What is Series 52?

John Lister
John Lister
Man climbing a rope
Man climbing a rope

Series 52 is an examination offered by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). It qualifies those who pass to become licensed to sell municipal securities. The best known of these is the section 529 plan. There are two main areas of question on the series 52 examination. The first is the details of the various municipal securities themselves. The second is general finance-related knowledge such as federal security laws, government policies and general economics. The exam takes the form of a three-hour test with 100 questions. Candidates must score at least 70% on the exam to pass.

Municipal securities are those issued by a local government, such as a state, city, or county. They are debt securities, meaning investors effectively lend money to the administration for a specific period at an agreed rate of interest. Some are general obligation bonds, meaning they go into the overall municipal budget, while others are for specific projects. These are known as revenue bonds, and the money to repay the investor comes from the resulting revenue, such as tolls from a road or charges for a water treatment facility.

The series 52 examination also covers the 529 plan. This is named after the relevant section of tax law and allows one person to pay into the plan, with the resulting payouts going to another person to pay higher education costs. The most common setup is a parent saving to provide for his child's university fees. The 529 plan payments are usually deductible from state taxes, and the growth on the fund is not taxed.

Although FINRA formally offers the Series 52 examination, it is overseen by the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board. This is the organization that supervises the sale of 529 plans. Like FINRA, it is ultimately answerable to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Unlike some securities examinations, candidates for a Series 52 examination must be sponsored. This means that the candidate is formally entered for the examination by a financial company, usually an employer. The candidate cannot apply to take the exam on a purely individual basis.

The Series 52 examination should not be confused with the Series 53 examination. The latter covers similar topics but is designed for the more senior position of registered principal. It covers the management of sales staff and related regulatory issues.

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