Overview: What You Need to Know When Taking the CFP Exam

The job prospects for financial planners look good. Financial planners help individuals and families plan for the future, sort out their finances during unexpected life events or work towards a goal. Getting the Certified Financial Planner designation (also known as CFP certification or designation) helps boost a person’s reputation and employability.

This article will outline what the CFP license is, the requirements for CFP, and the kind of CFP exam prep that is necessary as well as what kind of CFP study materials are needed. It will also help you understand the benefits of CFP training.

According to the U.S. Labor Department, financial planning is poised to be one of the fastest-growing professions over the next decade. The job prospects are projected to grow by about 30 percent up until 2024. One of the biggest boosts to your resume, if you are hoping to make a successful career as a financial planner, is to pass the CFP exam and get your CFP certification.

The Perks of the CFP Certification (Education & Job Prospects)

The CFP certification has a high standing in the financial planning industry. This alone raises a financial planner’s credibility and reputability in the eyes of potential clients. Meeting the requirements for becoming a CFP and passing the CFP exam also boosts the confidence of financial planners who can carry out their duties comfortably in the knowledge that they know what they are doing.

People from a variety of previous occupations can pursue the CFP certification. In fact, most of the time, a person’s previous job can help him/her as a financial planner in unique ways. For example, former teachers have experience breaking down concepts in a non-patronizing way.

This is an excellent skill to possess if you are walking people through complex financial scenarios. There are a few concrete requirements for the CFP designation (which we will address shortly), but so long as these are met, anyone who can pass the CFP test can become a Certified Financial Planner.

The Perks of the CFP Certification

Image Source: Taking a CFP Exam

Aite Group conducted research to determine what the particular perks of obtaining the CFP certification are. One big perk is employability, and it’s not just for individual financial planners. While undergoing CFP training can help an independent financial planner look much more attractive to a potential client, it can also help someone applying to a firm stand out to potential employers. Earning the CFP designation and passing the CFP exam also means higher income potential.

According to the CFP website, getting the CFP certification means about 26 percent more in compensation, 40 percent more revenue for firms with CFP professionals, and a 53 percent increase in higher-net-worth clients who are attracted to firms with CFP-trained employees.

There is also much long-term value in CFP training. As a large amount of the population reaches retirement age and people place more priority on ensuring they obtain ethical and solid advice, the CFP license is becoming an attractive designation to pursue.

See Also: Questions to Ask a Financial Advisor (Do You Need a Financial Advisor?)

All-in-One Change Management Tools

Top Rated Toolkit for Change Managers.

Get Your Change Management Tool Today...

How to Get the CFP Certification (Requirements for CFP Designation)

The requirements for CFP designation are broken down as “the four Es”:

  • Education
  • Examination
  • Experience
  • Ethics


The education requirements for the CFP designation in the United States are quite thorough. Hopeful CFP members must undergo a college-level study program on personal financial planning. There are also acceptable equivalents in certain cases called the Challenge Status. After finishing this CFP training, students are required to complete a capstone course.

Requirements for CFP designation are not limited to specific CFP training. To obtain CFP certification, you must hold at least a bachelor’s degree from a recognized college or university. This does not preclude individuals from taking the CFP exam. This requirement does not need to be met when registering for the exam. A bachelor’s degree (or higher) is only necessary to actually become certified.


cfp exam

Image Source: CFP Certification Examination

Candidates are required to register for the CFP exam, known as the CFP Certification Examination. The CFP test evaluates candidates on their ability to apply their CFP training to a number of financial planning situations. Once candidates are confident in their knowledge of CFP study materials, it’s a simple matter of looking at the CFP exam dates and starting their CFP exam prep.


After absorbing the CFP study materials, going through the CFP training, and taking the CFP exam, you still need to fulfill additional requirements for CFP certification. In order to receive CFP certification, candidates must have three years of professional experience or two years of apprenticeship experience. This requirement is mandated because the certificiation indicates CFP members are capable of providing financial planning services without supervision.

Don’t Miss: Day Trading Guide – How to Be a Day Trader


The educational value of CFP training is a large part of why employers and clients prefer financial planners with the CFP certification. However, there is another requirement for the CFP license that makes CFP-designated financial planners especially attractive, particularly considering recent financial events: the ethical requirement.

One of the requirements for the CFP designation is to agree to follow the CFP Board’s Standards of Professional Conduct, which sets a high standard for the performance and ethics of CFP professionals.

After meeting the other three requirements, candidates must fill out a CFP Certification Application, where they are required to provide background information that details whether they have any criminal records or have been involved in any civil, governmental or self-regulatory proceeding. Candidates must also provide information on any terminations, customer complaints or internal reviews they have received in their employment history.

Candidates are not authorized to use the CFP certification trademark until their background has been reviewed, any issues been investigated, and their application approved. 

