CPA/PFS Exam


Exam Overview

The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) established the Personal Financial Specialist (PFS™) credential for CPAs who specialize in various areas of financial planning. In order to receive the credential, CPAs must pass the PFS Exam — a comprehensive financial planning exam that covers all of the planning process and professional responsibilities and disciplines that make up personal financial planning, including tax, estate, retirement, investments, and insurance planning as well as a few niche areas like employee benefits, education, and elder planning. CPAs who have passed the CFP or ChFC exams do not need to take the PFS exam and are deemed to have met the exam requirement.

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Steps to the Exam

Steps to PFS Exam

Exam Format

  • Exam Type — The PFS Exam is a non-disclosed exam. This means the questions and answers are not published nor are candidates permitted to remove any exam materials from the testing site.
  • Grading — Each exam is carefully graded by our team of psychometricians to ensure that the questions are statistically valid.
  • Timing — The PFS Exam is a computer-based exam that lasts five hours, including a 30-minute break (if needed).
  • Types of Questions — There are a total of 160 questions per exam module:
    • About half are discrete stand-alone multiple-choice questions.
    • Half are case studies with accompanying multiple-choice questions.
    • A multiple-choice question consists of a stem that includes factual or scenario data and provides four or five options.
    • The case studies will vary in length and include short scenarios followed by 2–5 multiple-choice questions and two larger comprehensive cases with 12–18 related multiple-choice questions. The fact pattern of each case study will contain sufficient information to enable the candidate to answer the question. This part of the exam is designed to test your analytical reasoning skills and ability to apply financial planning theory and methodology in a comprehensive manner.
  • Reference material — You will have access to a reference sheet of the appropriate tax rates and limits during the exam.
  • Calculators — A financial calculator is required for the exam and must be one of the following approved models:  Hewlett Packard 12C 10B, 10B II+, 17B II+; Texas Instruments TI BAII Plus, TIBAII Plus Professional; Victor V12, Victor 10.
  • Mock Exam Session Video — View a short video tutorial. Your PFS Exam experience will be similar. If you have questions, please email the PFP Division.
    • Note — The questions and exhibits used in this mock exam session are merely for demonstrative purposes only and do not reflect actual exam content.

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    Upcoming Exam Dates

    Take the PFS Exam for Free: If you are a first-time registrant for Summer 2016, you can take the PFS exam for free. Register for the PFS Exam Review Course or the complete PFP Boot camp (on-line, archived, or email us for in-person details) then add the exam to your cart.

    Exam Window  Dates Registration Deadlines  Early Bird Discount* Deadline 
    Summer 2016 July 1-August 15  June 30  June 1
    Fall/Winter 2016-17 Dec. 12-Jan. 27   December 8   November 15

    *Sign-up by the early bird registration deadline and receive a 25% discount!

    Fees


    Registrant Type Price (per module)
    First-time exam registrants (never completed the PFS exam in the past)
    $300 - PFP Section members
    $400 - AICPA members
    $500 - non-members
    Re-take exam registrants (completed a  PFS exam but did not pass)    $100

    Discount Pricing

    • PFP Section Members — $100 off self-study exam review course, PFP boot camps offered for CPE, and exam fees. $80 off PFP boot camp recordings.
    • PFS Exam Sponsorship Reimbursement Program — This program reimburses PFP Section members $200, $400 or $600 of costs depending on the type of exam review program used. Learn more.
    • Volume Pricing — A discount of $100 per exam is available when registering two or more candidates from the same firm for any PFS Exam window. For further details and to submit request to obtain this discount, please email the PFP Division.
    • Bundle — 10% Discount: Simultaneously register for both the PFS Exam and the self-study CPA/PFS Exam Review Course by adding both items to their shopping cart to receive a 10% discount on both products.

    Registration Process

    If interested in taking the exam, register online and pay the required exam fee. Online registration is available to both AICPA and non-AICPA members. Upon registering, you will receive a confirmation of your purchase via email. This confirmation does not serve as the Notification to Schedule.

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    Body of Knowledge Outline |   Preparation Approach Exam Prep Tools 



    Exam Body of Knowledge Outline

    The outline (formerly described as the Content Specification Outline) has been developed through various sources to provide a framework of the knowledge that personal financial service practitioners should possess. It is divided into eleven major topical areas that form the comprehensive body of knowledge that will be tested on the PFS Exam.

    It is important to note that you will be better-prepared for the exam if you use the education and exam review resources referenced within the outline and not just rely upon individual experience. Review the PFS Body of Knowledge Outline.




    Exam Preparation Approach

    The key to passing the exam is a combination of education outlined in the body of knowledge and application of this knowledge in relevant work experience in personal financial planning. Accordingly, the amount and type of exam preparation will depend on your prior knowledge and work experience in these areas. To assist in exam preparation, the AICPA offers the following:

    For experienced CPAs: Our recommendation is to complete the self-study review course with an abridged review of all areas, refreshing your knowledge and identifying areas that need more in-depth education.

    For less experienced CPAs: Our recommendation is to start with the in-depth education courses in those areas in which you clearly have not had prior experience. Follow this up with the self-study PFS Exam review course.

    Regardless of the path you take, the PFP Boot Camp can serve as your final review in a classroom setting (in-person or online) of all topics on the body of knowledge for the exam.


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    Exam Preparation Tools


    In-Person PFP Boot Camp

    This class covers all areas in the PFP body of knowledge (income tax, estate, retirement, investment and insurance planning) in a systematic and highly engaging approach. It will help attendees focus their exam preparation on those areas where the most effort is needed. Even if you are not taking the PFS Exam, it is a great overview on how all areas of personal financial planning work together to meet your client’s needs. These classes are held each June and December before the exam enabling you to sit for the PFS Exam soon after taking the class.

    Register for Upcoming In-Person Boot Camps:

    Dates Time Location
    June 22-24, 2016 7:30 am - 5:30 pm MDT Denver, CO Register now >>
     November 2016   TBD  TBD   Registration coming soon!  

    Pre-requisite — This is a fast-paced class, and attendees are highly encouraged to complete the self-study PFS Exam Review Course as advance preparation for this class (however, it is required to qualify for the sponsorship reimbursement).

    Costs & discounts available:
    • $776 for PFP Section members ($100 savings)
    • $876 for AICPA, Tax Section and state society members
    • $1,095 for non-members
    • Apply for the PFS Exam Sponsorship and qualify for an additional $600 reimbursement after sitting for the PFS Exam (requires PFP Section membership).
    AICPA and PFP Members should call the CO state society membership dept. directly at (303) 773-2877 to receive their discounts.

    Online Virtual PFP Boot Camp

    Join a virtual group study with a rebroadcast of the PFP Boot Camp with 20 hours of CPE. If you purchase these classes, but cannot attend on the live date (for CPE credit), the archived recording will be available to you on-demand (with no CPE credit). 

    Upcoming PFP Virtual Boot Camp Dates

    Dates Times
    June 22* | June 27*  10:30am ET, 1:30pm ET   Register now >>
     Nov 7 | Nov 14 | Nov 21 | Nov 28   10:30am ET, 1:30pm ET  Register now >>  
     June 2017 TBD  Registration forthcoming 
    * Once the Boot camp has started, the bundled PFP Boot Camp is no longer available, but click on upcoming individual sessions for individual registrations.


    Costs & discounts available:
    • Purchase and attend the entire PFP Boot Camp covering the entire PFS Exam outline (20 hours of CPE) at $695 for PFP Section members ($100 savings)
    • Purchase individual sessions (with 3 hours of CPE each) at $119 for PFP Section members ($20 savings) and $139 for AICPA members.
    • Purchase the entire series to listen to on-demand with no CPE credit and prepare for the exam at your leisure
    • Apply for the PFS Exam Sponsorship and qualify for an additional $400 reimbursement after sitting for the PFS Exam (requires PFP Section membership).

