Stock Options Are For Suckers Who Accept Below Market Rate Pay

Stock Options Are For SuckersThere’s a good saying in the poker-playing community, “If you don’t know who the sucker is at the table, it’s you.” Given work compensation (cash or stock) is likely the #1 source of wealth for the vast majority of people, I think it’s important we have a thorough discussion on stock options so you don’t get ripped off.

To provide some background as to why I think stock options are mostly for suckers: 1) I am currently the CEO of a privately held online media company who has the ability to grant options. 2) I’m a consultant for a startup where I’ve accepted getting paid in options in lieu of cash for three months worth of work. 3) I’ve been an employee of a couple large financial firms and received stock (not options) as part of bonus compensation from 1999 – today (deferred compensation until 2015 due to severance negotiation). 4) I’ve worked crappy jobs growing up that not only paid me a poor hourly wage of $4 an hour, but also gave me no options or stock.

For those who haven’t been following this site since 2009, my modus operandi is to thoroughly write something against what I plan on doing in order to make sure I’m not missing the obvious. For example, “The Dark Side Of Early Retirement” was written in May, 2010, almost two years before I actually pulled the plug on Corporate America. I still think all the negatives to retiring early in the post are valid. But I’ve learned there are some great positives too about breaking free early.

Working for startups vs. traditional companies will likely make you poorer than richer because most startups fail, and most startups pay you below market rate compensation. Cash is way more valuable to an unprofitable startup than to a company with tremendous cash flow. No cash, and the startup will die due to unmet financial liabilities. Options, on the other hand, aren’t really worth anything until there is some liquidity event.

The CEO could say that each share is worth $100, but nobody really knows. Her job is to sell you the vision with tantalizing options that aren’t currently worth much to get you to work for cheaper. Your job is to make an informed decision on the likelihood of the CEO’s vision turning into reality.

Some startup CEOs make mistakes by not only paying below market compensation, but also hoarding their equity so much that they aren’t able to recruit the right people to help build their company into something extremely valuable. After all, 10% of $1 billion is worth much more than 90% of $0.

Before you accept options as compensation please ask the following simple questions:

* What is the current fully-diluted total shares outstanding?
* What is the exercise price of each option?
* What is my vesting schedule?
* Is there a cliff? If so, what is it?
* Is the company currently raising funds, and at what price?
* Do the venture capitalists have a minimum take if the company is bought?
* Will my unvested options become fully vested if the company is bought out?

The CFO, CEO, or person in charge of granting compensation should be able to answer these questions in a relatively straightforward manner. Getting 100,000 options sounds fantastic, but not so much if the exercise price is at $10 and the company recently raised outside investment at $2 a share. The stock has to go up 500% before you break even! Furthermore, if there are 1 billion shares outstanding, you only have ownership of 0.01% of the company.

Don’t be a sucker by not at least understanding the exercise price, the number of shares outstanding, and your vesting schedule. 

The Average Credit Score For Approved Mortgages Is Declining

average-fico-approved-mort

Before the recession, average FICO scores for approved mortgages averaged around 720. 720 is actually the cut-off point between “Good” and “Excellent” credit. Given the housing market collapsed nationwide anyway, one shouldn’t be too impressed with a 720 credit score. A 720 credit score should be viewed as average, at least from this loan officer’s perspective.

After the housing bubble burst, the average score for approved mortgage applicants shot up to 769 from 2009 until the end of 2012. A 769 credit score beats out 80% of all other credit scores out of 850. In other words, banks weren’t lending to hardly anybody. The upside is that the probability of a similar type of housing crash in the future has declined.

The “good news” for borrowers is that according to Fannie Mae the average credit score of an approved mortgage applicant is now down to 741 as of the first quarter of 2014. I say “good news” because it’s brutal for even good income earners to get a mortgage nowadays. Many renters I know have been shut out of the housing market simply because they can’t get a loan.

