Updated on May 15, 2024
Article byAshish Kumar Srivastav
Edited byAaron Crowe
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

Difference Between PFS and CFP

PFS is the abbreviation used for Personal Financial Specialist. AICPA conducts this course, and individuals with this degree can work as tax planners, retirement planners, etc. In contrast, CFP is the abbreviation used for a certified financial planner. The CFP board conducts this course, and individuals with this degree can work as estate planners, financial managers, retirement planners, etc.

You don’t need to get confused about CFP and PFS. If you are eligible for the CFP exam and CPA exam, you will already meet PFS requirements. Thereby, you don’t need to sit for the PFS exam.

This article will go deep and see what you need to do to earn CFP and PFS designations. But if you ever feel you don’t need CFP, enroll yourself for a CPA and study hard. As you can’t sit for PFS without qualifying for CPA first, it’s wiser to study well.

So let’s look at both of these certifications in detail and then make an informed decision at the end of this article.


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What is the Certified Financial Planner (CFP)?

CFP is a designation that is one of its kind because very few designations create so much value in the finance domain. Once you clear your CFP certification, you will be treated as an expert in budgeting, retirement planning, insurance coverage planning, and taxation. As a result, many organizations are looking for experts like CFPs everywhere. All you need to do is to clear the exam.

  • CFP is not only a globally recognized, reputed certification. People also treat CFPs as their trusted advisors because CFPs can help them in personal finances, and tax and personal savings.
  • The most important part of a CFP is the ethical standards this certification sets for others. There are many financial planners in the market, but very few take time and pay heed to the ethical grounds of the transactions. In the case of CFP, ethical standards are of utmost importance, and the CFP Board takes special care to train and educate its students in rigorous ethical standards so that they never miss out on the trust of their clients.
  • Even if it seems that CFP is hard, the results don’t prove it. Almost on average, 65-70% have passed this exam in 2015. So there’s no reason why you can’t clear it if you study hard and prepare well for the exam.

What is the Personal Financial Specialist (PFS)?

PFS is a complete course in financial planning. If you have not done CFP, this is the thing you shouldn’t miss. Since the main pre-requisite is CPA certification, you will be doubly qualified for financial planning if you do PFS.

  • You should do PFS certification if you’re interested in financial planning. PFS is a comprehensive financial planning exam that includes tax, estate, retirement, investments, insurance planning, employee benefits, elder planning, and educational planning. There is a total of 11 subjects you need to cover to clear the PFS exam. Thus you can’t take it lightly.
  • PFS is not a designation that would end once you clear the exam and get the certificate. You need to complete 60 hours of Continuing Professional Education (CPE) every three years and pay a lump-sum amount to hold the designation.

CFP vs PFS Infographics

CFP vs PFS Infographics

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Key Differences

  • Exam format: CFP and PFS are both comprehensive exams. But both are different. CFP is a 10-hour mammoth exam, whereas, in the case of PFS, you need to sit for 5 hours. You need to answer 170 (CFP) and 160 (PFS) questions in both exams.
  • Exam Window: In the case of CFP, there are three exam windows – March, July, and November. Whereas in the case of PFS, there are two exam windows – July-August and December-January.
  • Eligibility: There are mainly two educational requirements for CFP certification. The first requirement is to complete college or university-level coursework through a program registered with the CFP Board, addressing the major personal financial planning areas. The second is to verify that you hold a regionally accredited college or university’s bachelor’s degree or higher certification. The coursework should be completed before sitting for the CFP certification examination. In the case of PFS, you need to complete a CPA.
  • Job Opportunities: If you complete one of these certifications, you don’t need to worry about job opportunities. Moreover, if you complete your CFP first, you don’t need to sit for PFS at all, as you would fulfill the requirement of PFS. In case of job opportunities, you would get multiple profiles to choose from – retirement planning, personal financial planning, estate planning, tax planning, etc.
  • Fees: In the case of CFP, you need to pay a maximum of $795 (late registration fees). But in regards to PFS, it isn’t a one-time payment of $300-$500 as you need to complete 60 hours of CPE every three years, and you need to pay a hefty amount for that. 
PFS Fees

