ChFC and CFP: Ask Not Which is Better, But Rather Which is Right for You

The American College of Financial Services
September 10, 2019

If you’re an advisor who’s made the decision to pursue an advanced financial designation, you understand that a significant commitment of time and passion will soon be spent in the quest to build a more successful practice and become a more knowledgable.

This post contains useful information to help you better understand two of the profession's most recognized and prestigious credentials: the CFP® (Certified Financial Planner®) and the ChFC® (Chartered Financial Consultant®).  


CFP® and ChFC®: Two Leaders in the Profession

It’s important to clarify that both the CFP® and ChFC® are leading professional designations, and are highly respected in the financial services community. A comparison of CFP® and ChFC® is not a question of which one is better, rather, is one a better fit for your specific circumstances and needs? The designation you choose is a major educational decision, so you’ll want to invest in ample due diligence.

What are the Primary Differences?

Educational Experience

The CFP®, which is conferred by The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc., requires at minimum a bachelor’s degree and the completion of a college-level program of study in personal financial planning (such as The American College of Financial Services CFP® certification education program) and capstone course in financial plan development. While the examination is offered by the CFP Board, the educational experience must be obtained elsewhere from an approved CFP® professional educational provider.

The ChFC® is conferred by The American College of Financial Services and requires the completion of eight courses, which are detailed in the Studying for the CFP® and ChFC® section of this blog.

Previous Experience

If you want to earn the CFP® certification, you must have three prior years of financial planning experience. 

The ChFC® requires three years of professional experience, but doesn’t mandate the experience be planning related (a list of acceptable experience can be found here). An undergraduate or graduate degree from an accredited institution can substitute for one year of professional experience for the ChFC®.


Students working toward the CFP® certification must pass a comprehensive and intensive board exam covering 78 principal topics. CFP® exam preparation programs address these topics within their course curricula. Some CFP® certification education providers are more rigorous than others. Historically, the exam carries a pass rate between 60 percent and 65 percent.

The ChFC® doesn’t require students to sit for a board exam. Instead, advisors take an examination after each course to ensure comprehension of the material covered before moving to the next class.

Post-program and Continuing Education (CE)

After passing the rigorous exam, CFP® students must also pass a background check and pay an entrance fee before obtaining their official certification. Once a financial services professional has been authorized to add the CFP® designation to his or her title, the CFP Board requires an ongoing annual certification fee of $325 as well as completion of 30 CE hours every two years, which includes three hours of ethics CE.  

Post-designation commitments for the ChFC® will depend on your status as a client-facing or non-client-facing advisor. The American College of Financial Services maintains a Professional Recertification Program; advisors who use the ChFC® mark are required to participate in the Professional Recertification Program. Client-facing advisors must complete 30 hours of CE every two years, including one hour of ethics CE, to maintain the ChFC® designation. The annual recertifiation fee for any designation from The American College of Financial Services, including ChFC®, is $125 for client-facing advisors.

Both the ChFC® and CFP® certification emphasize the importance of CE with these post-designation stipulations. It’s truly a matter of personal preference; the bottom line is that you have options.


Studying for the CFP® and ChFC® at The American College of Financial Services

If you complete The College’s seven-course CFP® certification education program, you’ll be only one course away from earning your ChFC® credential. The ChFC® program includes all seven courses listed as part of the CFP® professional curriculum, in addition to an application-based course which requires students to apply the knowledge and training from the curriculum to real life case studies and situational circumstances. Many students in the ChFC® program decide to also pursue their CFP® certification.

For the student focused solely on earning the CFP® certification, avoiding this additional application-based course may be the more attractive option. Those focused on further expanding their knowledge may lean toward the added expertise and practical know-how afforded by the ChFC®’s application course. It’s really a matter of personal preference.

The following is a list of courses required by each designation:

Seven Shared Courses Required by both the CFP® and ChFC®

  • Financial Planning: Process Environment - covers communication techniques, ethics, risk tolerance, time-value-of-money concepts, financial planning applications, regulatory issues, and the legal and economic environment for financial planning
  • Fund of Insurance Planning - focuses on the role of insurance in financial planning and covers basic concepts in risk management and insurance, insurance industry operations, industry legal principles, regulation, social insurance, life insurance and annuities, medical and disability income insurance, long-term care insurance as well as personal and commercial property and liability insurance
  • Income Taxation - addresses the federal income tax system, particularly taxation of individuals, and covers concepts like gross income/exclusions from gross income, deductions, tax credits, capital gains and losses, taxation of life insurance, taxation of annuities, partnerships, partners, corporations, and shareholders
  • Planning for Retirement Needs - focuses on selecting the right retirement plan for the businesses, individual retirement planning concepts (qualified and nonqualified like SEPs, SIMPLEs and 403(b), IRAs, Roth IRAs and deferred compensation plans), Social Security benefits, saving for retirement and planning for retirement plan distributions, small business considerations and designing plans that meet the needs of clients
  • Investments - covers principles of investments and their application to financial planning in areas like risk analysis, risk and return computations, risk reduction through diversification, expected returns, nature of securities markets and investment companies, tax issues, the practice of portfolio management including strategic and tactical asset allocation, and examples of ethical and practical issues in managing a client portfolios
  • Fundamentals of Estate Planning - provides a basic understanding of the estate and gift tax system, estate planning strategies, and covers nature, valuation transfer, administration, and taxation of property, gratuitous transfers of property outright or with trusts, wills and powers of appointment, use of the marital deduction, valuation of assets, buy-sell agreements, client interview/fact finding, ethical standards and development of personal estate plans
  • Personal Financial Planning: Case Analysis - applies students' knowledge and skills in personal financial planning techniques to a comprehensive case study, including a comprehensive financial plan and core financial planning disciplines of retirement, investment, risk management, income tax and employee benefits

Additional Application-Based Course Required by the ChFC®

  • Contemporary Applications in Financial Planning - examines contemporary financial planning challenges through a series of modern case studies, such as aiding divorcees and blended families, financial planning for families with special needs, serving non-traditional families and LGBT clients, unique challenges associated with modern retirement income portfolios, hands-on application of behavioral finance, ethics, and estate planning.

Which One is For You?

The CFP® and ChFC® have many similarities but also key differences that you must consider before proceeding. Both are rich with benefits that will make you a more successful financial advisor, so you really can’t make a wrong decision. Choose the designation you believe will position you for optimal future success.  

In fact, for many financial services professionals, the best alternative is to pursue both. The CFP® and ChFC® are complementary designations and are definitely not mutually exclusive. In fact, given the considerable overlap between the two designations, the return from a bit of additional study is considerable.

Visit the CFP® and ChFC® comparison page to learn more about the key differences between these two important designations.