Best Financial Calculator for CFA Exam: TI BA II Plus Professional vs. HP 12c

| February 5, 2014 | 0 Comments

TI BA II Plus Professional vs. HP 12c

The CFA Institute does not leave potential test takers many options when it comes time to choosing which financial calculator to use while taking the CFA exams. In fact there are only two models allowed(along with their variants) either the Texas Instruments BA II Plus or the Hewlett-Packard 12C.

One important tip that many recommend is to BRING TWO IDENTICAL CALCULATORS out of precaution. Batteries can die and buttons can jam and you will be dead in the water if you have to finish without a calculator. The examiner will not let you use a loaner calculator. Financial calculators are very cheap, there is no sense in taking an unnecessary risk.

The rivalry between HP and TI dates back decades and there are many who are sharply divided on the issue similar to the rivalry of Mac vs. PC, but the main difference comes down to something called Reverse Polish Notation or RPN, which I go into great detail in here if you are interested. But basically it comes down to what order you prefer to press the buttons on the calculator to reach the answer.

TI BA II Plus Professional

Overtime RPN has fallen out of favor and Texas Instruments has come to be the dominant player in the calculator industry and many study guides now only include examples on how to use the TI BA II, and you will find most of your classmates use the TI BA II Plus or TI BA II Professional and it is most likely the calculator you are already most familiar with.


      • Familiarity. Widely used and easy to find established study materials.
      • Capability to perform a larger number of functions such as Discounted Payback
      • Affordable


    • No Reverse Polish Notation


HP 12c

Many old school bankers prefer RPN since that was the standard while they were going through school and many were given the HP 12C which uses RPN as standard issue on their first day.


  • Uses Reverse Polish notation. This is a no brainer if you are a diehard RPN convert.
  • Street Cred. If you show up with one of these everyone assumes you are a financial savant.


  • RPN again. If you have never used the HP 12c you should plan on spending a few hours getting to master the calculator. But many swear you should put in the effort due to the time saving effect of having to use fewer key strokes to get to the answer with an RPN calculator and every second counts on the exam.
  • Price. Tends to be more expensive than the TI competitor but you may be able to pick up a used one HERE for far less. Be sure to buy one from a seller with near perfect feedback.

Who wins?

It all comes down to what you feel most comfortable with. If you have never used an RPN calculator before then right before a major exam is not the best time to begin learning a whole new process and you should stick with the TI BA II Plus. However if you are already a pro with HP calculators then by all means stick with the HP 12C enjoy it, you earned the right to bask in the limelight.

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