Professional Designations

Top Financial Certifications to Know Before You Hire a Financial Professional

By  Brian Thorp

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Before you hire any professional, it’s essential to consider their qualifications to ensure they have the proper education and experience for your individual circumstances. Since financial professionals have varying degrees of formal education and experience, it’s even more important to do your homework when researching financial advisors and coaches.

You’ll find that many financial advisors and coaches have chosen to earn financial certifications to demonstrate their knowledge and dedication to helping their clients achieve their financial goals.

What is a Financial Certification?

A financial certification is a professional designation administered and awarded by a credentialing organization to individuals who meet particular prerequisites, complete the required coursework, pass examinations, and agree to uphold ethical standards.

A financial certification is not the same as a license or registration requirement for financial advisors like those overseen by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Financial professionals will generally display their earned certifications in abbreviated form following their name on business cards and in online directories like LinkedIn and Wealthtender. While a few letters after their name may look impressive, it’s essential to understand what each certification they hold represents, how it applies to their work and which designations will be most valuable when they’re working with you.

What are the Best Financial Certifications?

The simple answer is there’s not a single best financial certification as each has its own merits. Depending upon your individual circumstances and financial situation, certain professional designations will be more relevant to your unique financial planning needs.

Among the more than 100 financial certifications offered by a diverse range of credentialing organizations, you’ll find several widely held professional designations and many lesser-known certifications in specific areas of specialization.

For example, the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) certification ranks among the most popular and highly respected professional designations financial advisors hold. In contrast, the Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC) certification is considered by many to be the premier designation held by financial coaches and counselors.

You’ll also recognize certain financial certifications as being quite specialized simply by their name. For example, the Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) designation is earned by financial professionals specializing in understanding common and complex financial issues that arise during a divorce. Or the Certified Exit Planning Advisor (CEPA) designation earned by financial professionals who help business owners implement a strategy to maximize the value of their business in preparation for its sale.

Financial Certifications List

We prepared the list of financial certifications below with a brief description of each, plus links to in-depth articles if you want to learn more about a particular designation.

Accredited Asset Management Specialist (AAMS)

An Accredited Asset Management Specialist (AAMS) is a designation for financial professionals who specialize in asset management and investments. Administered by the College for Financial Planning, the AAMS provides them with the extensive knowledge they need to assess and recommend a variety of investment opportunities.

Those who hold an AAMS often support clients with retirement, college, and taxes so they can meet their long-term financial goals.

Accredited Estate Planner (AEP)

An Accredited Estate Planner (AEP) is an estate planning professional recognized by the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils (NAEPC). An AEP commits to estate planning in their career and collaborates with other professionals to provide their clients with comprehensive estate planning services.

The Accredited Estate Planner (AEP) designation is a graduate-level specialization in estate planning. The NAEPC awards this designation to an estate planning professional after thoroughly reviewing the prospective AEP’s education, experience, credentials, professional reputation, and character. An AEP is significantly engaged in estate planning in their current profession, and most importantly, they commit to the team concept of estate planning.

Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC)

An Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC) is a financial professional who teaches their clients sound financial principles so they can achieve their short and long-term financial goals. 

AFC certification is earned through a combination of experience and educational requirements set forth by its issuing organization, the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education (AFCPE).

The AFC curriculum helps candidates become experts on topics such as budgeting, debt management, mortgages, estate planning, retirement, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and personal income taxes. The curriculum also ensures candidates are well-versed in consumer debt and gain a strong understanding of financial counseling, consumer fraud, and debt reduction strategies. And deeply personal and emotional topics including bankruptcy and divorce-related financial issues like child support are also covered.

Accredited Investment Fiduciary (AIF)

An Accredited Investment Fiduciary (AIF) is legally obligated to always act in the best interests of their clients. They offer recommendations based on each client’s unique goals rather than prioritizing commissions, kickbacks and referral fees that solely benefit them. 

