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Certified Financial Planner® (CFP®)

Those with the CFP® designation have demonstrated competency in all areas of financial planning. Candidates complete studies on more than 100 topics, including stocks, bonds, taxes, insurance, retirement planning and estate planning. The program is administered by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. In addition to passing the CFP certification exam, candidates must also complete qualifying work experience and agree to adhere to the CFP Board’s code of ethics and professional responsibility and financial planning standards. (For more on obtaining the CFP designation, click here.)

Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA®)

This designation is offered by the CFA Institute (formerly the Association for Investment Management and Research [AIMR]). To obtain the CFA charter, candidates must successfully complete three difficult exams and gain at least three years of qualifying work experience, among other requirements. In passing these exams, candidates demonstrate their competence, integrity and extensive knowledge in accounting, ethical and professional standards, economics, portfolio management and security analysis. (For more on obtaining a CFA designation, click here.)

Certified Fund Specialist (CFS)

As the name implies, an individual with this certification has demonstrated his or her expertise in mutual funds and the mutual fund industry. These individuals often advise clients on which funds to invest in and, depending on whether or not they have their license, they will buy and sell funds for clients. The Institute of Business and Finance (IBF), formerly known as the Institute of Certified Fund Specialists, provides training for the CFS, and the course focuses on a variety of mutual fund topics, including portfolio theory, dollar-cost averaging and annuities.

Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC)

Individuals with the ChFC designation have demonstrated their vast and thorough knowledge of financial planning. The ChFC program is administered by the American College. In addition to successful completion of an exam on areas of financial planning, including income tax, insurance, investment and estate planning, candidates are required to have a minimum of three years experience in a financial industry position.

Chartered Investment Counselor (CIC)

Given by the Investment Adviser Association, this is a designation that CFA charterholders who are currently registered investment advisors can study for. The focus of the CIC program is portfolio management. In addition to proving their high-level expertise in portfolio management, these individuals must also adhere to a strict code of ethics and provide character references.

Certified Investment Management Analyst (CIMA)

This designation focuses on asset allocation, ethics, due diligence, risk measurement, investment policy and performance measurement. Only individuals who are investment consultants with at least three years of professional experience are eligible to try to obtain this certification, which signifies a high level of consulting expertise. The Investment Management Consultants Association offers the CIMA courses.