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CFP vs. CPA: What’s the Difference?

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Q. Are there real benefits to going to a financial planner who is also an accountant? What should I look for?

— Learning

A. We’re glad to hear you’re paying close attention to what credentials different advisors have to offer.

Financial planners who are certified financial planners, or CFPs, have extensive experience and education in comprehensive financial planning, including the areas of insurance, investment, income tax, retirement and estate planning, said Jodi Cirignano, a certified financial planner with Lassus Wherley in New Providence.

When you choose to work with a CFP who is a licensed certified public accountant, or CPA, you may obtain access to an even broader range of services and subject matter expertise, particularly in the areas of business planning, tax planning and tax preparation, Cirignano said.

“CPAs are trained to integrate the income and estate tax implications of financial decisions into a client’s overall planning, helping client’s optimize their after-tax income and returns,” she said. “Many CPAs also have experience in advising business owners on issues such as personal and business financing, business succession issues and cash-flow management.”

She said earning the CPA credential requires a significant amount of education and experience and a commitment to 120 hours of continuing professional education every three years.

Cirignano said a CFP and CPA practitioner can provide a powerful combination of skills, experience and expertise for clients, but ultimately, you will want to select an advisor based on who is best suited to help you with your unique issues.

“In addition to inquiring about the advisor’s credentials during the interview process, you will want to determine if the advisor’s strengths complement your needs, if they are experienced in working with clients that have similar financial profiles and planning issues, the scope and the cost of their services,” she said.

Be sure to understand how the advisor is paid before you enter into any relationship.

Financial well-being requires ongoing management and planning to build, protect and transfer wealth, Cirignano said.

“Working with the right CFP or CFP/CPA professional who understands your concerns and is well-positioned to address these can provide peace of mind for you and your family,” she said.

[Editor’s Note: You can monitor your financial goals, like building a good credit score, each month on Credit.com.]

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