Designees receive the knowledge and skills they need to evaluate the fiduciary practices of investment vehicles such as 401(k) plans and defined benefit plans. They also support those who manage endowment and foundation assets. 

Accredited Portfolio Management Advisor (APMA)

An Accredited Portfolio Management Advisor (APMA) is a finance professional specializing in creating, managing, and growing investment portfolios. APMA credential holders are recognized in the industry as top experts in asset allocation, investment analysis, risk analysis, and other facets of investment management. 

Professionals who pursue the APMA designation are typically highly experienced, with a background in financial planning and advice. 

Behavioral Financial Advisor (BFA)

A Behavioral Financial Advisor (BFA) is a financial advisor who goes beyond asset selection and offers practical advice to positively influence their clients’ saving and spending habits. This individual is motivated to craft a financial plan and grow their client’s portfolio through a keen focus on behavioral finance and investment products. 

As the name suggests, BFAs go a step further to offer value-added service by considering your behavioral patterns and emotional triggers regarding money. By understanding your relationship with money and investing, they can provide well-rounded advice and construct a plan that is more likely to bear fruit for you. 

Certificate in Blockchain and Digital Assets (CBDA)

The Certificate in Blockchain and Digital Assets (CBDA) is a designation awarded by the Digital Assets Council of Financial Professionals (DACFP) and the New York Institute of Finance (NYIF). The Certificate is earned by financial professionals who are interested in and passionate about learning about the growing fields of blockchain, cryptocurrencies, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and other digital assets. 

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Certificate in Investment Performance Measurement (CIPM)

The Certificate in Investment Performance Measurement is administered and awarded by the CFA Institute. While the primary certification issued by the CFA institute is the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation, many financial professionals who have earned their CFA credentials choose to pursue CIPM certification as well.

CIPM certification holders often work for asset management firms and financial institutions. You will also find financial advisors and wealth managers who have earned their CIPM certification, predominately those who serve higher net worth individuals with more complex and varied investment portfolios.

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Certification in Long-Term Care (CLTC)

The Certification in Long-Term Care (CLTC) is a designation administered by the Certification for Long-Term Care Institute, an independent third-party administrator unaffiliated with any insurance carriers. The designation accredits professionals in various fields with the proper skill set to discuss the consequences of long-term care with their clients. 

CLTC accredited professionals work closely with families to help mitigate the physical, emotional and financial consequences of long-term care, including care provided by nursing homes, personal caregiver agencies, home health agencies, hospitals, and more.

Certified College Financial Consultant (CCFC)

A Certified College Financial Consultant is a financial professional who specializes in education funding. They’re well-versed in student loans, tax consequences and education credits. 

You can think of CCFCs as education finance experts who understand the challenges of covering the cost of college or trade school. CCFCs support students before, during and after the college planning process. 

Certified College Planning Specialist (CCPS)

A Certified College Planning Specialist (CCPS) is a finance professional who specializes in helping clients with financial planning for college. CCPS members are certified by the National Institute of Certified College Planners (NICCP) to provide advice, education, and ongoing support to prepare families for the financial implications of college. 

CCPS holders are finance professionals with extensive experience in guiding students and families through the complex financial implications of attending college. 

Certified Credit Counselor (CCC)

A Certified Credit Counselor (CCC) takes a holistic approach to credit counseling and is well-versed in banking and credit fundamentals to help clients eliminate debt and improve credit scores.

Their primary objective is to provide clients with the knowledge and resources they need to resolve financial issues and take control of their finances. CCCs are known to educate those who are financially stressed so they can avoid common mistakes and make smart decisions in the future. They also work with clients to implement the ideal financial plans for their unique budget, goals and priorities. 

Certified Digital Assets Advisor (CDAA)

The Certified Digital Asset Advisor (CDAA) designation is for financial professionals focused on helping individuals manage digital assets including cryptocurrencies and tokens like NFTs.

A financial professional who has earned the CDAA designation understands blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin that are built on the blockchain. They know several valuation methods and theories around Bitcoin and digital assets. And they can help clients make more informed and educated decisions when deciding which cryptocurrencies to invest in, when to buy and sell, and the considerable risks of investing in this emerging asset class.

Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA)

Certified Divorce Financial Analysts (CDFA) help people going through a divorce (and their lawyers) understand how their financial decisions will impact their future finances. This credential is issued and overseen by the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts (IDFA), which has been around since 1993 and offers specialized training to accounting, financial, and legal professionals in pre-divorce financial planning.

Certified Exit Planning Advisor (CEPA)

The Certified Exit Planning Advisor (CEPA) is a unique designation for financial professionals who advise business owners on how to successfully sell or transition their business, a strategy referred to as ‘exit planning’. It was created in 2007 by the Exit Planning Institute (EPI), a company focused on educating professional advisors globally on how they can support the success of business owners to maximize value and sell on their terms through a business transition.

Certified Financial Planner (CFP)

A Certified Financial Planner (CFP) is a well qualified financial professional who use a variety of strategies to help their clients. CFPs often analyze a client’s current situation and prepare a number of financial reports that show essential figures like net worth. CFPs may also assist with investment planning, insurance planning, estate planning, income tax planning, and retirement planning. 

While many other professional designations concentrate in investment management, the CFP focuses on holistic financial planning. In addition, CFPs stand out because they must abide by a strict standard of fiduciary duty, meaning they are required to put their clients’ best interests ahead of their own. They can’t buy financial products for clients for the sole purpose of earning high commissions. 

To earn a CFP, financial professionals must complete certain education and experience requirements as well as pass a rigorous exam that is distributed by the CFP Board.

Certified Financial Therapist

A Certified Financial Therapist is a mental health or financial professional certified by the Financial Therapy Association for their education and experience in the areas of financial therapy, financial planning, counseling and therapeutic competencies. Those who hope to earn a Certified Financial Therapist-I (CFT-I) certification must fulfill certain requirements set forth by the Financial Therapy Association.

Certified Financial Transitionist (CeFT)

A Certified Financial Transitionist (CeFT) helps clients navigate through major life events and the financial implications that come with them. Created by the Financial Transitionist Institute, the CeFT is only available to established professionals in the financial industry.

CeFT holders are financial professionals who understand how life transitions change financial situations. They have also received at least one other highly respected designation such as the CFP, CIMA, ChFC, CDFA, CPWA, CPA/PFS, or CFA.

Certified Investment Management Analyst (CIMA)

The Certified Investment Management Analyst (CIMA) is for financial professionals who would like to stand out as advanced investment consultants. Issued by the Investments and Wealth Institute, it focuses on topics such as risk measurement, asset allocation, due diligence, and investment policy.

CIMA holders have completed an education program at a top-tier business institution such as the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale School of Management.

Certified Kingdom Advisor (CKA)

A Certified Kingdom Advisor (CKA) offers financial services with a Christian perspective to help clients plan their finances in accordance with Christian values. The CKA designation is issued by Kingdom Advisors, an organization that offers training and a community to financial professionals interested in integrating Christian faith and practice.

CKAs are specifically trained to apply biblical wisdom and abide by the Kingdom Advisors Code of Ethics. Clients who work with a CKA can gain a deep understanding of what God hopes they’ll accomplish and how they can go about fulfilling God’s wishes.

Certified Money Coach (CMC)

A Certified Money Coach (CMC) pairs “psychological principles, universal spiritual beliefs, and practical financial guidance” to support their clients. Their ultimate goal is to help people from all walks of life change their relationship with money. 

They focus on money coaching, which can lead to “fulfilling purposeful, and prosperous” lives.

Certified Personal Finance Consultant (CPFC)

A Certified Personal Finance Consultant (CPFC) provides financial advice for clients in one-on-one settings. The certification is administered by Fincer, available in English and Spanish, and specifically designed for professionals who provide money coaching, budget counseling, and credit counseling.

