You may have read from the official CFA calculator policy that only two financial calculators are approved to be used in the CFA exam.
I am going to summarize the pros and cons of each. Feel free to pick one based on your own need and preference.
CFA Calculator #1: Texas Instruments BA II Plus
For the purpose of the CFA exam, both “Texas Instruments BA II Plus” and “Texas Instruments BA II Plus Professional” versions are allowed.
You can see this as a relatively inexpensive financial calculator that performs all basic financial calculations e.g. IRR and NPV. This is good enough for any financial courses and CFA exam, but if you are looking for some advanced calculations, you might want to check out HP 12C below.
- User-friendly: users have been generally pleased with the display and the design of the calculator
- Relatively easy to learn the basic functions
- The Kaplan class examples use this particular model which makes it easy to follow along.
- Often requires more keystrokes to accomplish the same tasks, e.g. in NPV calculations
- Keyboard is not as sensitive when compared to HP 12C
- Feels a bit flimsy
- Because it is lightweight and does not come with those “rubber feet”, the calculator tends to wobble when you try to push the button with one hand. If you don’t mind holding the calculator with your other hand it is not an issue.
The Professional Version
When compared to the basic 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, it is superior to the basic function as long as you don’t mind to pay more.
CFA Calculator #2: Hewlett Packard 12C
This is the classic financial calculator that has been around for 30 years, with lots of fans in the finance and banking community. The following models are allowed in the CFA exam:
- HP 12C Platinum
- 12C Platinum 25th anniversary edition
- 12C 30th anniversary edition
- HP 12C Prestige
- Superior financial functioning capabilities
- Fewer keystrokes to accomplish the same task
- Sturdy case with “industrial strength” keypads
- Pocket size measuring at 5 x 3 inches
- It still uses Reverse Polish Notation (RPN) — expect to learn another “language” in order to use this calculator
- More expensive than the Texas Instrument calculators
The Platinum Edition
- faster, enhanced version, e.g. 6 times faster speeds for calculating TVM, loan payments, interest rates, standard deviation.
1. Don’t buy second-hand
It make sense to save a few dollars, but when it comes to calculators (and electronic device), it often gives you a lot of trouble getting second-hand products. The calculator may not function properly and you don’t have the warranty to get it fixed. Even if it works fine, it is often low in battery and it is such a hassle to change the battery.
The TI BA II plus costs $28, pretty much a drop in the bucket when compared to your entire CFA investment. I would definitely recommend getting a new one.
2. Don’t forget to bring it on the exam day
You’ll likely need to get your financial calculator for your study anyway, but do note that these (or any) calculators are not available for purchase at the CFA exam site. In other words, you must get one before the exam date AND remember to bring it along.
3. Keep things simple
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, I would highly recommend that you have this done before the exam. Keep your desk clean and tidy and keep the proctor happy.