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Many people do not know how a CPA is different from a bookkeeper or tax preparer. The CPA designation is one of the most widely recognized and highly trusted professional designations in the business world. CPAs are distinguished from other finance professionals by stringent qualification and licensing requirements.

Individuals have worked hard to obtain the CPA designation, and they are committed to working even harder to deliver the value that it conveys. Most people use the terms "accountant" and "CPA" interchangeably, but there is a big difference. The CPA credential carries enormous weight in business and financial circles. CPAs are considered some of the business world's most trusted advisers, according to a recent survey conducted by the AICPA. Specifically, when small business owners were asked how often they rely on outside business counsel, half said that they rely on their CPA "always" or "often," ranking slightly behind one's spouse or family member.

This trust is not surprising considering the strict requirements to enter and stay in the profession. Achieving CPA status takes intelligence, ethics, integrity and lifelong commitment. First, candidates must make it through 150 hours of college course work, including some of some of the toughest business classes offered . After graduation and three years of corporate experience under the supervision of a CPA, candidates must pass a grueling test of business, auditing and general accounting skills.

The CPA exam is not the only requirement to be a CPA. CPAs are also required to follow a strict code of ethics and perform within the high standards of the profession. CPAs are also required to complete continuing professional education (CPE) courses to keep up with the new rules and regulations in the financial, accounting and business world.

As the profession has evolved, so have the services CPAs provide. These services include business and financial strategists who help chart the paths of individuals and businesses. People turn to their CPAs for tax and financial planning services, investment advice, estate planning and more. Businesses are tapping CPAs to not only manage finances and taxes, but also to determine profitable new product lines, seek creative financing opportunities, help diversify investments and provide a variety of other consulting and business services. As technology advances, globalization, new laws and regulations and marketplace competition continue to complicate financial and business decisions, CPAs will be called upon to analyze information, determine effective financial and business strategies and help individuals and businesses achieve profitability.

What is a Certified Financial Planner or CFP?

The CFP certification is awarded to individuals who have successfully completed the certification requirements of the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. To obtain the CFP certification, the following qualifications must be met:

  • Examination. An individual must successfully complete the CFP Board’s Comprehensive Certification Examination, which tests the individual’s knowledge on a multitude of key financial planning topics.  This is an intense test taken over two days and is considered the 'Bar Exam' of our industry. 

  • Experience. An individual must have three to five years of practical, hands on financial planning experience prior to receiving the right to use the CFP designation. 

  • Ethics. An individual must voluntarily ascribe to the CFP Board’s Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility. This voluntary decision empowers the CFP Board to take action if a CFP professional should violate the code of ethics. Such violations could lead to disciplinary action, including the permanent revocation of the right to use the CFP marks.  

What Is Financial Planning?

Financial planning is the process of meeting your life goals through the proper management of your finances. Life goals can include buying a home, saving for your child’s education or planning for retirement.

The financial planning process consists of six steps that help you take a "big picture" look at where you are financially. Using these six steps, you can work out where you are now, what you may need in the future and what you must do to reach your goals.

The six steps consists of the following:

  1. Establishing and defining the client-planner relationship.
    The financial planner should clearly explain or document the services to be provided to you and define both his and your responsibilities. The planner should explain fully how he will be paid and by whom. You and the planner should agree on how long the professional relationship should last and on how decisions will be made.
     
  2.  Gathering client data, including goals.
    The financial planner should ask for information about your financial situation. You and the planner should mutually define your personal and financial goals, understand your time frame for results and discuss, if relevant, how you feel about risk. The financial planner should gather all the necessary documents before giving you the advice you need.
     
  3. Analyzing and evaluating your financial status.
    The financial planner should analyze your information to assess your current situation and determine what you must do to meet your goals. Depending on what services you have asked for, this could include analyzing your assets, liabilities and cash flow, current insurance coverage, investments or tax strategies.
     
  4. Developing and presenting financial planning recommendations and/or alternatives.
    The financial planner should offer financial planning recommendations that address your goals, based on the information you provide. The planner should go over the recommendations with you to help you understand them so that you can make informed decisions. The planner should also listen to your concerns and revise the recommendations as appropriate.
     
  5. Implementing the financial planning recommendations.
    You and the planner should agree on how the recommendations will be carried out. The planner may carry out the recommendations or serve as your "coach," coordinating the whole process with you and other professionals such as attorneys or stockbrokers.
     
  6. Monitoring the financial planning recommendations.
    You and the planner should agree on who will monitor your progress towards your goals. If the planner is in charge of the process, she should report to you periodically to review your situation and adjust the recommendations, if needed, as your life changes.

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