Although credit standards are loosening, a credit score of 741 is still a pretty high hurdle to overcome given you still need a good income and a healthy balance sheet to cover borrowing ratios. But at the margin, a lower credit score hurdle should allow more people to borrow money to further support the housing market recovery. I still see little signs of sub-prime mortgages or negative amortization mortgages returning. But one thing we should be concerned with is the latest Federal Housing Administration initiative to get Boomerang Buyers back in.

Wish Your Parents Were More Strict On You Growing Up?

Father's Day by Colleen KongThe earliest memory I have of my father disciplining me was when I threw a hissy fit as a 4th grader. I went into his office and tore up all his meticulously typed work papers and went to bed crying because he didn’t allow me to do something. There was no computer to save your work then, just original copies that had to be painstakingly retyped if something was off.

Instead of waking me up for punishment, my father waited until the next morning when I had calmed down. I knew what I did was wrong and felt a tremendous sense of guilt and trepidation. He sat on my bedside and told me calmly, “Son, what you did was wrong last night. Those papers took hours for me to type. Don’t do that again.

My father was stern, but compassionate. Because he didn’t yell or hit me, I developed an enormous sense of appreciation for his guidance. I began seriously listening to all his advice, and being more compassionate as a person as I grew older. I am all about second and third chances.

Your Obsession With Being The Best Is Killing Happiness

World's Happiest People

World’s Happiest People

Since I can remember, I’ve been made fun of and criticized for trying to be the best at whatever thing it was I was interested in at the time. My AP History teacher in high school was amazing and I would sit in the front of the class engrossed by all the stories he told about the Civil War and how he got to be an extra in Matthew Broderick and Denzel Washington’s 1989 movie, Glory.

At the end of the year, Mr. Stanton was kind enough to give me the AP History Award for most outstanding student. I was honored, but surprised because I wasn’t a great student and this was my only academic award I ever received. I think he just appreciated someone always attentively listening instead of dozing off like some of my other classmates.

But I disappointed Mr. Stanton in the end because I didn’t try harder. When I got the award, a couple classmates made me feel like a loser. They said I was a dork for liking history so much. As a result of such feedback, I decided not to study a lot for the AP History placement test, which could have given me college credit if I scored a 3 or better out of 5.

When Mr. Stanton enthusiastically asked how I did once he knew the scores were out, I didn’t want to tell him because I only scored a 2. I was not the most outstanding student he had envisioned and I felt horrible for letting him down.

“Sam, don’t worry about the exam,” replied Mr. Stanton. “It’s hard to remember everything in history anyway. But if you remember one thing, remember to never let anybody keep you from going for what you want. Thanks for always attending my classes and playing a good game of Risk!”

After Mr. Stanton’s talk, I began feeling angry that I let people negatively affect something I cared about. The battle was on between trying to be the best, not wanting to be a disappointment to others, and never letting anybody keep me from doing what I enjoyed again. Perhaps you’ve experienced a similar battle growing up and as an adult today.

The Average Savings Rates By Income (Wealth Class)

costWe all know that Americans as a whole don’t save a lot of money. The latest savings statistics for 2014 shows that the average American only saves ~4% of their income a year. 4%! In other words, it takes the average American 25 years to save just one year’s worth of living expenses. That is a disaster.

When you’re 60-something years old and only have 1.6 years worth of living expenses to buttress your declining Social Security checks, life isn’t going to be very leisurely. You’ll probably be mad at the government for lying to you and mad at yourself for not saving more when you still had a chance.

The problem with averages is that averages distort reality. For example, the average household has a net worth of approximately $710,000. You and I know that this is impossible based on common sense. But simple math doesn’t lie. Take the total household wealth in the US of $81.8 trillion (according to the Fed) and divide by 115,226,802 US households (according to the Census Bureau) and you get $710,000. (Related: How Much Should My Net Worth Be By Income?)

I’m absolutely positive more than 90% of Financial Samurai readers save more than 4%. We are personal finance enthusiasts after all. Therefore, what’s the reality behind this ~4% national savings figure? The truth is that savings rates vary by income.