- It discounts the possibility of a V-shaped stock market recovery – being on the side-lines will result in missing most of the rally, and
- In a protracted stock market recovery, opting out results in underperformance as even with a slight increase, investors staying in the market usually beat lower-risk investment options such as treasuries when dividends are included.
- The ESPP stock is purchased at a discount to the market price. Some plans even have an option that guarantees same-day-sale profit, even if the stock price slips on the day of the purchase, a
- The discount is based on the lower of the market price at the beginning of the offer period and the purchase date. The “lower of” provision allows for more profit if the stock price has risen during the offer period. Thus, it is in effect stock ownership that is exempt from downside risk during the offer period.
- The immediate selling strategy allows for high returns with low risk, the Holy Grail in investing.
- The long-term capital gains realization strategy allows for high tax-optimized returns with somewhat higher risk.
401K enrollment, on the other hand is a different ballgame altogether. The chief concern with 401K is that the onus is on the employee to choose investment selections and contribute. This is a far cry compared to pension plans, where the employer shouldered the responsibility completely. Expecting average Americans to be financially savvy and being able to choose investment options is a tall order. The pension protection act of 2006 is aimed at alleviating some of this responsibility, and provides the following related provisions:
- Removes barriers that prevent companies from automatically enrolling their employees in defined contribution plans: The provision recognized the fact that one-third of eligible employees did not participate in these plans. Over time, this provision should allow dropping this number well below 10%. Companies generally implement this provision by making 401K contributions an “opt-out” benefit. In other words, if employees do not want to enroll, they have to “opt-out” of it explicitly, – should they choose to do nothing, they are automatically enrolled.
- Ensures that employees and retired personnel have more information about the performance of their accounts: Companies support this provision by providing an investment advice benefit, usually for a nominal fee.
- Gives workers greater control over how their accounts are invested: This has relevance with respect to the Qualified Default Investment Alternative (QDIA), which automatically takes effect in the absence of investment direction from the participant – the provisions make sure that workers are kept informed on their selections such as if they had selected them on their own. Further, it also provides for the ability to transfer out of QDIA investments without undue penalty. Making available life-cycle funds or target-retirement funds is one popular way companies have chosen to implement this provision.
As indicated in our 401K updates, we have been choosing investment choices on our own with a 40-40-20 asset allocation between domestic, international, and bond investment choices. While using an asset allocation plan (AAP) such as this is a good option, one cannot afford to be asleep at the switch – need to monitor your choices and make adjustments periodically. We are seriously considering switching to life cycle fund choices next year as that would allow for a much more passive strategy.
- Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) – Great Benefit with a few caveats! - 03/09.
- Writing Covered Calls against Employer Stock Plan Shares (ESPP, Restricted Stock, and Stock Options) – A Primer - 03/09.
- Employee Stock Purchase Plan (ESPP) and 401K Retirement Plan Annual Enrollment and Contribution Review - 12/08.
- Employee Stock Purchase Plan (ESPP) - Immediate Selling Strategy - 4/08.
- Realizing Long-Term Capital Gains With Stock Based Compensation - 04/08.
- Stock Based Compensation Tax Optimization Strategies - 02/08.