Q: Can you tell me the difference between a CFP and a CHFC?

I currently have my money managed by Morgan Stanley and I want an independent opinion about my investments. The yellow pages have several people listed but I do not know what these acronyms stand for and who should I choose?

A: A CFP is a Certified Financial Planner. This is someone who has taken basic financial planning courses, passed a rigorous examination and has managed money under the tutilage of someone who is already a CFP.

A ChFC is a Chartered Financial Consultant. This is generally a life insurance agent who comes to financial planning from the life insurance specialty. It’s sister designation is the Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU) and is awarded by the American College in Bryn Mawr, PA. Getting this designation requires extensive educational training, and people who carry this designation have an excellent background in insurance.

If you’re looking for help within the Morgan Stanley group, try to work with a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), which is considered one of the most prestigious of all financial services credentials. This requires several years of work experience, plus passing a study course and exams in securities analysis, portfolio management, financial accounting, economics and ethics.

What you seem to want is a fee-only financial planner to take a look at your investments and tell you what’s right and wrong with them, I think. Fee-only means you’ll be charged a flat fee, usually an hourly fee, rather than commission-based selling.

Here are some places to try, from my book 50 Simple Things You Can Do To Improve Your Personal Finances:

Financial Planning Association www.FPANET.org. They have a free publication on Financial Planners and what they can do for you.

National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, a trade group of fee-only financial advisors. 888-FEE ONLY. You might also try their website.

American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. The CPAs have a special personal finance designation. www.cpapsf.org.

Hope this helps. I’ve got more information in my books, or you can try Charles Jaffe’s book: The Right Way To Hire Financial Help. It’s excellent, full of numbers, and available through my website. (Click on the black BOOKS box at the top of the home page). Whatever you do, don’t call someone listed in the yellow pages until you’ve exhausted all other options.