Basics of Defined Benefit Plans (DB)*

*Previously "Administrative Issues of Defined Benefit Plans" 

DB Syllabus 
Course Overview
Exam Details
Required and Supplementary Reading
Supplementary Study Tools
Exam Waivers and Grandfathering Rules
Exam and Publication References and Errata
Continuing Education (CE) Credits

Course Overview

This course builds on the material learned from RPF, which deals with basic terms and definitions within operation of a private employer’s qualified retirement plan, and includes fundamentals such as: nondiscrimination, coverage, preferential tax-treatment, reporting and disclosure, and vesting. The DB exam concentrates on basic issues of defined benefit plans and is primarily meant for the administrator, rather than the plan actuary. Further coverage of intermediate administrative issues is found in ASPPA's  DB-A: Defined Benefit Administration certificate program, while advanced defined benefit plan topics are found in the Cash Balance module, CPC proctored exam and A-4 courses.

The subject matter for DB:

  • Concentrates on basic administrative issues of defined benefit plans (as noted above, further coverage of intermediate administrative issues is found in DB-A: Defined Benefit Administration certificate program, and advanced defined benefit plan topics are found in the Cash Balance module, CPC proctored exam and A-4 courses)
  • Identifies ERISA law along with IRS, DOL, and PBGC regulations, which provide a framework for the rules that govern qualified plan operations (often applicable to both defined benefit and defined contribution plans)
  • Covers the nature of the defined benefit promise and its fundamental difference from the defined contribution promise
  • Discusses the concept of the present value of an accrued benefit under a plan, which takes into consideration pay and service history, maximum benefit limitations and/or top-heavy and lump-sum minimum thresholds
  • Introduces various types of defined benefit plans and benefit formulas, plan termination insurance (PBGC), Qualified Domestic Relations Orders (QDROs) and issues that must be dealt with when benefits become payable
  • Considers the importance of the defined benefit practitioner’s compliance with ASPPA’s Code of Professional Conduct, which aims to further the ethical behavior of ASPPA members.

It is presumed that a candidate sitting for the DB examination will have the knowledge of material covered in the Retirement Plan Fundamentals (RPF) series. Please refer to the syllabus for specific learning objectives and exam topic weightings.

Exam Details

The DB examination consists of 65 multiple choice questions, and candidates have 2½ hours to complete it. Candidates will receive a grade immediately upon completing the exam. Exams are given at Prometric testing centers during the examination window. Please refer to the Education calendar for dates.

To register, a candidate must have an account with ASPPA. To create an account please click here. Candidates can register online or download the registration form and send via mail or fax to 703.516.9308.

Once registered, eligibility emails will be sent to candidates beginning approximately eight weeks prior to the opening of an exam window The eligibility email has detailed instructions on scheduling an appointment with Prometric. It is the candidate’s responsibility to schedule an exam. We strongly recommend scheduling an appointment upon receipt of the confirmation letter, as testing centers fill up quickly. To find a Prometric testing center visit www.prometric.com/ara.

Exam Fees - The registration fee is non-refundable.

  • To qualify for early registration, registration forms accompanied by the early registration fee of $251 for members and $278 for non-members must reach the ASPPA office no later than March 31 for the spring examinations and September 15 for the fall examinations.
  • To qualify for final registration, registration forms accompanied by the final registration fee of $334 for members and $361 for non-members must reach the ASPPA office no later than May 26 for the spring examinations and October 27 for the fall examinations.

Estimated hours needed to study - Study time depends greatly on the experience level of the student. The average candidate reports it takes 60-80 hours study time per examination.

Grading Process - Notification for examinations will include a score of 9, 8 or 7 (passing grade) or 6, 5 or 3 (failing grade). A score of 3 indicates that no points were credited; rather, the candidate’s performance was below the minimum acceptable standards. The score report contains a topic listing which indicates “needs work” for any topic where the candidate scored less than 70% correct. Raw scores, spreads between scores, pass marks, pass percentages and copies of questions are not released. The ASPPA Office is permitted to provide grade information only in writing; grades will not be provided by telephone, email or fax. Candidates who wish to have their grades sent to anyone other than themselves must fill out a Grade Release Form.

Required and Supplementary Reading

All study materials can be ordered by using the online ASPPA Bookstore or by downloading the Publications Order Form and following the instructions to phone, fax or mail your order form and payment.

The required reading for the DB exam is:

The suggested reading for the DB exam is:

Supplementary Study Tools

The study tools below are not required preparation for the DB examination. They are offered as additional study aids.

  • DB Practice Exams  
  • Tripodi, Sal L.The ERISA Outline BookArlington, VA: ASPPA. Use the most recent edition available. The 2017 DB examination only covers changes in law and regulations established prior to August 1, 2016. The examination does cover changes implemented in the Pension Protection Act (PPA).

It is the candidate’s responsibility to review all of ASPPA’s exam policies and procedures which can be found on Candidate Corner.

Exam and Publication References & Errata

For updates to ASPPA’s publications and examinations please click here. Stop by regularly as new updates are posted. It is the candidates responsibility to check the errata before preparing for and sitting for an ASPPA examination.

Continuing Education (CE) Credits

Candidates who have successfully completed an ASPPA proctored examination can earn up to 20 ARA CE credits depending on the score received. Credits will be applied to the CE cycle in which the score is issued. For more information on ARA examination CE credit click here.

ERPA CE
20 ERPA credits for successful completion of the DB exam may be awarded.
The final decision as to the number of ERPA credits rests solely with the Internal Revenue Service.