Source: AICPA

CPA PFS Salary

PFS vs. CFP Comparative Table

Section PFS CFP
Organizing BodyThe American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), USA, is the organizing body for the PFS exams. The Certified Financial Planner Board (CFP Board) of Standards Inc., USA, is the organizing body for the CFP exams.
PatternThe candidates need to clear either the Comprehensive PFS exam or meet the requirements of the five Personal Financial Planner (PFP) certificates offered by the AICPA. The candidates need to clear just one level.
Duration of CourseThe candidates need to complete the certification course within 5 years. On average, the candidates take ~3 years to complete the course.
SyllabusThe course focuses on the following topics
  • Personal Financial Planning Process
  • Professional Responsibilities & Legislative & Regulatory Environment
  • Charitable Planning
  • Risk Management Planning
  • Fundamental Financial Planning Concepts
  • Estate Planning
  • Elder, Special Needs & Chronic Illness Planning
  • Employee & Business-Owner Planning
  • Investment Planning
  • Retirement & Financial Independence Planning  Education Planning
  • Special Situations
 The course covers the following topics
  • General Principles of Financial Planning
  • Investment Planning
  • Estate Planning
  • Retirement Savings & Income Planning
  • Education Planning
  • Tax Planning
  • Risk Management & Insurance Planning
  • Professional Conduct & Regulation





Exam FeesThe exam fee is $300 for the PFP Section members, $400 for the AICPA members, and $500 for the non-members. The cost of a retake of the exam is $100. The exam fee varies based on the time of registration. The cost of early registration is $825 and that of standard and late registration is $925 and $1,025 respectively.
JobsSome of the common profiles include
  • Estate Planner
  • Retirement Planner
  • Risk Manager
  • Financial Manager


 Some of the common profiles include
  • Estate Planner
  • Retirement Planner
  • Investment Planner
  • Tax Consultant
  • Risk Manager
  • Legal Financial Manager
DifficultyIt is an intermediate qualification and hence it is likely that the level of difficulty is moderate. However, there is no data available to substantiate the same with statistics. The exams are of moderate difficulty, reflected in the historical pass rate of 60%. The pass rates for the exams conducted during 2021 were
  • Overall: 59%
  • First-timers: 66% [Source: CFP]
Exam DateThe exams for the Comprehensive PFS program can be taken any time during the year either online or at the testing centers. The upcoming exams for the year 2022 are scheduled to take place on Mar 08-15, Jul 12-19 & Nov 01-08.

Why Pursue CFP?

If you’re still wondering why you should pursue CFP, we will ask you why not? You’re getting a world-class course for under $600, and also, if you complete this course, you wouldn’t need to worry about job opportunities. Only those not passionate about financial planning wouldn’t go for this course. If you feel the slightest inclination towards financial planning, CFP is the right option for you

  • CFP is a course that is very well-planned. Nothing has been added to the course to show off. Rather in designing the CFP course, the CFP board has taken care of four pillars, each starting with E-education, examination, experience, and ethics.
  • CFP is a profession that has been growing multifold every year. It’s expected that the financial planning career path would grow by 41% in 2016. If you join now, think about what will happen. Your chances of success will increase drastically.
  • CFP is a great profession. If you have ever gone through any financial hardship, you would know how it feels. It feels terrible. Once you complete your CFP, you would be able to prevent people from financial hardships. They may not completely avoid mishaps, but they can get prepared for them with your guidance and forecasting.

Why Pursue PFS?

PFS may seem valuable, but the most important reason for pursuing PFS is not only job opportunities or great credentials. But it would help if you did PFS because of ongoing educational opportunities. Of course, it will cost you money; any education does. But it will allow you to update yourself every three years and get ahead of the curve.

  • The combination of CPA and PFS is lethal. Once you do PFS after CPA, your expertise in the subjects would be unparalleled. Most companies would love to have you on their boards to seek your expert opinion and receive guidance. And most clients will also prefer you over anyone who has just done CPA.
  • If you want to serve multiple clients and get expertise in multiple fields, you should certainly go for PFS. PFS is not easy, but why go easy when you can separate yourself from the crowd?


There are two things. If you want to be a financial planner, go for CFP. But if you want unparalleled knowledge, do your CPA and get qualified as PFS without any extra effort. The advantage of doing PFS is an opportunity to pursue continuous education. Then, of course, it’s your call.

It would be best to decide what works for you and what doesn’t. But we think after reading this article, you would be able to decide which path to take with confidence. 

Recommended Articles

This has been a guide to PFS vs. CFP. Here we discuss the top differences between PFA and CFP, infographics, and the comparative table. You may also have a look at the following articles –

Reader Interactions


  1. Pankaj Tewari says

    Hi Dheeraj,

    I also share the same Alma mater (IITD). I did my MBA from University of Alberta, Canada and Currently based in Canada. I plan to work in the area of Financial Analysis. Could you please guide me. Which course I should pursue. How long it will take.


  2. Scott Hammington says

    Very briefly differentiated. You are doing a great job Sir. Thanks for posting such informative articles.

  3. Trey Rosewall says

    Very interesting and very helpful for financial planners.