Difference Between PFS and CFP

PFS is the abbreviation used for Personal Financial Specialist and this course is conducted by AICPA and individuals with this degree can work as tax planner, retirement planner, etc whereas CFP is the abbreviation used for certified financial planner and this course is conducted by the CFP Board and individuals with this degree can work as estate planner, financial manager, retirement planner, etc.

You don’t need to get confused about CFP and PFS. Because if you could CFP exam and CPA examCPA ExamThe CPA Exam assesses accounting professionals not just on their financial knowledge, but also on their ability to review and seek out key more, you would meet the requirements of PFS already, then you don’t need to sit for the PFS exam.

In this article, we 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, simply enroll yourself for 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.


You are free to use this image on your website, templates etc, Please provide us with an attribution linkHow to Provide Attribution?Article Link to be Hyperlinked
For eg:
Source: PFS vs CFP (

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 would be treated as an expert in budgeting, retirement planning, insurance coverage planning, and taxation. Many organizations are looking for experts like CFP everywhere. All you need to do is to clear the exam.

What is the Personal Financial Specialist (PFS)?

PFS is a complete course in financial planningFinancial PlanningFinancial planning is a structured approach to understanding your current and future financial goals and then taking the necessary measures to accomplish them. Because this does not begin and end in a specific time frame, it is referred to as an ongoing more. If you have not done CFP, this is the thing you shouldn’t miss. And as the main pre-requisite is CPA certification, if you do PFS, you will be doubly qualified for financial planning.

  • PFS certification is something you should do if you’re interested in financial planning. Why? Because PFS is a comprehensive financial planning exam that includes tax, estate, retirement, investments, and insurance planning as well as employee benefits, elder planning, and educational planning. There is a total of 11 subjects you need to cover to be able 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. Every three years, you need to complete 60 hours of Continuing Professional Education (CPE) and pay a lump-sum amount to be able to hold the designation.

CFP vs PFS Infographics


You are free to use this image on your website, templates etc, Please provide us with an attribution linkHow to Provide Attribution?Article Link to be Hyperlinked
For eg:
Source: PFS vs CFP (

Key Differences

  • Exam format: CFP and PFS are both comprehensive exams. But both are different in nature. CFP is a 10-hour mammoth exam, whereas, in the case of PFS, you need to sit for 5 hours. In both the exam, you need to answer 170 (CFP) and 160 (PFS) questions, respectively.
  • Exam Window: In the case of CFP, there are three exam windows – in 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 you even sit 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 planningTax PlanningTax planning is the process of minimizing the tax liability by making the best use of all available deductions, allowances, rebates, thresholds, and so on as permitted by income tax laws and rules imposed by a country's government. It contributes to better cash flow and liquidity management for taxpayers, as well as better retirement plans and investment more, etc.
  • Fees: In the case of CFP, you need to pay the maximum US $795 (late registration fees). But in regards to PFS, it’s not only a onetime payment of US $300-$500 as you need to complete 60 hours of CPE every 3 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 syllabus of 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 ret-takers 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 difficultly is moderate. However, there is no data available to substantiate the same with statistics. The exams are of moderate difficulty which is reflected from the historical pass rate of 60%+. The pass rates for the exams conducted during 2019 were


  • Overall: 62%
  • 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 2021 are scheduled to take place on Mar 09-16, Jul 06-13 & Nov 02-09.

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 under the US $600, and also, if you complete this course, you wouldn’t need to worry about job opportunities. Who wouldn’t do this course? Only those who are not passionate about financial planning. If you feel that you have the slightest inclination toward 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 which has been growing multi-fold in 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?

Apparently, PFS may seem not so valuable, but the most important reason for pursuing PFS is not only job opportunities or great credentials. But you should do PFS because of on-going educational opportunities. Of course, it will cost you money, any education does. But it will give you an opportunity to update you every three years and get ahead of the curve.

  • The combination of CPA and PFS are 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 want to get expertise in multiple fields, then certainly, you should 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. Of course, it’s your call.

You need to decide what works for you and what doesn’t. But we think after reading this thorough article, you would be able to decide which path to take with confidence. Isn’t it.

Recommended Articles

This has been a guide to PFS vs. CFP. Here we discuss the top differences between PFA and CFP along with 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *