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How do I Become a Personal Financial Specialist?

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  • Written By: Jennifer Hicks
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 03 November 2016
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In a general sense, a personal financial specialist (PFS) is any professional who provides financial planning or other financial services for individuals. In the United States, a Personal Financial Specialist also is a designation available to any certified public accountant (CPA) who belongs to the American Institute of Certified Public Accounts (AICPA). When CPAs achieve this certification, they are able to expand their practices with a range of financial planning services. For those who have an undergraduate degree, the way to become a Personal Financial Specialist involves CPA licensure, membership in the AICPA, completion of personal financial planning (PFP) coursework, several years of experience in financial planning or teaching and a passing score on the PFP Exam.

After a CPA candidate has completed his or her undergraduate studies with a focus on accounting, he or she can prepare for and schedule a date to take the CPA Exam. The AICPA offers tutorials at its website that explain how the exam is set up and how one can prepare. Candidates who want to become a Personal Financial Specialist also can find sample tests that outline the design of the formal exam.

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When candidates register to take the CPA Exam in the U.S., they must choose a state in which they wish to practice. Requirements vary from one part of the country to the next, so candidates must be sure that they will be licensed properly for the area where they live. With the exam application submitted and fees paid, candidates wait for approval to schedule their exam. After a candidate passes the CPA Exam, he or she will be licensed to practice in his or her chosen state.

To become a Personal Financial Specialist, a licensed CPA must join the AICPA. As a member, the PFS candidate can participate in the association’s Personal Financial Planning Section and register for courses in retirement, investment, insurance and estate planning. Courses are offered as live seminars, webinars and self-guided study. PFS candidates need a certain number of hours of PFP education, which can include approved coursework at local colleges and universities.

The candidate who wants to become a personal financial specialist next must accumulate the equivalent several thousand hours of business or teaching experience in financial planning. That equates to roughly two years performing the duties of a PFS or leading courses on various planning topics. With the education and experience requirements met, PFS candidates can register for and take the PFS Exam.

The PFS Exam includes more than 200 multiple-choice questions. These questions test a candidate’s ability to apply financial planning skills to specific stand-alone questions and case study questions. To become a Personal Financial Specialist and receive the credential, candidates must complete the PFS Exam with a passing score.

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