Become a CFP® Professional

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About the CFP® Exam

Overview of the CFP® Exam

The CFP® Certification Examination is designed to assess your ability to integrate and apply a broad base of financial planning knowledge in the context of real life financial planning situations. By passing this exam, you demonstrate to the public you have attained a competency level necessary to practice independently as a financial planner.


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Quick Links: Exam Format | Development Tax Coverage Questions and Case Scenarios | Balance of Emphasis | Cognitive Level | Exam Content | Provided Exam Tax Tables | Scoring and Exam Results
All facets of the CFP® exam are guided by CFP® professionals, including the determination of content coverage, writing, reviewing and approving of exam questions, scoring and passing criteria. 

The content of the exam is determined through a process known as a Job Analysis, conducted by CFP® professionals and led by testing experts to assure the exam remains current, reliable, valid and legally defensible. 

CFP Board engages a large pool of volunteer CFP® professionals, including Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) who serve as item writers and reviewers, and members of the Council on Examinations (COE). The COE, comprised of SMEs with considerable experience with the CFP® exam, provides final review and approval of all exam questions. 

The criterion for passing the CFP® exam is established through a process known as Standard Setting, during which CFP® professionals determine the minimal competency level required to pass the exam. CFP Board does not pre-determine the pass rate for the exam or have an established percentage of questions that must be answered correctly to pass. 

In 2013, the overall pass rate was 63.3 percent, and the pass rate for first-time exam takers was approximately 68 percent.

Candidates are eligible to sit for the CFP® exam after completing the Education requirementCandidates may register for the exam before completing their educational program. If CFP Board does not receive verification of completing the Education requirement by the Education Verification Deadline, a $100 withdrawal fee applies.

Exam Format

Beginning in November 2014, the CFP® exam will be administered in a computer-based testing (CBT) format during three 5-day testing windows each year, with one testing window available each March, July and November. Candidates can select their testing location from Prometric’s network of testing sites, which includes more than 265 sites in the U.S.

The exam is comprised of 170 multiple-choice questions, including stand-alone questions and sets of questions associated with short scenarios or more lengthy case histories.

View a Sample Online Quiz, available at no cost to candidates


The exam consists of two 3-hour sessions separated by a scheduled 40-minute break. Candidates schedule a 7-hour appointment online through CFP Board’s testing partner, Prometric. The appointment includes time for check-in, securing personal belongings in provided lockers, verification of ID, fingerprint capture and security procedures.

Candidates progress through the exam at their own pace within the provided time allocations. Preliminary exam results are provided to candidates upon completion of the exam at the testing site, with results verified by CFP Board within three weeks following the end of the exam testing window.  


Development

To develop exams that reflect the current practice of financial planning, CFP Board conducts regular job analyses to identify the important tasks performed by planners and assess the knowledge and skills needed to perform these tasks.

Exam questions are written by volunteer CFP® professionals. The exam questions are subjected to a rigorous, multiple stage review process, including a final review by the Council on Examinations. If you are interested in volunteering your time and knowledge for exam development activities, please fill out the volunteer application form.

Samples of retired exam questions are available for review. The sample multiple-choice questions provide you with an understanding of question format, but should not be used as a practice exam or indicator of exam preparedness.

CFP Board Practice Exams are also available for purchase


Questions and Case Scenarios

The CFP® Certification Examination is a computer-based exam consisting of 170 multiple choice questions. Question types include both stand-alone and scenario-based questions. Scenarios can be brief, with a few accompanying questions, or more extensive, with 10-20 associated questions.

Balance of Emphasis

The CFP® Certification Examination will test your ability to apply and integrate knowledge from all of CFP Board’s specified Principal Topics. Questions may focus on discrete content areas or may require application, integration, synthesis, or evaluation across several content areas. The exam is composed of questions distributed across the eight domains, based upon the targeted percentage allocations for each domain.

Cognitive Level

The cognitive levels that are tested on the CFP® Certification Examination are:

  • Knowledge
  • Comprehension/Application
  • Analysis/Synthesis
  • Evaluation

The CFP® Certification Examination measures your critical thinking and problem-solving ability, with less emphasis on factual recall or recognition. The exam does not test textbook theories; rather, it assesses one’s ability to apply financial planning knowledge in an integrated approach to real-life financial planning situations.


Exam Content

The following Job Task Domains are based on the results of CFP Board’s 2009 Job Analysis Study.

The Job Task Domains serve as the blueprint for the March 2012 and later administrations of the CFP® Certification Examination. Each exam question will be linked to one of the following domains, in the approximate percentages indicated following the general headings.

The Job Task Domains also represent subject topics that CFP Board accepts for continuing education credit, effective January 2012.

8 Major Domains

  • Domain 1 - Establishing and Defining the Client-Planner Relationship (8%)
    1. Identify the client (e.g., individual, family, business, organization)
    2. Discuss financial planning needs and expectations of the client
    3. Discuss the financial planning process with the client
    4. Explain scope of services offered by the CFP® professional and his/her firm
    5. Assess and communicate the CFP® professional’s ability to meet the client’s needs and expectations
    6. Identify and resolve apparent and potential conflicts of interest in client relationships
    7. Discuss the client’s responsibilities and those of the CFP® professional
    8. Define and document the scope of the engagement with the client
    9. Provide client disclosures
      1. Regulatory disclosure
      2. Compensation arrangements and associated potential conflicts of interest
  • Domain 2 - Gathering Information Necessary to Fulfill the Engagement (9%) 
    1. Identify the client’s values and attitudes
      1. Explore with the client their personal and financial needs, priorities and goals
      2. Explore the client’s time horizon for each goal
      3. Assess the client’s level of knowledge and experience with financial matters
      4. Assess the client’s risk exposures (e.g., longevity, economic, liability, healthcare)
      5. Assess the client’s risk tolerances (e.g., investment, economic, liability, healthcare)
    2. Gather Data
      1. Summary of assets (e.g., cost basis information, beneficiary designations and titling)
      2. Summary of liabilities (e.g., balances, terms, interest rates)
      3. Summary of income and expenses
      4. Estate planning documents
      5. Education plan and resources
      6. Retirement plan information
      7. Employee benefits
      8. Government benefits (e.g., Social Security, Medicare)
      9. Special circumstances (e.g., legal documents and agreements, family situations)
      10. Tax documents
      11. Investment statements
      12. Insurance policies and documents (e.g., life, health, disability, liability)
      13. Closely held business documents (e.g., shareholder agreements)
      14. Inheritances, windfalls, and other large lump sums
    3. Recognize need for additional information
  • Domain 3 - Analyzing and Evaluating the Client’s Current Financial Status (25%)
    1. Evaluate and document the strengths and vulnerabilities of the client’s current financial situation
      1. Financial status
        1. Statement of financial position/balance sheet
        2. Cash flow statement
        3. Budget
        4. Capital needs analysis (e.g., insurance, retirement, major purchases)
      2. Risk management and insurance evaluation
        1. Insurance coverage
        2. Retained risks
        3. Asset protection (e.g., titling, trusts, business form)
        4. Client liquidity (e.g., emergency fund)
      3. Benefits evaluation
        1. Government benefits (e.g., Social Security, Medicare)
        2. Employee benefits
      4. Investment evaluation
        1. Asset allocation
        2. Investment strategies
        3. Investment types
      5. Tax evaluation
        1. Current, deferred and future tax liabilities
        2. Income types
        3. Special situations (e.g., stock options, international tax issues)
      6. Retirement evaluation
        1. Retirement plans and strategies (e.g., pension options, annuitization)
        2. Accumulation planning
        3. Distribution planning
      7. Estate planning evaluation
        1. Estate documents
        2. Estate tax liabilities
        3. Ownership of assets
        4. Beneficiary designations
        5. Gifting strategies
      8. Business ownership
        1. Business form
        2. Employer benefits
        3. Succession planning and exit strategy
        4. Risk management
      9. Education planning evaluation
        1. Sources of financing
        2. Tax considerations
      10. Other considerations
        1. Special circumstances (e.g., divorce, disabilities, family dynamics)
        2. Inheritances, windfalls, and other large lump sums
        3. Charitable planning
        4. Eldercare (e.g., CCRCs, LTC, Nursing Home)
    2. Identify and use appropriate tools and techniques to conduct analyses (e.g., financial calculators, financial planning software, simulators, research services)
  • Domain 4 - Developing the Recommendation(s) (25%)
    1. Synthesize findings from analysis of client's financial status
    2. Consider alternatives to meet the client’s goals and objectives
      1. Conduct scenario analysis (e.g., changing lifestyle variables)
      2. Conduct sensitivity analysis (e.g., changing assumptions such as inflation rate, rates of return, time horizon)
    3. Consult with other professionals on technical issues outside of planner's expertise
    4. Develop recommendations
      1. Considering client attitudes, values and beliefs
      2. Considering behavioral finance issues (e.g., anchoring, overconfidence, recency)
      3. Consider interrelationships among financial planning recommendations
    5. Document recommendations
  • Domain 5 - Communicating the Recommendation(s) (9%)
    1. Present financial plan to the client and provide education
      1. Clients goals review
      2. Assumptions
      3. Observations and findings
      4. Alternatives
      5. Recommendations
    2. Obtain feedback from the client and revise the recommendations as appropriate
    3. Provide documentation of plan recommendations and any applicable product disclosures to client
    4. Verify client acceptance of recommendations
  • Domain 6 - Implementing the Recommendation(s) (9%)
    1. Create a prioritized implementation plan with timeline
    2. Assign responsibilities (e.g., CFP® professional, client, other professional(s))
    3. Support the client directly or indirectly with implementation of the recommendation(s)
    4. Coordinate and share information, as authorized, with others
    5. Define monitoring responsibilities with the client (e.g., explain what will be monitored, frequency of monitoring, communication method(s)
  • Domain 7 - Monitoring the Recommendation(s) (5%)    
    1. Discuss and evaluate changes in the client’s personal circumstances (e.g., aging issues, change in employment)
    2. Review the performance and progress of the plan with the client
    3. Review and evaluate changes in the legal, tax and economic environments
    4. Make recommendations to accommodate changed circumstances
    5. Review scope of work and redefine engagement as appropriate
    6. Provide client ongoing support (e.g., counseling, education)
  • Domain 8 - Practicing within Professional and Regulatory Standards (10%)
    1. Adhere to CFP Board's Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility and Rules of Conduct
    2. Understand CFP Board's Disciplinary Rules and Procedures
    3. Work within CFP Board's Financial Planning Practice Standards
    4. Manage practice risk (e.g., documentation, monitor client noncompliance with recommendation(s)
    5. Maintain awareness of and comply with regulatory and legal guidelines