     

    On-Demand Boot Camp Recording

    For those that do not need the CPE and want to experience the PFP Boot Camp on your own time, we also offer the PFP Boot Camp as an on-demand recording of all seven sessions.

    Costs & discounts available:

    • $599 for PFP Section members ($80 savings)
    • $679 for AICPA members  

    Purchase Boot Camp Recording >>



    Self-Study PFS Exam Review Course

    NOTE: The current review material will be adequate preparation for the 2015 exam since we will provide an updated reference sheet with applicable tax tables, rates, and limits as a part of the exam.
    In partnership with Keir Education Resources, this course will give a PFS Exam candidate an overview of the relevant topics in a variety of formats to help prepare for the PFS Exam. The course contains:  

    Topical review material covering the areas in the foundational education:

    • Six review digests and searchable PDFs with 32.5 hours of CPE
    • Online practice questions and flash cards
    • Covers: financial planning process and income tax, estate and retirement planning, investments, and insurance

    Practice exam questions to prepare for the exam:

    • Practice question book with random questions to provide more exam-like study conditions
    • Case studies with hundreds of practice questions
    • Sample questions from old PFS Exam

    Additional reference material:

    • The AICPA’s Statement on Standards in Personal Financial Planning Services (SSPFPS No. 1) for review (it is tested on the exam)
    • PFS Exam Content Specification Outline

    Costs & discounts available:

    • $499 for PFP Section members ($100 savings)
    • $549 for Tax Section members ($50 savings)
    • $599 for AICPA members
    • Purchase with the PFS Exam and save an additional 10%
    • Apply for the PFS Exam Sponsorship before the exam and qualify for an additional $200 reimbursement after sitting for the PFS Exam (requires PFP Section membership).

    Order the Review Course >>



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    Scheduling Process

    This process begins when you receive your Notice To Schedule (NTS) email six weeks prior to the beginning of the exam window for which you have registered. It contains instructions on how to schedule, a link to the test center, and your unique voucher code to enable you to schedule your specific date and location.
    After receiving your (NTS) email, you may schedule your exam. Please schedule early to improve your likelihood of obtaining your desired time and location. The NTS email will provide instructions on how to do so. Below is a snapshot of the process:
    1. Visit the PFS Exam Scheduling Website.
    2. Follow the steps to establish a test-taker account. If you have already established a test -taker account for a previous exam, use the username and password that was previously provided. For assistance with your username or password, please contact the AICPA Member Service at 888.777.7077 or email us.
    3. Upon receipt of email confirmation of your username and password, login to schedule.
    4. Click on the Schedule Exam link in the task bar at the top of the page.
    5. Select the PFS Exam and click on Register Now button.
    6. Select the desired HOST location (testing center).
    7. Select the desired date and time the desired location is available and proceed to checkout.
    8. Enter the voucher code that was provided in the NTS letter at checkout and click submit and done.
    9. A scheduling confirmation email will be sent to the email address provided. It is important to print and/or keep a copy of this confirmation page on file as it includes the Test Authorization Code required for exam admittance.

    For more detailed information of the process, download the process >>

    Testing Locations

    At this time, the PFS Exam is only offered in the United States and Canada. There are almost 300 locations nationwide. Find the closest one >>

    Test Regulations

    The Kryterion host location has procedures that must be followed. Please make sure to read their procedures document in full so you can be fully prepared. Read below are a list of approved calculators you can bring with you:
    • Hewlett Packard 12C 10B, 10B II+, 17B II+;
    • Texas Instruments TI BAII Plus, TIBAII Plus Professional;
    • Victor V12, Victor 10

    Additional Information

    To find a more detailed overview of the scheduling process including rescheduling, cancellations and refunds, download the PFS Credential Exam Registration and Scheduling Terms and Conditions document.


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