You are right — getting the CFA qualification can be expensive!
Before you get into the details on how to apply and what to study for the exam, let’s take a good objective look at the cost and then you can decide to go ahead (or not) based on your own budget.
1. CFA Exam Fees (Mandatory)
There are 3 layers of fees you’ll need to pay for the exam:
- One-time enrollment fee for first-timers (i.e. new CPA Level I candidate)
- Registration fee for each level or retake
- Curriculum fee for each level or retake
a) Program Enrollment Fee
There are substantial early bird discount, so depending on when you apply you will need to pay US$440 – $530 for the enrollment fee. To get the best deal you will need to apply 9 months before the exam date.
B) CFA Exam Fees for Registration
Fees are going up fast, so act quickly if possible! For December 2013 exam, the cost is US$680 – $1,055.
C) Curriculum Fee
If you choose to get the eBooks, there is actually a discount of US$40 from the registration fee. If you pick the print version, you’ll need to pay US$20 on top (i.e. the difference between eBook and print is US$60).
For both eBooks and print books, the extra cost is US$50.
For example, if you are a first-time candidate and apply before the 2nd deadline for the Dec 2013 exam, you will need to pay:
eBook: $440 + $780 – $40 = $1,180
- Physical book: $440 + $780 + $20 = $1,240
- eBook + physical book: $440 + $780 + $50 = $1,270
Total Exam Related Costs
All in all, you can expect the overall CFA exam fees for:
- First-time CFA Level 1 candidate: US$1,080 – $1,635
- CFA Level I retake or CFA Level II / III candidates: around US$650 – $1,100 for each level
Reference: CFA Institute fee schedule
2. CFA Review Courses (Optional)
The need to take the CFA review courses has somewhat diminished since CFA Institute began to publish its own review guide in 2008 (that’s what you are going to get from the “curriculum” cost).
However, given the relatively low CFA exam pass rate, a considerable number of candidates continue to get help from various CFA review courses to increase their chance of passing success.
These guides range from self-study books to fully-integrated guided review courses with cost varies from $60-ish to $2,000 for each level.
3. Travel & Accommodation Cost
If you are lucky enough to live where CFA exam sites are located, then you don’t need to worry about this expense. However, since the CFA exam is often offered only in one major city in the state / country, there is a good chance that you’ll need to include the travel and accommodation cost in your budget.
Remember to multiply this cost by 3 for the three exam levels.
4. Miscellaneous Expenses
This includes possible exam retake fees, a CFA approved calculator and possibly the fee to renew your passport which will be used as your identification on site.
- CFA exam fees (3 levels): $2,380-3,830
- Review courses: $50 – $2,000 for each level
- Travel and Accommodation
- Possible Retakes
The absolute minimum that you need to spend $2,500 on this “CFA investment”. For the vast majority of candidates they will spend a lot more.
Wow. Does the CFA Title Worth That Much?
If you stay in the finance industry, I would say yes in the long run.
Everyone’s case is different, but in some professions such as equity analyst and asset management professionals, getting the CFA charter is a must, if not a prerequisite. In other finance related careers such as hedge fund and anything related to investment, getting a CFA early in your career does help.