  • Download the Exam Job Task Domains (PDF, 66KB)


    Principal Topics

  • General Principles of Financial Planning
    1. Financial planning process
    2. Financial statements
    3. Cash flow management
    4. Financing strategies
    5. Function, purpose, and regulation of financial institutions
    6. Education planning
    7. Financial planning for special circumstances
    8. Economic concepts
    9. Time value of money concepts and calculations
    10. Financial services regulations and requirements
    11. Business law
    12. Consumer protection laws
  • Insurance Planning
    13. Principles of risk and insurance
    14. Analysis and evaluation of risk exposures
    15. Health insurance and health care cost management (individual)
    16. Disability income insurance (individual)
    17. Long‐term care insurance (individual)
    18. Annuities
    19. Life insurance (individual)
    20. Income taxation of life insurance
    21. Business uses of insurance
    22. Insurance needs analysis
    23. Insurance policy and company selection
  • Investment Planning
    24. Characteristics, uses and taxation of investment vehicles
    25. Types of investment risk
    26. Quantitative investment concepts
    27. Measures of investment returns
    28. Asset allocation and portfolio diversification
    29. Bond and stock valuation concepts
    30. Portfolio development and analysis
    31. Investment strategies
  • Income Tax Planning
    32. Income tax law fundamentals
    33. Tax compliance
    34. Income tax fundamentals and calculations
    35. Characteristics and income taxation of business entities
    36. Income taxation of trusts and estates
    37. Basis
    38. Tax consequences of the disposition of property
    39. Alternative minimum tax (AMT)
    40. Tax reduction/management techniques
    41. Passive activity and at-risk rules
    42. Tax implications of special circumstances
    43. Charitable contributions and deductions
  • Retirement Planning
    44. Retirement needs analysis
    45. Social Security (Old Age, Survivor, and Disability Insurance, OASDI)
    46. Types of retirement plans
    47. Qualified plan rules and options
    48. Other tax-advantaged retirement plans
    49. Regulatory considerations
    50. Key factors affecting plan selection for businesses
    51. Investment considerations for retirement plans
    52. Distribution rules, alternatives, and taxation
  • Estate Planning
    53. Characteristics and consequences of property titling
    54. Methods of property transfer at death
    55. Estate planning documents
    56. Gifting strategies
    57. Gift tax compliance and tax calculation
    58. Incapacity planning
    59. Estate tax compliance and tax calculation
    60. Sources for estate liquidity
    61. Powers of appointment
    62. Types, features, and taxation of trusts
    63. Qualified interest trusts
    64. Charitable transfers
    65. Use of life insurance in estate planning
    66. Marital deduction
    67. Intra-family and other business transfer techniques
    68. Deferral and minimization of estate taxes
    69. Generation-skipping transfer tax (GSTT)
    70. Fiduciaries
    71. Income in respect of a decedent (IRD)
    72. Postmortem estate planning techniques
    73. Estate planning for non-traditional relationships
  • Interpersonal Communication
    74. Client and planner attitudes, values, biases and behavioral characteristics and the impact on financial planning
    75. Principles of communication and counseling
  • Professional Conduct and Fiduciary Responsibility
    76. CFP Board’s Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility and Rules of Conduct
    77. CFP Board’s Disciplinary Rules and Procedures
    78. CFP Board’s Financial Planning Practice Standards

