How to Become a CFP® Professional

By: Kaplan Financial Education
April 1, 2021
Financial planning professionals discussing a client's portfolio performance

With personal financial advising projected to be one of the top fastest growing occupations, getting your CFP® mark can help set you apart in the industry. Let’s take a look what a CFP® professional is and what it takes to earn the financial planning certification.

What is a CFP® Professional?

A CFP® professional works with clients to create comprehensive plans for meeting their long-term financial goals, such as retirement, college tuition, business start-up, a home, and so on. The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook predicts 15 percent job growth in the financial advising field through 2031, making it an excellent career option for young financial professionals. Many CFP® professionals work in large financial or insurance firms, although some choose to have their own businesses. To become one, you have to meet certain requirements. 


CFP® Professional Requirements

To becoming a CFP® professional, you must:

  • Complete a CFP Board Registered Education Program. You can choose from several options for your education. CFP Board must be notified when you’ve completed it. Many of the coursework providers can do that for you.
  • Sit for the CFP® exam. You can do this once CFP Board has been notified of your education completion. The CFP® exam is offered three times a year in March, July, and November. You must take the exam within the 8-day window at one of the approved locations provided by CFP Board. You are permitted to register for the exam before you complete your program, but CFP Board must receive verification of your education completion by the education verification deadline.
  • Hold or earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university or college within five years of passing the CFP® exam. You can sit for the exam beforehand, but you need to make sure you complete your degree in that 5-year window.
  • Demonstrate financial planning experience. This can be professional experience (6,000 hours) in relevant personal financial planning activities, or apprenticeship experience (4,000 hours) that meets additional requirements.
  • Pass CFP Board’s Candidate Fitness Standards. To do this, you must agree to adhere to their ethical standards. You also must disclose any criminal or employment termination history and pass a background check. For more information about the ethics requirement, you can visit CFP Board website here.

Is CFP® certification right for you? Get a preview of our required education materials in this free download.

CFP® Exam Cost

The standard registration fee for the CFP® exam is $925, but there’s an early bird rate of $825, which is available until five or six weeks before the standard registration deadline. There’s a late registration fee of $1,025 for the two weeks after the  standard registration deadline. You can register for the CFP® exam with CFP Board online or by phone before or after you complete the education program coursework and become eligible for the exam. If you register before you finish the coursework, you must send CFP Board proof of your completed coursework. CFP Board will notify you when your eligibility is confirmed.

How to Prepare for the CFP® Exam

The exam is given in a computer-based format and consists of 170 multiple-choice questions that test your financial planning knowledge in client situations. You are given the exam in two 3-hour sessions with a 40-minute scheduled break between the two sessions. Each session includes two subsections and you may take an optional, unscheduled break between the exam subsections. Preparing for the CFP® exam requires a significant time commitment. While that sounds overwhelming, the time goes pretty quickly between pre-study, required education courses, question bank time, a review class, practice exams, and your own review preparations.

A great way to approach preparing for the CFP® exam is to think of it like training for a marathon. It’s not a situation where you can sprint (or cram). There’s just too much to learn, and you’ll need to be able to apply it to case studies. So, make sure you have the space in your life to dedicate the necessary hours to study. Then, create a strategic study plan. A great way to structure your plan is to mirror the exam weighting, which CFP Board updates based on regular job task analysis. At the same time, you shouldn’t start off by studying the most heavily weighted topics in depth. Instead, learn the basics of each category first. Then, work deeper into the categories based on weight and your familiarity with them, so you can absorb more detail.

How to Pass the CFP® Exam

Here are few tips that can help you pass the exam:

  • Focus on learning when you study. The CFP® exam is all about applying knowledge to real situations you could encounter on the job. Twenty percent of the exam’s scoring rests on two case studies that expect you to analyze a hypothetical client situation and determine the best next steps. Therefore, rather than spending all your time on memorizing, you need to work on mastering the material and applying it.

  • Practice exam questions. The more you practice, the more familiar you will become with how to apply your knowledge. Work with questions that have the same difficulty level as the actual exam to determine if you have truly mastered a particular domain and where you might be making mistakes. You can find practice questions at the end of prep provider chapters, in prep provider bank quizzes, and in practice exams from CFP Board and prep providers.

  • Don’t cram the day and night before. Feverishly going over lists or taking full practice exams can be mentally draining, so avoid them on the day before the exam. Instead, reread some of the wordier areas of the curriculum like ethics. Think about what it could be like to be advising clients in the future and practice answers to the questions they might ask. Then, stop about dinner time, just as if you were already in the office, relax, and have a good meal.

  • Picture yourself passing. Before a big exam like this, it’s natural to panic and worry about failing. Instead try to visualize yourself answering questions competently and getting a great score. Positive affirmation can go a long way to calm your nerves and put you in the right mindset.

After You Receive Your CFP® Certification

Once you have your CFP® certification, as a CFP® professional each year you will be required to pay an annual certification fee. In addition, every two years, you will be required renewal requirements including submitting a certification application (which includes an ethics declaration) and completing continuing education (CE).  

If you do your continuing education credits through Collete for Financial Planning—a Kaplan Company, we’ll submit your completions for you! To view our continuing education offerings for CFP® certification, please visit our CFP® certification CE page. You can also learn more about all our CFP® certification offerings on our CFP® Education page.


Are you ready to get started on the path toward financial planning certification with your CFP® certification education? Enroll with College for Financial Planning®—a Kaplan Company by visiting our website browsing our CFP® certification offerings or calling a designation specialist at 800.237.9990, Option 2.

Free eBook: Is CFP® Certification Right for You?

Are you considering CFP® certification, but are unsure if you can handle it? Get a sneak peak at the beginning of the College for Financial Planning®a Kaplan Company education program to get a feel for whether CFP® certification is the right fit for you. This free eBook will provide you with information about the financial planning process learned in FP 511: General Financial Planning Principles, Professional Conduct, and Regulation. It also includes several analytical problems that will allow you to apply your knowledge to real-life scenarios.