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CFP Course Notes: The 7-Step Financial Planning Process

Whew! 😅 I just passed my first mid-term test in about 20 years. The first half of Fundamentals of Financial Planning, the first course from my self-paced CFP program, included coverage of the official 7-Step “Financial Planning Process”. The image above was found in my course materials, but the text (and I believe the graphic itself) is from the CFB Board’s Financial Planning Practice Standards.

Below are my completely non-official notes and takeaways. Remember, this is from the perspective of the financial planner.

Step 1: Understanding the Client’s Personal and Financial Circumstances

  • You must explain, obtain, and analyze all of the qualitative and quantitative information needed to fulfill the scope of your engagement.
  • Qualitative topics include (but are not limited to) health, family, goals, risk-tolerance, and priorities.
  • Quantitive topics include (but are not limited to) income, expenses, cashflow, savings, investments, assets, liabilities (debts), estate plans, and retirement/work benefits.
  • If the client is unwilling or unable to provide sufficient and accurate information (both personal and financial), you must terminate the engagement.

Step 2: Identifying and Selecting Goals

  • Identify potential goals for the client, using the information gathered in Step 1.
  • This means that in addition to the goals the clients brings up themselves, you may find other ones like adequate life insurance or a clear estate plan.
  • After developing this list of potential goals, work with the client to select and prioritize amongst these goals.

Step 3: Analyzing the Client’s Current Course of Action and Potential Alternative Courses of Action

  • Analyze the client’s current course of action. What are they doing now? Will their goals be met this way?
  • Analyze potential alternative courses of action. Find at least one alternative for any goal that won’t be met with current action.

Step 4: Developing the Financial Planning Recommendations

  • Develop a specific recommendation of action for each selected goal. It’s possible that the recommendation is to “stay the course” for one or more goals.
  • If an alternative is presented, work out why it is better than the current action. Include any assumptions and estimates used in your calculations.
  • Consider if each specific recommendation is independent or must be implemented along with another recommendation.

Step 5: Presenting the Financial Planning Recommendations

  • Present your recommendations to the clients. Your goal is to have the client understand all of the factors that were considered and why the recommendation presented is the best recommendation.

Step 6: Implementing the Financial Planning Recommendations

  • Now that the recommended actions have been agreed upon, who is responsible for implementation? Might be you (the financial planner), might be the client.
  • What products, actions, or services are the most appropriate for the job?
  • Select and implement!

Step 7: Monitoring Progress and Updating

  • Who is responsible for monitoring and updating? Might be you (the financial planner), might be the client.
  • If you (the financial planner) is responsible for monitoring and updating, then you must regularly monitor the client’s progress and keep the process going. Update with current client information, update goals, update recommendations, etc.

Other random thoughts:

The CFP Board makes a big deal about the difference between “Financial Advice” and “Financial Planning”. Financial Advice is the more limited act of making a recommendation to act or not to act, often focused on a specific niche topic. On the other end, the most encompassing (and expensive) term is Financial Planning, which requires you to follow all their Standards and obtain a deep understanding of the client’s personal and financial situation. Accordingly, CFPs will ask you to sign an Engagement Letter that clearly outlines the services and products being provided (and how you’ll pay for them).

I also spent a good deal of time learning how to use the HP-12C financial calculator to solve for internal rates of return, time value of money, cash flow analysis, amortization, and other financial scenarios. I have an engineering background, but had never used this calculator before, so I had to order a new one online. In the meantime, I used an HP-12C emulator to do the coursework. It’s definitely handy for finance.

Top 10 Best Small Business Credit Card Bonus Offers – February 2024

Updated February 2024. Do you have small business income or work as an independent contractor? Freelance, Uber/Lyft, Amazon, eBay, Etsy, Airbnb? A small business credit card separates your personal and business expenses and can build up your business credit profile. If you are not a corporation or LLC, you can apply as a sole proprietorship, with your name as the business name and your Social Security number as the Tax ID number. These are the top 10 credit card offers that I would personally apply for right now (or have already). Recent changes:

  • Added Marriott 5FreeNights, United 100k, Venture X 300k, Hyatt 75k, Alaska 75k, Ink Preferred $1,250, Spark Cash Select $750, Hilton 130k, .
  • Removed AA 75k, Ink Cash 90k No AF, JetBlue 75k, AmEx Gold 70k, AA 70k, Southwest Premier 120k

This is a companion post to my Top 10 Best Credit Card Bonus Offers for personal cards. Notice that small business bonuses are on average even higher than those on consumer cards.

Capital One Venture X Business Card

  • Up to 300,000 miles (worth $3,000 towards travel, or transferrable to miles). 150,000 miles after spending $20,000 in first 3 months, and an additional 150,000 miles after $100,000 in purchases in the first 6 months. See link for details.
  • $300 annual travel credit. Get up to $300 in statement credits when booking through Capital One Travel.
  • Additional 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary.
  • Capital One Lounges, Priority Pass(TM) and Plaza Premium Group lounges access.
  • Up to $100 credit towards TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee.
  • $395 annual fee.

