HP 12C Calculator (for CFA Exam)

One of the only two calculators allowed in the CFA exam.

What calculators are allowed on the CFA exam?

There are two calculators allowed for writing the CFA exam, the Hewlett Packard HP 12C and the Texas Instruments TI BA II Plus.  No other calculators are permitted to be taken in the exam with you.  It’s also important to remember that there are not any calculators available (to purchase or borrow) at the test center so if you forget yours or bring the wrong one you will be doing the test entirely by hand.

Please review the CFA Institutes most up to date calculator policy before the exam.


HP 12C calculator approved for CFA Exam
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What is the HP 12C Calculator?

The HP 12C Calculator is a financial calculator produced by Hewlett Packard. It is one of the two models of financial calculators allowed on the Chartered Financial Analyst, or CFA, exam. Additionally, the HP 12C is widely known as the golden standard for calculators in use in the banking and investment industry. First released thirty years ago, the 12C is favored by bankers, stockbrokers and investment managers alike.

The calculator performs all basic mathematical functions, with the addition of being able to calculate simple financial techniques, as well. The HP 12C comes equipped with the ability to perform NPV, IRR, Uneven Cash Flows, Discounted Cash Flows and other types of calculations.


HP 12C regular vs platinum edition

The HP 12C comes in two flavors: the regular edition and the platinum edition. Functionally, they are quite similar, although the platinum edition comes with a few extra tricks up its’ sleeve. HP also released several limited-edition models of the HP 12C to commemorate milestones in the products life. There is the HP 12C 25th Anniversary Edition and the HP 12C 30th Anniversary Edition. Both models have a limited-edition serial number stamped in the back, and the respective anniversary edition labeled on the front.

Unlike regular calculators, the HP 12C uses reversal polish notation or RPN. While there is a short learning curve required in learning how to operate an RPN calculator, the benefits are phenomenal, as RPN is more efficient for long-form calculations.


What is the alternative to the HP 12C?

When considering calculators for the CFA exam, the only other option is the Texas Instrument BAII Plus, also known as the TI BA II plus. This calculator does not use RPN and uses the traditional algebraic notation common to most calculators. It is, however, able to perform much of the financial calculations that the 12C can perform.

Selecting between the two is a matter of preference. The TI BA II plus will feel more familiar to regular calculators, as they hold a similar shape and operate in the same fashion. The 12C is, instead, wider than it is tall. Additionally, the RPN calculations are more difficult to learn at first but are quite intuitive once you get the hang of it.


What is RPN?

In reverse polish notation (RPN), the operator in a calculation comes after the numbers. For example, to calculate 3 x 4 in a regular algebraic calculator, the buttons to press are 3 [X] 4 [EQUALS]. In contrast, on an RPN calculator, the buttons to press are 3 [ENTER] 4 [X]. Pressing X runs the multiplication function on the two preceding numbers. The benefit of RPN is not easily seen in smaller calculations but it becomes more apparent when handling longer calculations.


Additional resources

Thank you for reading CFI’s guide to the HP 12C calculator on the CFA exam.  To ensure you’re well prepared for the exam, check out CFI’s additional resources: