Study Financial Planning: Certificate, Associate & Online Degrees

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What will you learn in a financial planning associate's degree or certificate program? Read about degree and certificate requirements, the pros and cons of an associate's degree and certificate program and potential careers.
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Financial Planning Associate's and Certificate Programs at a Glance

Financial planners provide counsel to individuals and businesses about the financial services, investment strategies and insurance options at their disposal. Financial specialists meet with retirees, college graduates or business executives and managers to discuss the implications of tax, investment or spending decisions. Businesses across all industries utilize the knowledge and skills of financial planners and individuals may work with personal financial advisors to plan their financial security. Financial professionals need solid mathematical, communication and technical skills to understand the complexities of investments and other financial topics. Colleges and universities design financial planning programs to provide training in accounting, economics and investment strategies.

The associate's degree will prepare you for entry-level opportunities in multiple sectors. The certificate - which may require a bachelor's degree - deepens your knowledge or offers the appropriate training if you have a degree in another discipline. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected slower-than-average (9%) through much-faster-than-average (32%) job growth for several positions over the 2010-2020 decade.

Associate's Certificate
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in entry-level jobs in corporate, government or mortgage finance departments People who want to pursue a career in financial analysis or management
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Insurance sales agent ($63,000)*
- Loan officer ($68,000)*
- Real estate broker ($84,000)*
- Financial analyst ($88,000)*
- Personal financial advisor ($91,000)*
- Financial manager ($120,000 - people with at least 5 years' experience earned this salary)*
Time to Completion 2 years full-time Up to 1 year
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 60 credits in general education, core and elective courses - Roughly 6-7 courses
- Capstone course
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent Bachelor's degree in a related field
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate's in Financial Planning

The associate's degree offers basic training in stocks, bonds and mutual funds, cash budgets, financial technology and taxes. You will learn to analyze and value investment vehicles, understand personal and commercial credit, use modern financial software and execute ethical standards in the industry. Programs offer theoretical and practical training in financial accounting, communications and business operations in addition to a strong foundation in technology, including spreadsheets and databases. The associate's degree will not prepare you for a career in financial advising, analysis or management; however, you can obtain positions in insurance, mortgages or real estate.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • The BLS projects job growth for insurance sales agents (22%) to reach faster than average growth*
  • Real estate brokers ($84,000 mean) and loan officers ($68,000 mean) earned relatively competitive annual salaries**
  • The mix of business and financial coursework will prepare you for multiple occupations across many sectors

Cons

  • The program will not prepare you for opportunities in analysis or management and advancement will require higher education
  • The industry-standard certification, conferred by the CFA Institute or the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, requires a bachelor's degree
  • Competition with graduates of a bachelor's degree program will be keen
  • Several positions, especially real estate careers, rely significantly on the economy and economic downturns can impact your earnings

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2010-2020 job growth projections), **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Courses and Requirements

Colleges design programs to provide a foundation in global finance, regulatory practices and the impact of individual decisions on personal and commercial finances. Programs place emphasis on money management through coursework in accounting and banking. Most programs offer roughly 60 credits in general education, subject matter and elective courses. You will learn techniques for choosing and evaluating investment, budgeting and insurance strategies. Following are some common courses offered by the program:

  • Personal finance
  • Financial accounting
  • Computer applications
  • Business communications
  • Financial markets
  • Financial principles
  • Microeconomics

Online Degree Info

Several colleges offer the financial planning associate's degree through distance education. You can select from hybrid programs - which combine online and campus-based courses - or a complete online learning experience. Online programs offer courses similar to traditional options and some schools design online options to meet the needs of working professionals, offering coursework in an accelerated format.

Stand Out with This Degree

Technical terminology drives the finance industry and learning a diverse financial language will improve employment prospects. In addition, a large professional network and sales skills can make you more marketable. Following are some options to improve your marketability:

  • Take courses in the legal issues that affect the industry. Gaining a firm understanding of government regulatory practices will demonstrate your knowledge in this very important area.
  • Learn the modern technologies used to valuate mutual funds and analyze other financial theories.
  • Learn the terminology used in your selected occupation. For example, if you prefer stocks, bonds and mutual funds, understanding quantitative, technical and qualitative financial analysis will increase your marketability.

Certificate in Financial Planning

The post-baccalaureate certificate in financial planning offers training in estate, income tax, insurance, investment and retirement planning. Schools design the program to meet the needs of seasoned financial professionals or graduates entering the industry. You will learn estate, income and corporate taxation, financial planning theory and portfolio management. The program offers in-depth courses in each aspect of planning activities and may require prerequisite coursework in financial accounting, statistics and macroeconomics. The program will prepare you to take the appropriate certification examinations.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Financial managers earned a competitive annual salary ($120,000 mean) with the appropriate experience*
  • The program will prepare you to take industry-standard certification examinations
  • Opportunity for advancement increases with post-baccalaureate certificate programs

Cons

  • Despite holding a bachelor's degree, competition against master's degree holders may be keen for some positions
  • Some professional certification programs require additional training or classroom time
  • Job growth for some opportunities, including financial managers, was projected to be slower than average (9%)**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2010-2020 job growth projections).

Courses and Requirements

The certificate in financial planning provides the body of knowledge required to achieve the appropriate certification. Students learn the skills necessary to execute the financial planning process, develop risk management intelligence and select securities for investment strategies. You will learn these tasks through a series of planning courses. Programs require roughly 6-7 courses and take up to 1 year to complete. Course prerequisites include macroeconomics, statistics and financial accounting courses. You will learn to assist commercial executives or individuals in making strong financial decisions through courses in estate, income tax, employee benefits and insurance planning.

Online Degree Info

Many schools offer the financial planning certificate through an online program. The distance-education options offers courses very similar to on-site programs. You may find fewer required modules (roughly 5) and courses may focus on risk management and strategy for taxes, retirement or insurance. The program will prepare you to take the appropriate certification exams.

Stand Out with This Degree

Certification demonstrates your knowledge and skills in a specific area. The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, or CFP Board, and the CFA Institute offer industry-standard financial certifications. The CFP Board's Certified Financial Planner credential requires the completion of a registered and accredited education program or relevant credentials, such as the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA). The CFA Institute's CFA credential requires a minimum of 4 years' experience, three examinations and a bachelor's degree. Both certifications provide the foundation required for advancement in the financial field.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate: Accounting
      • Associate: Business Admin.
      • Associate: Business Admin. - Office Mgmt
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Strayer University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate in Arts in Accounting
      • Associate in Arts in Business Admin
  • Campus and Online Programs
    3. Everest

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate's - Accounting
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate of Science - Business Management
      • Associate of Science - Accounting
      • Associate of Science - Business Studies
  • Campus and Online Programs
    5. Fortis College

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associates in Business Management Accounting
      • Associates in Business Management
  • Campus and Online Programs
    6. Virginia College

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate: Accounting Specialist
      • Associate's - Business Admin
  • Online Programs Available
    7. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate of Arts in Business Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate of Science in Accounting
      • Associate of Science in Business Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Thomas Edison State University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • AS in Business Administration (ASBA)
  • Augusta, ME

    University of Maine at Augusta

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Associate: Accounting
  • Associate: Business Admin.
  • Associate: Business Admin. - Office Mgmt

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Strayer University

  • Associate in Arts in Accounting
  • Associate in Arts in Business Admin

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Everest

  • Associate's - Accounting

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Herzing University

  • Associate of Science - Business Management
  • Associate of Science - Accounting
  • Associate of Science - Business Studies

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Fortis College

  • Associates in Business Management Accounting
  • Associates in Business Management

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Virginia College

  • Associate: Accounting Specialist
  • Associate's - Business Admin

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American InterContinental University

  • Associate of Arts in Business Administration

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Colorado Technical University

  • Associate of Science in Accounting
  • Associate of Science in Business Administration

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