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Your Gameplan For CISP Certification

Your Gameplan For CISP Certification

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

With increasing demand, emerging technologies, and constantly evolving regulations, the retirement planning industry can be fiercely competitive. It’s more vital than ever before to stay ahead of the curve.

One avenue for professionals working within retirement planning is the Certified IRA Services Professional (CISP) certification, offered by the American Banker's Association (ABA). This designation demonstrates your proficiency and dedication to the field, positioning you as a trusted expert.

In this article, we will outline the key steps involved in earning CISP certification. Whether you're an aspiring IRA specialist or a seasoned professional looking to enhance your credentials, this guide will provide you with valuable insights and a roadmap to success.

So, if you're ready to take your career to new heights, let's dive into the essential steps and strategies that will set you on the path to CISP certification.


Table of Contents

What is CISP Certification?

The Certified IRA Services Professional certification is one of many professional designations offered by the American Banker’s Association. Earning the CISP title can prove beneficial for those who work in the financial industry, particularly in the area of retirement planning and management. 

In order to earn this designation you must pass the CISP exam. Depending on your professional experience, you may have to complete additional educational requirements.

The CISP designation serves as a clear differentiating factor for employers and clients, giving you a leg-up over the competition. Earning and maintaining your CISP designation showcases your expertise, boosts credibility, and may prove invaluable in accelerating your career trajectory.

To keep your CISP certification in good standing, you must complete continuing education (CE) requirements. These ensure that professionals remain informed of major changes and developments in the retirement planning field.



Am I Eligible to Take the CISP Exam?

To be eligible to take the CISP certification exam, you must fulfill educational and experience requirements. These include either:

  • Completing at least four years of dedicated IRA specialized experience

Even if you have already completed four years of IRA specialized experience, you may still want a refresher. The CISP examination can be quite difficult and boasts a hefty examination fee of $550. Signing up for an online course or two could be just the resource you need to pass the exam on your first attempt.



Now that we’ve covered the bird’s-eye view of the CISP certification, let’s dive into some tips to help you prepare for the assessment.


6 Steps to Master the CISP Exam

  1. Understand the CISP Exam

The CISP exam is a computer-based exam and the testing fee is $550. Like all other ABA professional certification exams, the assessment is scored on a scale from 200-800. To pass, you must score at least 500.

The test comprises 150 multiple-choice questions. You will have three hours to complete the assessment, giving you slightly over one minute per question.

While this may not be obvious on the test, the ABA splits the CISP exam into seven primary domains:

  1. IRA Documentation and Maintenance Requirements – 13% of the exam – Domain 1 includes plan administration, beneficiary designation, IRA disclosure statements, and reporting requirements.
  2. IRA Contributions – 16% of the exam – The IRA contributions portion of the exam spans concepts such as excess contribution rules, tax deductibility, and contribution eligibility.
  3. Retirement Plan Portability – 20% of the exam – In this section, you’ll be assessed on your knowledge of transfers, rollovers, recharacterizations, conversions, and other transactions such as repayments and contributions.
  4. IRA Distributions – 20% of the exam – This section covers required minimum distributions (RMDs), beneficiary distribution, taxation and withholding, penalties, and penalty exceptions.
  5. Estate Planning – 11% of the exam – Domain 5 largely focuses on topics such as estate taxation and designating beneficiaries.
  6. Employer Plans – 10% of the exam – This section covers employer-sponsored IRAs, including SEP and SIMPLE IRAs. Some sample concepts you’ll be assessed on include eligibility, tax benefits, contributions, and distributions.
  7. IRA Fees and Investments – 10% of the exam – This section encompasses many of the major rules in tax-advantaged investing. This includes prohibited transactions and investments, fees and disclosure rules, and requirements for reporting account valuation.

2. Assess Your Skills and Knowledge

​​Before you begin studying for the CISP certification exam, it's essential to assess your skills and knowledge. This will help you identify strengths and weaknesses and help you better plan for your studying efforts.

You can begin by taking practice exams and reviewing study materials to identify areas where you may need to improve. The ABA provides a few practice questions that offer a feel for the types of questions you’ll find on the actual exam. 

Seeking advice from colleagues and industry experts can also be beneficial in identifying areas where you may need to improve. Consider reaching out to a mentor or colleague who has already earned the CISP certification. By being proactive and evaluating your skills and knowledge, you'll be better equipped to succeed on the exam.


