Retirement & Financial Planning Report

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

Some credentials are more important than others. These, for example, show that the recipient took a demanding course of study, passed a challenging exam, agrees to observe a code of ethics, and has met ongoing requirements for continuing education:

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* Certified public accountant. The CPA might be the most recognized financial designation. Many CPAs are familiar with the tax code but that’s not always the case. You can ask about specific expertise in tax planning.

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

* Certified financial planner. A CFP probably has some knowledge of investments but this credential shows a competency in comprehensive financial planning, from budgeting and college funding to insurance and retirement planning.

* Chartered life underwriter. Someone with a CLU has extensive training in life insurance and probably can provide advice on sophisticated estate planning.

* Chartered financial consultant. The same organization that awards the CLU also bestows the ChFC. The latter designation shows that the bearer can provide comprehensive planning but it’s fair to expect an emphasis on life, health, disability, and long-term care insurance.

* Chartered financial analyst. Holders of a CFA have completed a multi-year course of study and passed a rigorous exam. Many financial planning firms will have CFAs on staff to help select promising investments.

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

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How can you tell if an advisor or prospective advisor holds worthwhile designations? Go online and search for the designation, then go to the Web site of the responsible organization. You can read about the curriculum required to get the credential and how much continuing education is required, in order to keep it.