Study for CFP Certification (CFP Study Materials & CFP Online Course)

Those wishing to earn their CFP certification can satisfy the educational requirement in a number of ways. According to the CFP website, they can:

  • “Complete a CFP Board-Registered Program
  • “Complete courses addressing all required major personal financial planning areas at multiple CFP Board-Registered Programs”
  • “Achieve “Challenge Status” by holding a specific academic degree or professional credential accepted by CFP Board and completing a capstone course registered with CFP Board” (information from CFP website)

Certain classes that CFP candidates may have taken in the past might also count towards their education requirement, and they can verify this by requesting a Transcript Review.

These credits can be obtained through in-class course work or through online courses. Those who are unsure whether the institution they are considering meets the requirements for CFP education can double-check on the website, where they can search for eligible schools by state or by type (bachelor’s, master’s, certificate, etc).

CFP reviews programs to see if they qualify, but it does not endorse one program over another, so there is technically no official CFP course (or CFP online course for those seeking such an option).  

CFP training is designed to cover the following topics, and those who believe they are ready to take the CFP test should be confident that they are well-versed in them:

  • General principles of financial planning
  • Insurance planning
  • Investment planning
  • Income tax planning
  • Retirement planning
  • Estate planning
  • Interpersonal communication
  • Professional conduct and fiduciary responsibility
  • Financial plan development (capstone) course (information from CFP website)

Related: Mortgage Banker (Full Job Description) – What Do Mortgage Bankers Do?

Requirements for CFP: Education Requirement Exemptions

In some cases, individuals can be exempt from the educational requirements for CFP certification. These exemptions only happen for people with advanced degrees in specific fields. This is a frustrating feature for many people.

Somebody with a bachelor’s degree in economics or even an MBA would still have to make sure he/she meets the specific course requirements for CFP (although some of their courses from their university or college studies may count towards the requirement.

People with the following qualifications are exempt and qualify for Challenge Status:

  • “Ph.D. in business or economics*
  • Doctor of Business Administration*
  • Licensed attorney – inactive license acceptable**
  • Licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) – inactive license acceptable**
  • Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC)
  • Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU)
  • Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA®)
  • CFP certification from the Financial Planning Standards Board Ltd. (FPSB) Affiliate located in your territory of residence outside the U.S.”

“*Degree must be from a regionally-accredited U.S. college or university.

**If you are fulfilling the education requirement on the basis of an inactive CPA license or law license, you will need to provide a letter from the applicable licensing board stating that you are in good standing with that authority” (information from CFP website).

These individuals can automatically take the capstone course before proceeding to take the CFP exam.

The CFP website does provide helpful resources for those undergoing CFP training. Applicants are required to create an account where they can track their progress towards their CFP certification and access useful information. Those who have already worked through the CFP study materials and are ready to take the CFP exam can find CFP exam prep courses before looking at CFP exam dates. They can also download the formulas that will be made available to them during the CFP test in addition to purchasing practice exams.

Popular Article: Discover Savings Account Review – How It Could Help You! (Online Savings Review)

Free Wealth & Finance Software - Get Yours Now ►

CFP Test: CFP Exam Dates

In order to schedule a CFP exam date, candidates must first be eligible. Once the CFP Board has notified a candidate that he/she is eligible to apply, that individual is provided with a link to register.

The remaining CFP exam dates or windows for 2016 are July 26–30 and November 15–19. There was an earlier window from March 15–19. Although you can register for the exam before you finish the education requirement, you must finish it before actually taking the exam. If not, an applicant loses his/her CFP exam seat and has to pay a $100 withdrawal fee.

The exam is broken up into 3-hour sessions with a 40-minute break. The entire appointment is booked for 7 hours to allow time for check-in. CFP test takers can pick their test day, from Tuesday to Saturday, as well as their CFP exam location.

The CFP exam is computer-based and consists of 170 multiple choice questions that include case studies and scenarios. The check-in procedure at the beginning of the exam consists of comprehensive security and ID verification, including fingerprint capture. CFP test takers can receive preliminary results at the CFP test site and can receive verified results four weeks after the test period. 

The CFP exam is regularly updated to reflect the responsibilities required of current financial planners. CFP test takers can review the retired exam questions to get an idea of the test format; however, CFP recommends that students do not use these as a substitute for sample exam questions.

After the CFP test has been passed, applicants pay a non-refundable processing or application fee of $125 and an additional fee that is a pro-rated amount. This pro-rated amount is based on the annual $325 fee that CFP members are required to pay each year.

With preparation, determination, and diligience, anybody hoping to obtain a CFP certificiation can learn the CFP study materials and pass the CFP exam. Good luck with you financial planner goals!

Read More: What Is a Hedge Fund Manager’s Function & How to Become a Hedge Fund Manager

AdvisoryHQ (AHQ) Disclaimer:

Reasonable efforts have been made by AdvisoryHQ to present accurate information, however all info is presented without warranty. Review AdvisoryHQ’s Terms for details. Also review each firm’s site for the most updated data, rates and info.

Note: Firms and products, including the one(s) reviewed above, may be AdvisoryHQ's affiliates. Click to view AdvisoryHQ's advertiser disclosures.