What is the difference between a CPA, CFA, and CFP?

rather“A college degree is the key to realizing the American dream, well worth the financial sacrifice because it is supposed to open the door to a world of opportunity.”                                            – Dan Rather

Few contest the value of a college degree, especially one concentrated in financial education. Unfortunately, choosing and finishing a degree path that suits your personality and individual strengths isn’t typically enough in this day and age to grab your piece of the American dream. To really set yourself apart, getting a license, professional credential, or certification really should be on your to-do list. Which one is best? The best way to make a choice you can live with is to arm yourself with knowledge so that you can make an informed decision.

In terms of qualifications, there are three excellent paths a financial professional can take:


CFA is an acronym for Chartered Financial Analyst. It is granted to financial and investment professionals by the CFA institute. Technically, the CFA is a professional credential; it is not an academic degree. However, the CFA is recognized in the United Kingdom as being equivalent, in terms of program content, to a Master’s degree. Nonetheless, the CFA is vastly different than academic qualifications such as a post-graduate degree and is generally considered the most difficult test on Wall Street.

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You do not need a college degree to sit for the CFA examination if you possess four years of work experience approved by the CFA institute. Those with a college degree can sit for the examination if they possess the equivalent of 48 months of combined work experience and educational training. However, a participant will not receive a charter if he or she does not possess a university degree and a minimum of four years professional experience.

For more information on the CFA, visit the official CFA institute website.


CPA is an acronym for Certified Public Accountant. It is a statuatory title given to individuals who have passed the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination and fulfilled the additional education and experience requirements of the state they are testing in.

Most states have what is known as the 150 hour rule, which requires an additional year of practical experience above and beyond a four year academic degree program.

CPA isn’t a degree program and it goes beyond being a professional credential. Obtaining your CPA enables you to provide public accounting services. In the private sector, many professionals with a CPA are employed as Chief Financial Officers of corporations. Depending on the individual’s background in business, the CPA often also qualifies individuals to work as Chief executive officers, as well.

To find out more about getting your CPA, click here.


CFP is a professional certification for financial planners granted by the CFP board. In order to become a certified financial planner, an individual must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. The test covers nearly 100 planning areas, including: insurance planning, estate planning, financial planning and consulting, State and Federal income tax planning, and employee benefits planning. The ten hour examination is broken down into one four-hour session and two three-hour sessions, and consists of 285 multiple-choice questions. After passing the examination, professionals must participate in a minimum of 30 hours of continuing education annually to maintain certification.

You can find out more about getting your CFP here.

If you’re still working on your degree, you have plenty of time to make a decision. Be sure to do your homework on the above options before making a commitment.