A certified retirement counselor can be a valuable asset in your retirement planning journey.
While nearly all financial advisors can help with retirement planning, some advisors earn additional certifications to show off their specific area of expertise.
A certified retirement counselor (CRC) is a financial professional who can help you with things like creating a 401(k) withdrawal strategy and comparing Medicare plans during open enrollment.
But what does it take to become a CRC, and is meeting with one worth your time and money?
Here’s everything you need to know about certified retirement counselors, including their qualifications, training and whether this type of financial advisor is right for you.
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What is a certified retirement counselor?
A certified retirement counselor is a financial advisor who has passed an exam based on retirement planning topics, such as Social Security, investment management and long-term care planning. This exam is meant to demonstrate an advisor’s expertise in navigating the complexities of retirement planning.
The CRC designation was created in 1997 by the International Foundation for Retirement Education (InFRE), its issuing organization. It is independently accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.
The CRC is InFRE’s only certification, which the nonprofit claims helps it ensure the program stays relevant and up-to-date.
Unlike other certifications, such as the certified financial planner (CFP), the CRC does not require specific training to qualify for the exam. However, holders of the CRC designation must fulfill annual continuing education requirements and adhere to the InFRE’s code of ethics.
Relatively few professionals pursue this designation. In 2021, just 104 people took the CRC exam, according to a report from InFRE, and 65 people passed. Compare that with 8,795 people who sat for the CFP exam in 2021.
There were 1,729 certified retirement counselors total at the end of 2021.
How can a CRC help you with retirement planning?
A CRC is equipped to address a range of retirement-related concerns. Here are some key topics a CRC can help you with:
- Retirement income: A CRC can map out all your retirement income streams, including pensions, Social Security benefits, annuities and retirement accounts.
- Social Security: They can help you navigate the complexities of Social Security, including when to start claiming benefits.
- Medicare and health care planning: CRCs can help with Medicare enrollment, supplemental insurance and strategies for managing health care costs in retirement.
- Investment strategies: They can provide tailored investment advice based on your risk tolerance, financial goals and time horizon.
- Tax-efficient planning: A CRC can help you identify ways to minimize taxes in retirement, including retirement account withdrawal strategies.
- Long-term care planning: A CRC can help you identify long-term care insurance and government programs.
- Knowledge of laws and regulations: These professionals stay up-to-date with evolving retirement policies, such as changes to Medicare and Social Security.
In addition to these topics, CRCs are also certified to provide counseling based on behavioral finance tendencies and different communication styles.
By covering these areas of retirement planning, a CRC aims to provide comprehensive, well-informed guidance tailored to your specific financial situation.
How do you become a certified retirement counselor?
Requirements to become a CRC are relatively easy. Candidates can either:
- Hold a bachelor’s degree or equivalent with two years relevant professional experience (within the past five years), or
- Hold a high school diploma or equivalent with five years relevant professional experience (within the past seven years).
All candidates must also pass a background check.
There are no training requirements to become a CRC. However, InFRE does offer optional exam preparation study materials to help candidates prepare for the exam.
Applicants must pass a 200-question, multiple-choice exam to earn their certification. The CRC exam costs $575. The proctored test must be scheduled at a computer-based test center during two-week testing windows in January, April, July and October.
To keep their designations in place, CRCs are required to undergo15 hours of continuing education per year, including at least two hours of ethics every two years.
Continuing education requirements can be fulfilled from internal InFRE resources as well as some external training programs. All CRC continuing education is self-reporting and does not require pre-approval. More than 90 percent of CRC holders renew their certification each year, according to InFRE.
Should you work with a CRC?
While the concept of a CRC may sound promising, it’s important to question whether this certification holds genuine value. After all, a certified retirement counselor is just one of many designations out there.
While having a CRC is a nice touch, you ultimately want to work with a fee-only fiduciary, preferably a certified financial planner. These professionals are trained in all aspects of financial planning and must meet rigorous standards, prerequisites and coursework.
It’s possible for a CFP to also be a CRC, and vice-versa. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.
Remember: Being a CRC should be icing on the cake. Your financial advisor should be certified more broadly as something else, such as a CFP, a chartered financial consultant (ChFC), a chartered financial analyst (CFA) or an accredited financial counselor (AFC).
The CRC designation stands out from others like the CFP because it doesn’t require specific training or coursework for the exam. However, CRC holders must meet yearly continuing education requirements and adhere to ethical standards set by its governing organization.
Working with a CRC may be a good fit if you want to map out your retirement goals and assess your needs. But since almost anyone with a couple years of experience can take the exam, make sure you’re working with a fee-only fiduciary, too.