United(SM) Business Card

  • 100,000 bonus United miles after $5,000 in purchases in the first 3 months. Limited-time offer. See link for details.
  • Free first checked bag for both you and a companion (a savings of up to $140 per roundtrip).
  • 5,000-mile “better together” bonus each anniversary when you have both the United(SM) Business Card and personal Chase United credit card.
  • Primary rental car coverage when renting for business purposes.
  • $99 annual fee.
  • Subject to 5/24 rule.*

Chase Ink Business Preferred Card

  • 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points (worth $1,000 straight cash back or $1,250 toward travel when redeemed through Chase Travel) after $8,000 in purchases in the first 3 months. See link for details.
  • 3X points on the first $150,000 spent on travel, shipping purchases, internet/cable/phone services, and advertising purchases with social media sites and search engines.
  • Primary rental car coverage when renting for business purposes.
  • $95 annual fee.
  • Subject to 5/24 rule.*

Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card

  • 5 Free Night Awards (Worth Up To 250K Total Marriott Bonvoy Points) after $8,000 in eligible purchases within first 6 months. Each Free Night Award is worth up to 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy(R) points redemption level. See link for details.
  • New award night top-off option: Marriott now allows you to supplement your free night certificates with up to 15,000 points of your own. For example, the 50k Award can be used to book a hotel at 65,000 points level if you spend 15,000 points of your own. This opens up the number of potential hotels available in expensive areas.
  • Additional Free Night Award upon card anniversary (worth up to 35,000 Bonvoy points). Earn another additional Free Night Award after spending $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year.
  • Annual fee is $125.

Chase Ink Business Unlimited Card

  • $750 bonus cash back (75,000 Ultimate Rewards points) after $6,000 in purchases in the first 3 months. See link for details.
  • Flat 1.5% cash back on all purchases with no limit.
  • No annual fee.
  • Subject to 5/24 rule.*

Capital One Spark Cash Select Business Card

  • $750 bonus after $6,000 in purchases in the first 3 months. See link for details.
  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back spent on all purchases. with no limit.
  • No annual fee.

Chase Ink Business Cash Card

  • $750 bonus cash back (75,000 Ultimate Rewards points) after $6,000 in purchases in the first 3 months. See link for details.
  • 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services each account anniversary year.
  • No annual fee.
  • Subject to 5/24 rule.*

World of Hyatt Business Card

  • Up to 75,000 Hyatt points. 60,000 points after $5,000 in purchases first 3 months. Additional 15,000 points after $12,000 in purchases in first 6 months. See link for details.
  • Up to $100 in Hyatt statement credits – spend $50 or more at any Hyatt property and earn $50 statement credits up to two times each anniversary year.
  • $199 annual fee.
  • Subject to 5/24 rule.

Business Platinum® Card from American Express

  • 120,000 Membership Rewards points after $15,000 on eligible purchases in the first 3 months.
  • HUGE list of additional perks including $400 Dell, $360 Indeed, $150 Adobe, $120 wireless phone annual credits, $200 annual airline fee credit, $189 CLEAR credit, $100 TSA/Global Entry credit, Centurion airport lounge access, and more. See link for details.
  • $695 annual fee.

American Express® Business Gold Card

  • 70,000 Membership Rewards points after $10,000 in eligible purchases in the first 3 months. See link for details.
  • $240 Annual Flexible Business Credit. Earn up to $20 in statement credits monthly after you use the Business Gold Card for eligible U.S. purchases at FedEx, Grubhub, and Office Supply Stores.
  • $155 Annual Walmart+ Credit. Get $12.95 back in statement credits each month when you pay for a monthly Walmart+ membership (subject to auto-renewal) with your Business Gold Card.
  • $375 annual fee.

Hawaiian Airlines Business MasterCard

  • 70,000 Hawaiian miles. 60,000 miles after $2,000 in purchases in first 90 days. 10,000 miles after a qualifying purchase is made on an employee card. See link for details.
  • Receive a one-time 50% off companion discount for roundtrip coach travel between Hawaii and The Mainland on Hawaiian Airlines.
  • $99 annual fee.

CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard

  • 65,000 American Airlines miles after $4,000 in purchases in first the 4 months. See link for details.
  • First checked bag free on domestic AA flights for you and up to 4 companions ($60 value per roundtrip, per person).
  • $0 annual fee for the first year, then $99.

Bank of America Business Advantage Cash Rewards Card

  • $500 statement credit after $5,000 in purchases in the first 90 days. See link for details.
  • 3% cash back on your choice of six categories. 2% cash back on dining and unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. The 3% and 2% cash back applies to the first $50,000 in combined category/dining purchases each calendar year, 1% thereafter.
  • No annual fee.

