There are only two CFA approved calculators you are allowed to use during your exam: the Texas Instruments BA II Plus and Hewlett Packard 12C. While these two calculators serve the same purpose, they are designed differently, and each has its own set of pros and cons. When it comes to the HP 12C vs. BA II plus, which financial calculator is best for the CFA?
There are two specific models of this calculator that are approved for the CFA — the Texas Instruments BA II Plus and Texas Instruments BA II Plus Professional. What is the difference between the BA II plus and the professional version?
Let’s start with the basic version. For most candidates, this is a relatively inexpensive financial calculator that can perform popular financial calculations such as IRR and NPV. This is good enough for any financial course and a great option as a recommended calculator for CFA level 1.
You can see this as a relatively inexpensive financial calculator that performs all basic financial calculations (e.g., IRR and NPV). This calculator is good enough for any financial course and the CFA exam.
When deciding between the Texas Instruments BA II Plus vs. Professional model, the professional version has a more solid case. The keypad is less flimsy, but there are still some complaints of the keys being too hard to press or too slow to register.
Overall, the design is superior to the basic version as long as you don’t mind paying more.
The Hewlett Packard 12C (otherwise known as the HP 12C) is the classic financial calculator that has been around for 30 years. This calculator has lots of fans in the finance and banking community. The following Hewlett Packard calculator models are allowed in the CFA exam:
In the past, my preferred calculator was the HP 12C because everyone in the office carried it. Unfortunately, it is not the most intuitive of devices, and more time is spent studying the instruction manual and practicing RPN rather than actually studying the content itself.
While the TI BA II plus may require more keystrokes to perform calculations like the NPV, the extra 0.5 seconds longer it takes to complete the computation will not make any difference in your exam.
No, there isn’t one specifically for Level 1. You can use the same one for all three levels of this exam.
No, and the CFA Institute is very strict about this. Here is their exact wording on unapproved calculators:
“Your calculator will be inspected prior to the start of the exam. Your calculator must remain on your desk in full view and proctors will continue to inspect calculators throughout the administration of the exam. Failure by the proctors to detect an unauthorized calculator prior to the start of the exam, or your possession and/or use of an unauthorized calculator at any time during the exam, does not imply you are in compliance with the calculator policy.”
It may make sense to buy a used calculator to save a few dollars, but in this instance, the calculator may not function properly, and you won’t have a warranty to get it fixed. Even if it works fine, you can’t be certain that the battery will be operational, and this could end up costing you even more.
The TI BA II plus costs around $30, which is pretty much a drop in the bucket when compared to your entire CFA investment. I would definitely recommend getting a new one.
Calculators are not available for purchase at the CFA testing centers. You must get one before the exam date AND remember to bring it along.
Please note that instruction manuals are not permitted at the exam site. While you are allowed to bring spare batteries and even a small screwdriver for the replacement, we highly recommend that you get this done before the exam day. Keep your desk clean and tidy, and keep the proctor happy.
For the really paranoid, we suggest that you bring two calculators instead (that’s right — quite a few candidates do that 😉 )