3. Create a CISP Training Study Plan

Creating a CISP training study plan can help you stay on track and achieve success on the certification exam. Start by setting a realistic timeline for your study plan based on your current commitments and schedule.

Next, identify your strengths and weaknesses and focus your study efforts accordingly. You can utilize resources such as online courses, webinars, and study groups, to supplement your learning.

Finally, schedule regular review sessions and practice exams to track your progress and reinforce your knowledge. With a personalized study plan and access to quality study materials and resources, you'll be well-prepared to earn your CISP certification.


4. Study Effectively

There are 150 questions on the CISP exam, so it’s important to use studying techniques that maximize information retention.

One useful technique is active reading, which involves engaging with the material as you read by taking notes, underlining key points, and asking questions. Additionally, creating flashcards or other memory aids can help reinforce important concepts and definitions.

Another technique is to apply what you've learned to real-world scenarios, such as case studies or role-playing exercises. This will help you better apply your knowledge to practical situations.


5. Take Practice Tests

Practice tests can help you familiarize yourself with the format and types of questions you can expect on the actual exam. They can also help you identify areas where you may need to improve your knowledge or test-taking skills.

When taking practice tests, be sure to simulate exam conditions by timing yourself and avoiding distractions. After completing each practice test, review the questions you missed and focus your study efforts on those areas. 

6. Register for the Exam and Prepare for Test Day

Once you feel confident in your abilities, it’s time to register for the exam. Ensure that you meet the CISP exam eligibility requirements and select your testing date. Keep in mind that the application is usually due a few months before the exam date.

Here are the CISP exam dates for late 2023 and 2024:

Exam Window Application Due Date
February 15 - March 15, 2024 December 18, 2023
May 15 - June 15, 2024     March 15, 2024
September 15 - October 15, 2024 July 17, 2024
December 1 - 16, 2024 October 2, 2024


Study for a few hours each week leading up to the exam, and get plenty of rest the night before. Eat a full meal prior to your testing time and bring an extra layer in case the testing room is cold. If you finish the test early, take some time to check your answers. There may be a few simple mistakes that you can catch before time is up.

Finally, remember that you can always retake the exam. If you don’t get a passing score on your first attempt, don’t beat yourself up. All you can do is prepare yourself to the fullest extent and give the exam another go.


CISP Exam Frequently Asked Questions


1. What should I bring on test day?

For identity verification, all test-takers must bring at least one form of valid government ID to the test site. In addition, remember to bring a copy of your testing confirmation notice. This should have been sent to your email when you registered.


2. Can I take the CISP exam at home?

Yes, you may take the CISP exam entirely remotely. Recently, the ABA began offering candidates the ability to test via live remote proctoring.

If you wish to test from your own home or from a quiet, secure location, simply make that choice clear when you sign up for the exam. Just make sure that you have a reliable laptop, webcam, and internet connection.


3. Can I retake the exam if I fail?

Fortunately, there’s no maximum number of attempts you’re able to take the CISP exam. You only have to wait 90 days between testing windows before you’re able to retake the assessment.

You are not required to submit a new application for an exam retake, though you will have to submit a reduced testing fee of $300.


4. What are the CISP Continuing Education (CE) requirements?

In order to maintain your CISP designation, you must complete 24 CE credits every three years. You can satisfy these CE credits by signing up for an accredited education course recognized by the ABA.

If you prefer in-person learning, then IRA Academy might be right up your alley. Attending our four-day professional training course in Nashville can provide 29.5 CE credits, fulfilling your ongoing CISP requirements for three years.

If you like learning at your own pace, then check out Entrust Academy's online course offerings. In this mode, you’re able to select individual courses and design your syllabus around a schedule that works for you. Completing our full online course catalog may grant you up to 19.5 CE credits, nearly fulfilling the three-year requirement.


aspiring retirement planner studies for CISP certification


Prepare to Earn Your CISP Certification with Entrust

Securing your CISP designation is a significant milestone in your career. It shows that you’re a master of individual retirement planning and that you care about providing the ultimate service to your valued clients.

Whether you’re preparing for your first CISP exam or satisfying CE credits, you deserve the best IRA education available. Explore IRA Academy or Entrust Academy’s online course offerings, both taught by industry luminary John Paul Ruiz, QKA CISP.

With over 28 years of professional experience in the finance and retirement planning industries, John Paul is able to break down the complexities of IRA rules, tax law, and estate planning in a way you can understand.

Take advantage of our comprehensive training and educational materials to help you prepare for the exam, so you can feel confident in your ability to take your career to the next level.

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