Whilst the return part of the equation is subjective and trickier to estimate (as the potential gains depends on various factors unique to you), the monetary cost is more predictable with a narrower range that is similar for most candidates.
Here’s a proper guide on all the relevant CFA exam cost you really need to budget for all 3 levels of the CFA exams.
First, we are going to dive straight into the the total costs of CFA exams (and its assumptions). Then, we will delve into the details of the 5 main types of costs, before finally discussing money-saving tips to further slash these fees.
Let’s do this 🙂
The total CFA exam cost ranges from $2,600 – $8,000 for all 3 levels
The total cost of all 3 CFA exams ranges from $2,600-$8,000, assuming 3 consecutive passes with no travel & accommodation costs.
This is the CFA exam cost breakdown by level:
- CFA Level 1: $1,200 – $3,000
- CFA Level 2: $700 – $2,500
- CFA Level 3: $700 – $2,500
The two significant factors that affect the cost range are:
- the date of exam registration, and
- the choice of study material.
Let’s go through each of the 5 key cost components so you can further improve your cost estimates.
1) CFA enrollment and registration fees for Level 1, 2 & 3 – [REQUIRED]
CFA exams fees consists of:
- a one-off enrollment fee of US$450 (paid once the first time you register for Level 1), plus
- a registration fee (for each Level or retake) of $700-$1,000, depending on when you register for your exams.
Here are the 2021 exam fees payable to CFA Institute and relevant registration deadlines (until 11:59pm Eastern Time respectively):
|Fee Type (for all Levels)||CFA Exam Cost (US$)|
|One-time Enrollment Fee|
(paid once only during first Level 1 registration)
(for each Level or retake):
2) CFA calculator’s price (TI BA II Plus or HP12C) – [REQUIRED]
This is something most candidates forget to budget in for, although it’s a relatively small amount of $50 on average.
For those who prefer to bring a spare calculator as a backup during exams, remember to double the cost below accordingly.
Here are the prices of each of the 4 CFA approved calculators:
- Texas Instruments BA II Plus: $31
- Texas Instruments BA II Plus Professional: $46
- HP12C: $50
- HP12C Platinum: $50
Not sure which calculator to choose? Check out our BA II Plus vs. HP12C guide →
3) CFA study material’s cost – [OPTIONAL]
There are 2 aspects to this, which depends on whether you’re using CFA curriculum or third party study materials as your primary source of learning:
- Physical CFA curriculum books (extra $299+ per Level): The CFA registration fees comes with the e-book version of the curriculum by default. If you prefer to have hard copies of the CFA curriculum books, you’ll need to fork out an extra $299 (plus additional shipping fee) per Level. If you live outside USA, it is likely that you’ll be charged import duties and/or customs fee upon delivery as well.
- Third party study materials ($199-$1,999 per Level): While it is perfectly feasible to study just from CFA curriculum itself, some candidates may choose to spend a little extra to use more concise third party study materials to save time. This cost depends on the type of package and prep provider you choose for each CFA exam level. Given the wide range, I’ll provide more guidance on typical, necessary spending in a later section.
Here is a quick summary of the main types of study material packages offered by each CFA prep provider, and its associated cost per Level:
CFA study materials cost comparison (by prep provider and study packages)
|Study Material Cost,|
per CFA Level (US$)
|Study Notes Only||Self Study*||Premium (Online)|
+ Review Course*
+ Review Course*
|Salt Solution||–||Try Free L1 Beta||–||–|
|Cost Range ($)||$329|
|$199 – $699|
|$1,499 – $1,999|
* Self study packages typically include study notes, question bank and practice exams. Premium courses (online or classroom-based) include learning materials in self-study package, plus online/classroom lectures and 2-3 days review workshops.
CFA third party study materials: How much realistically do I need to spend?
In my view, it would be difficult (though not impossible) to go for a “Bare Minimum” cost scenario, i.e. aiming for Early registration for all Levels, and spend nothing on third party study materials, relying exclusively on CFA curriculum e-Books.
Just to be more helpful, based on many candidates experiences (including mine), a “Realistic Average” cost scenario would be budgeting $750 per Level for third party study materials, assuming you’re using that as your main source of learning materials. This sufficiently covers the cost for either:
- A Study Notes only package, plus 6-7 mock exams; or
- A Self Study package (includes 4 mock exams), plus 1-2 extra mock exams from other sources.
For those with a little extra budget, or just simply prefer to have lectures and review courses included, a “Realistic Premium” cost scenario would be budgeting for $1,500 per Level for third party study materials, assuming you’re using that as your main source of learning materials. This covers the cost for a typical online premium course, with all the bells and whistles included (e.g. lectures and last minute review workshops).
4) Other CFA exam cost: Travel, retake & rescheduling costs – [IF APPLICABLE]
Despite offering 400+ test locations around the world for the new computer-based testing (CBT) starting in 2021, some CFA candidates may still have to travel some distance to a test center, and/or make accommodation arrangements to stay overnight nearby. These additional costs (if applicable to you) needs to be taken into account for all 3 levels as well.
Another significant cost consideration would be exam retake fees (and the associated study material costs if using a prep provider). As you can see from the Registration Fee and Study Material sections, each exam retake costs $1,000 in standard registration fees (required) and perhaps another $750-$1,500 if you need to purchase the latest study materials.
Finally, with CBT exams, there is also a standard $250 rescheduling fee applicable if you need to change your original exam appointment, although this has been reduced to $25 in 2021 due to the pandemic.
Unfortunately, the monetary cost of failure is high with CFA exams, but we are here to help with a few moneysaving tips further below.
5) CFA Institute’s annual dues for regular membership – [IF APPLICABLE]
Finally, if you have passed all 3 levels of the CFA exams, and submitted qualifying work experiences and references, all you have to do is apply for regular member to obtain your CFA Charter. This annual membership costs US$275 per year going forward.
An important note: you have the right to use the Chartered Financial Analyst or CFA marks only if you are a Regular Member of the CFA Institute. In other words, being a Regular Member of the CFA Institute is a prerequisite to earning the CFA Charter.
How to reduce CFA exam cost: Tips, discounts & free resources
- Aim for Early registration, if you can: This saves $300 off the Standard registration fee of $1,000 for every Level. We also recommend candidates to register early in order to have sufficient study time to maximize your pass chances.
- Get company sponsorship for your CFA exams: This may not be as tricky as it seems, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to apply for sponsorship from your firm. It’s really worth a shot considering you may get your whole CFA costs for free, you won’t know till you ask (properly).
- Apply for scholarships: There are various scholarships available from CFA Institute, do check them out and apply!
- Use our Free Resources & Guides: 300Hours was created by CFA charterholders to help you guys through the exams. We have tons of useful, free resources to help you pass your exams, use them!
- Finally, check our Offers Page for study material sale & discounts: Third party study materials can be a valuable time-saver and excellent, complementary study resource to the CFA Curriculum. As it is a big component of the total costs of CFA exam, it is worth checking out the Offers page before purchasing.
Hope this helps with budgeting. How much did you spend so far on your CFA preparations? Let me know in the comments below!