opportunities for tax efficiency and to implement strategies that minimize tax burdens for their clients. By tailoring their investment strategies to maximize after-tax returns, CFS professionals can help their clients achieve their financial goals while minimizing the impact of taxes on investment portfolios.

In addition to risk management and tax planning, CFS professionals are equipped with the necessary tools and techniques for estate planning. They understand the nuances of estate planning and can guide clients through the process of creating comprehensive plans to preserve and transfer wealth.

This includes strategies to minimize estate taxes, protect assets, and ensure a smooth transition of wealth to desired beneficiaries. By leveraging the latest tools and expertise in estate planning, CFS professionals can help clients achieve their estate planning objectives and provide peace of mind for the future.

Cutting-Edge Certification Focused on Technological Trends in Mutual Funds

The financial industry is rapidly evolving, and technological advancements are reshaping the way investments are managed. The CFS certification keeps financial professionals at the forefront of these advancements by focusing specifically on technological trends within the mutual fund sector.

Mutual funds are increasingly utilizing technology to enhance investor experiences, streamline operations, and improve decision-making processes. This includes advancements in automated investment platforms, data analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.

CFS professionals are trained to leverage these technological trends to enhance their ability to analyze and select mutual funds that align with their clients’ investment objectives. They stay abreast of emerging technologies and employ them to their advantage when managing clients’ portfolios.

By staying informed about the latest technological trends, CFS professionals gain a competitive edge in the mutual fund industry. They are equipped to provide clients with a comprehensive and cutting-edge approach to portfolio management, ensuring that their investment strategies are both efficient and effective.

Certified Estate Planner (CEP) Certification: Understanding Options and Developing Customized Plans

Estate planning is a complex and highly individualized process that requires a deep understanding of the options and nuances involved. The Certified Estate Planner (CEP) certification provides financial professionals with the knowledge and expertise needed to guide clients through the intricacies of estate planning and develop customized plans tailored to their unique circumstances.

Understanding Options and Nuances in Estate Planning

Estate planning involves making decisions about the distribution of assets, minimizing taxes, and ensuring the smooth transition of wealth upon death or incapacity. The CEP certification ensures that financial professionals have a comprehensive understanding of the various tools and strategies available in estate planning.

CEP professionals are well-versed in the nuances of wills, living trusts, powers of attorney, and other legal instruments commonly used in estate planning. They understand how to navigate complex issues such as inheritance laws, probate processes, and tax implications.

This knowledge enables them to provide clients with comprehensive guidance and advice to ensure that their estate plans are legally sound and aligned with their wishes.

Developing Customized Plans for Unique Circumstances

Every individual and family has a unique set of circumstances that must be taken into account when creating an estate plan. The CEP certification empowers financial professionals to develop customized plans that address the specific needs, goals, and values of their clients.

CEP professionals work closely with clients to understand their financial situation, family dynamics, and personal objectives. They utilize their knowledge of estate planning strategies to tailor the plan to the client’s specific circumstances.

This may involve considerations such as minor children, blended families, philanthropic intentions, business succession planning, and more. By developing personalized estate plans, CEP professionals ensure that clients’ wishes are fully realized while mitigating potential conflicts or complications that may arise in

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