Given the endless proliferation of incomprehensible initials that financial professionals love to tack on after their names, it has become almost impossible for the layperson to figure out which credentials really matter. As the random sample of professional designations below shows, there's a vast difference between initials that signify comprehensive and continuing education, and rigorous licensing standards, and those that are one step away from industry giveaways.

Initials Credential Requirements Value

CPCU Chartered Property and 10 3-hour exams; five years' experience Make this a given

Casualty Underwriter

CLU Chartered Life 10 college-level courses; three years' Another basic worth requiring

Underwriter experience; continuing education

APFS Accredited Personal Must be a CPA and member of AICPA; High standards, but you'll have to pay top dollar

Finance Specialist 250 hours per year for three years of

personal-finance experience; continuing

education; strict monitoring by AICPA

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CFP Certified Financial Comprehensive testing on six subjects Lower standards and regulation than APFS, but Planner including taxes and estate planning; more affordable

five years' work experience

* * *

CPIW Certified Professional Five years' work experience; Questionable

Insurance Woman membership in National Association

of Insurance Women; must have at

least one of 30 other professional

designations; must be a woman

* * *

CPIA Certified Professional Must sell at least $100,000 worth of Need you ask?

Insurance Agent property/casualty insurance in

12-month period

* * *

-- Researched by Christopher Caggiano

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