US Bank Business Leverage Card

  • 75,000 bonus points after $7,500 in purchases (on the Account Owner’s Card only) in first the 4 months. 75,000 bonus points can be redeemed for $750 in cash back. See link for details.
  • Availability may be restricted to certain states.
  • $0 annual fee for the first year, then $95.

The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card

  • 130,000 Hilton Honors points after $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months. See link for details.
  • Earn a Free Night Reward from Hilton Honors after you spend $15,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Earn another Free Night Reward from Hilton Honors after you spend an additional $45,000 in purchases on your Card in the same calendar year.
  • $95 annual fee.

JetBlue Business Card

  • 60,000 TrueBlue points 50,000 points after $4,000 in purchases in first 90 days. Plus, earn 10,000 bonus points when a purchase is made on an employee card in the first 90 days. See link for details.
  • First checked bag free for the primary cardmember and up to 3 companions when tickets are purchased with your JetBlue Plus Card.
  • $99 annual fee.

Alaska Airlines Visa Business Card (Bank of America)

  • 75,000 Alaska miles + Companion Fare Voucher after $4,000 in purchase within 90 days. See link for details.
  • Companion fare voucher is “Buy one ticket, get one for $122” ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from just $23).
  • Free checked bag on Alaska flights for you and up to six other passengers on the same reservation (worth $60 roundtrip per person).
  • $70 annual fee for company, plus $25 per card.

* Note: Certain Chase cards have a “5/24 rule” which is an unofficial rule that they will automatically deny approval on new credit cards if you have 5 or more new credit cards on your credit report within the past 2 years. This rule applies on a per-person basis, so if you are new, you might want to start with those Chase cards.

Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card Review: 5 Free Night Awards Offer (Worth Up To 250K Total Points)

Updated with limited-time offer. The Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card is the re-branded business credit card of the Marriott Bonvoy program. This card offers unique perks for Marriott customers, along with a generous new customer … [Read the rest]

Taking a Self-Paced CFP Education Course For Fun and… Personal Knowledge

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=viCf2Sf5GBc While pondering potential goals for the New Year, I ended up poking around Certified Financial Planner (CFP) Certification Education Programs. I have been toying with the idea of taking one of these … [Read the rest]

Pepper Rewards App: $20 Referral Promo Code + 10% Back = $130 of Amazon Gift Cards for $100

Pepper Rewards is an iOS and Android app that sells discounted, new gift cards in exact amounts that are delivered instantly on your phone. This lets you to wait until the moment before purchase when you already have the final purchase price … [Read the rest]

Buy $100 Apple Gift Card, Get $10 Target Gift Card Free

Deal is back again through 2/17. Get a $10 Target GiftCard with $100 Apple Gift Card purchase. A simple deal if you plan to buy any Apple products/services in the future (and shop at Target). While supplies last. May be able to get more in-store. … [Read the rest]

TurboTax Online Walkthrough: How To Enter US Treasury Interest from Money Market and Bond Funds/ETFs For State Tax Exemption

If you earned interest from a money market fund or bond mutual fund/ETF last year, a significant portion of this interest may have come from US Treasury bills and bonds, which are generally exempt from state and local income taxes. (California, … [Read the rest]

IHG One Rewards Premier Card Review: 165,000 Bonus Points Limited-Time Offer

New limited-time offer. The IHG One Rewards Premier Credit Card is the IHG hotel co-branded card that includes special IHG perks like a free night award every year you keep the card, Elite status, and every 4th award night free. Here are the … [Read the rest]

IHG One Rewards Traveler Card Review: 100,000 Bonus Points Offer, No Annual Fee

New limited-time offer. The IHG One Rewards Traveler Card is the IHG hotel card that includes special IHG perks but with no annual fee. Here are the highlights: 100,000 bonus IHG points after spending $2,000 on purchases within the first 3 … [Read the rest]

Best Interest Rates on Cash – February 2024

Here's my monthly roundup of the best interest rates on cash as of February 2024, roughly sorted from shortest to longest maturities. There are often lesser-known opportunities available to individual investors, where you could earn a lot more money … [Read the rest]

Southwest Airlines Credit Cards: Limited-Time Offer for Companion Pass Thru 2/28/25 + 30,000 Points

Updated with new limited-time offers that include a special Companion Pass good through 2/28/25. Southwest Airlines Rapid points are very flexible, as they let you use points to book basically any available seat that could be bought with cash. A … [Read the rest]

Laurel Road High Yield Savings Deposit Bonus: 5.00% APY + Up to $200 (Referral Only)

Laurel Road is a digital brand of KeyBank that reminds me of SoFi in that they are building a relationship that starts with student loan refinances and then expands to personal loans, mortgages, bank accounts, and credit cards. Last year, I opened … [Read the rest]