Download a copy of the Principal Topics list (PDF, 68KB)


Provided Exam Tax Tables

The tax tables provided in all exam booklets for the CFP® Certification Examination are made available for download and review prior to the exam testing window. This information is also available on screen, as an exhibit during the exam.

Download the Tax Tables for the November 2014 CFP® Exam (PDF, 81 KB)

*Updated 1/9/2014

Beginning in March 2014, the Spring administration of the CFP® Certification Examination will utilize rates, tables and applicable tax law of the prior year. The Summer administration of the exam utilizes the current year’s tax rates, tables and applicable tax law.

Example:
The March 2014 administration of the CFP® Certification Examination will utilize 2013 tax law. The July and November 2014 exam will utilize 2014 tax law.


Scoring and Exam Results

The CFP® Certification Examination is a criterion referenced, pass or fail exam.

The CFP® exam is scored based upon a minimum standard, or criterion, established by CFP® professionals in formal process known as Standards Setting. In the Standard Setting, a representative group of CFP® professionals serve as Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). Testing experts, known as psychometricians, lead a formal Standard Setting process and conduct the statistical analyses necessary to assure the exam is reliable, valid and legally defensible.  

A Standards Setting is completed after each Job Analysis, to establish a cut core for passing the exam. 

With CBT exams, the entire item-bank of exam questions is calibrated to the same scale. This enables a cut score, comparable to the cut established in the Standard Setting, to be computed pre-administration, and the reporting of preliminary pass/fail results immediately upon completion of the exam. 

Candidates receive “preliminary” pass/fail exam results upon completion of the exam at the testing site.  Candidates who do not pass, additionally receive a diagnostic report of their exam performance across the Principle Topics, with indications of relative strengths and weaknesses.  

Candidates are notified approximately 3 weeks following the close of the testing window to confirm official results.

CFP Board does not disclose exam results over the phone, email or by fax.


Exam Statistics

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The 2013 Household Financial Planning Survey shows that those with a financial plan feel more confident and report more success managing money, savings & investments than those who have not.

Employment for personal financial advisors is projected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations through 2020. Bureau of Labor Statistics

In a March 2012 survey of American consumers, 60% indicated they would benefit from the counsel of a financial planner or advisor.

If you hold one of several degrees, licenses or credentials, you can take the CFP® Exam after completing a single capstone course.

Classroom or online learning? Full-time or part-time studies? There are CFP Board-Registered Programs designed to meet your needs. 

Achieve the certification that is rapidly becoming the industry standard: CFP® certification.

Professionals who have already earned their CFP® certification have enjoyed an average income increase of 30%.

Demand for personal financial advisors is expected to grow 41% by 2016, according to Money Magazine and Payscale.com.

More clients who work with a CFP® professional are satisfied or very satisfied, compared those who work with an advisor without certification.

If you're up for the challenge of helping people achieve their financial goals, financial planning is the career for you.