CPFCs are highly trained to coach clients on a one-on-one basis. They know how to help them create budgets, get out of debt, and set financial goals.

Certified Private Wealth Advisor (CPWA)

The Certified Private Wealth Advisor (CPWA) certification is designed for wealth managers who work with high-net-worth individuals. These professionals focus on the cycle of wealth, which includes accumulation, preservation, and distribution.

CPWAs understand the challenges of high-net-worth individuals and use their knowledge and training to help them monetize and protect their assets, reduce their tax burden, optimize growth, and transfer wealth. They are experts in portfolio management, family dynamics, asset protection, charitable giving, estate planning, and retirement planning. 

Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is an accountant who has completed rigorous educational prerequisites, met on-the-job training requirements, passed the CPA exam, and has been licensed by the Board of Accountancy in their state. Due to their expanded level of expertise, a CPA may perform many functional roles, including working as tax accountants, business advisors, tax consultants, financial planners, corporate accountants and executives, and conducting audits. According to the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA), over 660,000 accountants have earned the CPA certification.

Certified Student Loan Professional (CSLP)

A Certified Student Loan Professional (CSLP) is a financial advisor who has completed the educational requirements for the accredited CSLP program.

CSLP is a specialized designation for licensed financial advisors. Holders of the designation are recognized as experts in student loan repayment. Created by foremost experts in the field, the CSLP designation provides financial planners with the knowledge to offer the most current and accurate advice and tactics for repaying student loans.

Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA)

A Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA) is an internationally recognized credential. It’s specifically designed for financial professionals who manage, analyze, or regulate venture capital, private equity, hedge funds, real estate, and other alternative investments.

Oftentimes, CAIAs work as portfolio managers, analysts, consultants, brokers, risk managers, and traders.

Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

A Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) is a globally recognized and respected designation for financial professionals who would like to develop their expertise in investment management. It’s administered by the CFA Institute, which is an international organization that strives to promote knowledge and financial literacy in investments.

With a CFA designation, financial professionals gain the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in finance, banking, and securities. Its curriculum was specifically designed to reinforce a variety of important investment principles.

Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC)

The Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) designation is administered and awarded by the American College of Financial Services in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, it’s similar to the Certified Financial Planner (CFP).

The ChFC is available to any financial professional who wishes to help clients with complex situations. Those who pursue the ChFC will be required to complete an education component, which consists of eight college-level courses. These courses include similar topics to the ones found in CFP education such as retirement, insurance, taxation, and investing.

Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU)

The Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU) is a certification for financial professionals who specialize in life insurance as it relates to estate planning and business planning. It involves an extensive educational program that covers topics such as insurance, annuities, risk management, and more.

The CLU is one of the oldest designations as it’s been around since the late 1920s when The American College made its debut.

Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor (CRPC)

A Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor (CRPC) is a designation for financial professionals focused on retirement planning. The program is designed for new and experienced advisors who seek to define a “road map to retirement” for their clients. There is a focus on clients’ pre-and post-retirement needs and issues related to asset management and estate planning.

Chartered Special Needs Consultant (ChSNC)

A Chartered Special Needs Consultant (ChSNC) has the specialized training and experience required to help manage the unique legal and financial planning needs for individuals with disabilities. ChSNCs take pride in ensuring they can adequately address the concerns, hopes and goals of special needs families.

ChSNC holders specialize in many areas of financial planning including special needs trusts, life insurance, government benefits, estate planning, tax planning, medical expenses and retirement planning for individuals with special needs. These are all topics that are usually beyond the scope of knowledge of traditional financial planners. 

Chartered SRI Counselor (CSRIC)

A Chartered SRI Counselor (CSRIC) is an expert in sustainable investing, which offers the potential for strong financial returns while demonstrating a commitment to sustainable business practices and positive impact. It’s usually measured by analyzing environmental, social, and governance (ESG) policies, practices, and performance. 

