Certifications can be found in many different professions. Getting one generally means going to school and earning a degree or acting as an apprentice for several years, and then passing an exam or practical test.
These certificates can be difficult to get, and for good reason. You want to know that your pharmacist, for instance, knows enough about the medications he’s prescribing to notice if you have two that will adversely affect each other. You want your accountant to know the laws relating to taxes and finance so you don’t get into trouble with the government. Certifications allow for a third party or governing body to test those professionals before they’re allowed to practice in their profession, and make sure they can do the job.
Paying for Your Certificate Program
Because certs are so important, they can also be highly expensive. A single certification exam can run into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars – and that’s not counting the study program or college education that prepares you to take the exam in the first place. Educational loans can cover college, but most student loans don’t cover the certification exams. For programs that don’t require a full degree but do require some training, sometimes student loans won’t pay for that training either – and the exams themselves are always an added expense.
It’s best to be able to pay out of pocket for your certifications, but what if that’s not possible? You could look for scholarships specifically for certificate programs, but they’re not as plentiful as those for full degrees. Some employers have programs in which they pay for your certifications, and your company’s human resources specialist can tell you if that’s an option for you. You could also finance your certificate program – some banks, such as Wells Fargo, offer specific loans for licensing tests such as the bar exam, and others offer personal loans based upon your creditworthiness that can help.
Choosing a loan to finance a certification exam is a decision that can have lasting consequences. If you fail the exam, for instance, you’ll still have to pay back the loan – even without the higher-paying job you were trying to get certified for. Taking on more debt is always something that should be thoroughly considered before doing. For some, however, a loan is the only option, and some programs are more suited to being able to take on that loan. Let’s take a look at several different certification programs.
Looking at Financial Certification Programs
Paying for a Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
In order to become a Certified Public Accountant, or CPA, you’ll need to pass the Uniform CPA Examination. The exam itself is the same regardless of where you take it, but each state has its own requirements for prerequisite experience and/or education. Once you’ve passed the exam, you apply to your state’s Board of Accountancy for your license.
Each state has its own costs for the exam; in California, for instance, the application fee alone is $100. The test itself is four sections; California’s Board of Accountancy charges $208.40 per section as of 2017, for a total of nearly $1,000 from start to finish for all fees.
A small loan may be a good option for the CPA exam since a CPA can charge much higher rates than a standard accountant, and if you pass and receive your license, chances are good that you’ll be able to pay off the loan quickly. Even if you don’t pass, the payments on a $1,000 loan would be small and would not be difficult to handle. That being said, you may be better off borrowing the money from a family member, or simply saving up for it.
Paying for a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Program
The Chartered Financial Analyst, or CFA, license exam is actually three exams – Levels I, II, and III – and the series is offered twice each year by the CFA Institute, the body that governs this licensure. In order to take the test, a $450 enrollment fee is required. Registering for the exams costs $650 for early registration, up to $1,380 for late registration (90 days prior to the exam). The fee covers the complete curriculum to study from, topic-based practice tests, and mock exams.
With a total cost of up to almost $2,000 if you’re a late registrant, the cost is almost double that of a CPA exam. A personal loan, or partial loan combined with your own savings, may be the best option here.
Paying for a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) Program
The Certified Financial Planner, or CFP, exam is two 3-hour testing sessions offered three times per year, during testing windows in March, July, and November. According to the CFP Board, the early bird registration is $595, and six weeks before the exam is held the fee climbs to $795, still making it the least expensive exam we’ve looked at so far. Taking out a loan for the CFP test is probably not a good move unless you have to.
Looking at Other Common Professional Certifications
Paying for a Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) License
A Fundamentals of Engineering, or FE, license is the first step to becoming a professional engineer. The test is administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying, or NCEES, to engineering students and recent graduates. The test is offered in seven engineering disciplines: Chemical, civil, electrical and computer, environmental, industrial systems, mechanical, and a test covering other types of engineering. The test fee is only $225, and so most people should be able to pay the fee without taking out any kind of loan.
Paying for a Professional Engineering (PE) License
The PE license is the final step before practicing as a professional engineer, and the exams are taken after the FE licensure. Just as with the FE exam, the Professional Engineer exam has different costs based upon the state in which you’re trying to be licensed. The exams are separated by discipline, and each discipline has a separate fee that runs approximately $250-300 based upon the state. After successful completion of the exams, there is another charge for licensure, which also varies by state. The total cost can be about $700 from exam to license; the amount does not normally justify taking out a loan, although if you do find that to be your only option, it is small enough that you should be able to pay it off quickly.
Paying for a Pharmacy Technician Certification
The Pharmacy Technician certification requires the least amount of prior education; a high school diploma is all that is required in order to take the exam. Candidates can apply to take the exam online, and the cost is $129, administered by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board. All preparation and study can be done online as well; there are several free sites offering study materials and practice tests. The low cost and free materials available make the PTC exam a poor choice for financing; most people will be able to take the exam without financial assistance.
Professional certification exams are a necessary part of many career fields – especially higher paying ones that require licensure. If you’re chasing a certification or license, the ideal way to pay for your exams and licenses is to handle it out of pocket, with a scholarship, or perhaps with help from family or friends. However, not everyone has those options available, and if that’s the case for you, make sure to do your research, check with several lenders, and find out if you’re getting the best deal.