One of the oldest and most highly respected credentials is the Certified Public Accountant, or CPA. CPA’s are among the most trusted professionals in the marketplace. There are approximately 700,000 CPA’s in the United States. Yet, you should know that not all CPA’s do the same kind of work. Some work in private industry, or the government, and have limited exposure to providing professional advice. For those that actually practice, a significant majority limit their scope of practice to tax and accounting. In other words, most of the profession devotes their focus and livelihood to the past, what has already transpired. Generally, they will do a good job on your taxes, but are usually ill-equipped to plan for the future outside of that context and are ill-equipped to do so.
As for Financial Advisors, contrary to the CPA, there is little regulation as to who can call themselves a Financial Advisor. It is incumbent on the consumer to ask lots of questions (see related FAQ on questions to ask your financial advisor) in order to know what you are getting into and can expect. The best of breed in terms of credentials for Financial Advisors is the Certified Financial Planner. With about 100,000 CFP’s nationwide, the CFP marks are the gold standard for the Financial Advisor discipline. The exam you must pass is on par with the CPA or even the bar exam to become an attorney. In general terms, and in contrast to the CPA, a CFP looks at the future and helps you plan for it. However, notably, most CFP’s lack a depth of knowledge in the tax arena.
So, what is more important to you? Past history and your taxes, or planning for the future? I would say they are both equally important, since one informs the other. It’s important to know where you’ve been to know where you’re going. The ideal choice would be for you to work with someone who is both a CPA and CFP. We know somebody!