Not only are CSRICs well-versed in the history and fundamentals of sustainable, responsible, and impact (SRI) investments, they understand its limitations and future potential. They’re able to support clients who value sustainable investing with an impactful portfolio that allows them to leave the legacy they’d like on the world. 

Enrolled Agent (EA)

An Enrolled Agent (EA) is a tax professional recognized by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as an expert in personal and business tax laws. This individual can represent their clients before the IRS for tax issues, including audits, collections, and appeals. 

The Enrolled Agent (EA) designation is awarded to a tax professional by the IRS after thoroughly reviewing the experience, conducting background checks, and completing official tests. Therefore, a professional with an EA designation is often considered the most experienced and proven expert in tax law. 

Life Underwriter Training Council Fellow (LUTCF)

A Life Underwriter Training Council Fellow (LUTCF) is expert in understanding the life insurance options available to people from all walks of life. Often, they are newer life insurance agents who wish to jumpstart their careers or take their expertise to the next level. 

LUTCFs are well-versed in a variety of life insurance products as well as how to educate others on them.

National Social Security Advisor (NSSA)

A National Social Security Advisor (NSSA) is a finance professional who has completed the educational requirements of the NSSA certification and specializes in providing advice related to social security. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) recognizes the NSSA certification as an official designation. 

An NSSA can help you assess family finances and determine the best age for yourself (and your spouse, if applicable) to claim social security benefits. 

Personal Financial Specialist (CPA / PFS)

The Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) is a designation for licensed Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) who wish to provide financial planning services to their clients. Designed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the PFS allows CPAs to go beyond their traditional duties and help others plan for their futures.

Registered Life Planner (RLP)

A Registered Life Planner (RLP) is a designation for financial professionals who specialize in the human side of financial planning. The Kinder Institute of Life Planning runs the program and boasts that more than 500 advisors have earned the designation globally.

The visionary concept of Life Planning seeks to discover the most profound goals of a client through a process of listening and inquiry.

Retirement Income Certified Professional (RICP)

A Retirement Income Certified Professional is a financial professional who helps people ensure all of the money they saved for retirement lasts a lifetime. RICPs can help you create steady retirement income out of your savings, figure out the optimal time to claim Social Security and company retirement benefits and plan for healthcare as well as long-term care. 

You can think of RICPs as financial experts for those in retirement. While many retirement advisors focus on how to save for retirement, RICPs are concerned with how to help those who are already retired or close to retiring stretch their savings as much as possible. 


Slide Show: Top Financial Certifications to Know

Financial Certification FAQs

What if I am interested in learning more about a financial certification not listed above?

If you’re interested in learning more about a financial certification not listed above, please email yourfriends@wealthtender.com and let us know. We regularly update this list when we publish in-depth articles about financial certifications and your feedback helps us prioritize the articles we’ll write next.

Where should I turn if I want to search for financial professionals who hold a particular financial certification?

We encourage you to use the Wealthtender Financial Advisor Directory and Financial Coach Directory to search for financial professionals based on the financial certifications they hold. You can also read the in-depth article linked to each designation listed above for more information about hiring a financial advisor or coach holding a particular designation.


About the Author
Brian Thorp, Founder and CEO of Wealthtender profile picture

About the Author

Brian Thorp

Brian is CEO and founder of Wealthtender. He and his wife live in Texas, enjoying the diversity of Houston and the vibrancy of Austin.

With over 25 years in the financial services industry, Brian is applying his experience and passion at Wealthtender to help more people enjoy life with less money stress.

Connect with Brian on LinkedIn

Disclaimer: To make Wealthtender free for our readers, we earn money from advertisers, including financial professionals and firms that pay to be featured. This creates a natural conflict of interest when we favor their promotion over others. Wealthtender is not a client of these financial services providers. Learn how we operate with integrity to earn your trust.