The Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education has created a new professional credential for financial planners. The Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC) provides financial advisors with practical training in all aspects of personal finance. However, this credential is not a clone of other certifications, such as the Certified Financial Planner® or the Chartered Life Underwriter. It does, however, complement the CFP® in many respects, although it also stands alone as a credential by itself. This article examines the curriculum and certification process for this designation and how it compares to the CFP® mark. (Learn the tips and tricks of the trade before heading into this test. See Studying For The CFP Exam.)
The Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education is an international non-profit organization that is dedicated to promoting financial education and helping to train financial educators and counselors. It is entirely supported by its members and resembles the CFP® Board in both purpose and practice, although it is much less well-known. However, there are some general differences between the designations which will be addressed below. The membership consists primarily of university educators, private practitioners, counselors who work with members of the military and government officials as well as various financial interest organizations, such as America Saves, FINRA, the FTC, the IRS, NEFE (The National Endowment for Financial Education), the SEC and the U.S. Treasury. Members receive periodic newsletters, research journals and discounts to the annual conference.
AFC Credentials and Curriculum
Like their CFP® counterparts, Accredited Financial Counselors must meet educational, experience and ethical requirements before receiving their certifications. AFC candidates must have at least 1000 hours of relevant experience as a financial counselor in one capacity or another. The definition of a financial counselor in this sense encompasses those who counsel others on an individual basis, those who help to train or educate clients or other planners and those who supervise them. However, this element of the criteria is narrower than the experience requirement laid out by the CFP® Board, which requires three years' experience in virtually any capacity in the financial industry, regardless of whether any type of actual counseling is performed. The curriculum for the AFC is also less rigorous than what CFP® candidates must complete, although it delves much more substantially into financial issues that are relevant for lower and middle-class Americans.
The AFC curriculum is divided into two sections: the first section covers some of the material found in the CFP® coursework, such as retirement and estate planning, life and property/casualty insurance, stocks, bonds and mutual funds and personal income taxation. It also covers credit card and debt management, budgeting and managing cash flows. The second module focuses much more closely on consumer debt and communication than the CFP® curriculum and thoroughly explores the financial counseling process, listening and counseling skills, consumer fraud and credit reports, debt reduction strategies, divorce-related issues such as child support, repossessions, bankruptcy, mortgages and student loans.
Those who wish to go on and earn the Certified Housing Counselor credential must complete a third module that covers all aspects of residential housing, such as landlord and tenant issues, property appraisals, contracts, rights and deeds, financing and taxation, the real estate and mortgage industries and legislation and also must meet the necessary program requirements.
Course Requirements and Exams
Each of the modules for the AFC costs $425, plus a $50 nonrefundable fee to begin the program. Once the fees have been paid, study materials are sent to the student. The student then has three years to complete all required modules. After each module is completed, the student will arrange to take the final exam at a qualified proctor testing site by applying to the AFCPE office. The exam itself consists of 100 multiple choice questions and requires about two hours to complete. A score of 70% or higher must be achieved on the test in order to receive a passing grade (those who fail must pay a $125 retake fee). Once the designation has been awarded, certificants must complete 30 hours of approved continuing education every two years in order to maintain their credentials. The CFA designation is seen as the key certification for investment professionals.
CFP® Vs. AFC
As mentioned previously, the AFC curriculum focuses much more on issues that are relevant to middle- and lower-income clients. Accredited Financial Counselors are trained more thoroughly in the particulars of debt, credit and governmental assistance programs than most CFP® candidates, who are trained to focus chiefly on the needs of upper-middle-class to wealthy clientele. Those who are seeking the best-rounded professional financial education possible may want to consider earning both credentials. However, those who are more passionate about educating the lower-income segment of the population may want to consider eschewing the CFP® in favor of the AFC credential. AFC candidates are also eligible for a number of positions within the U.S. government relating to financial education and training.
The Accredited Financial Counselor designation is a relatively new credential in the financial planning industry but has received virtually no publicity compared to other designations, such as the CFP®. However, it is highly relevant for much of the middle- and lower-income population in America. For more information on the AFC credential, log on to http://www.afcpe.org/.