Get your finance in order, with wealth management's must-read stories everyday!

How Do Stock Options Work: A Complete Guide

Triston Martin

Nov 30, 2023

What are stock options, and how do they work? Earning stock options may be both thrilling and stressful for a startup employee. You know that startup stock options can provide extraordinary wealth for some people, yet, you may wonder about their mechanics, costs, and risks.

This primer will provide a foundational understanding of stock options if you're completely new. The two important aspects of employee stock options covered in this article are how to exercise your options and calculate your estimated tax payment.

What Are Stock Options?

Compensation can take the form of stock options. Employees, independent contractors, consultants, and even investors might receive them from their companies. An employee is granted the right, in the form of a contract, the right, at an agreed-upon price to acquire a predetermined number of shares of the company's stock.

However, this offer won't stay forever. Your options will expire if you do not use them by the deadline. Your corporation may stipulate that you use your options before a certain date following your departure.

Each corporation has its policy regarding the number of options it will offer its employees. The employee's level of experience and expertise will also play a role. Investors and other interested parties must approve before any employee may be granted stock options.

How Do Stock Options Work For Employees?

How do employee stock options work? Employee stock options are a contractual right to acquire shares of a corporation at a discounted price in the future. Employers specify ESOs (employee stock options) in a plan document after deciding on the strike price, vesting date, expiration date, and reload options. When you and your employer have agreed on every aspect of your employment, including your salary, the clock starts ticking.

Your employer may establish a vesting date for ESOs to prevent a mass exodus of employees shortly after they are granted the options. Typically, a vesting period of four years is implemented, with a one-year cliff. It means that after one year of service, you will be able to exercise 25% of your ESO and that after four years, you will have full access to all of your ESO.

After your ESO vests in full, you have until the expiration date to buy, hold, or sell the shares of stock in the firm. After selling your shares, you may be able to buy more under the ESO's reload provision.

Stock Options Example:

How do company stock options work? Meetly is an organization that uses a four-year vesting schedule with a one-year cliff for its employee stock options. The first day of employment at Meetly is the vesting date. If you accept a Meetly position with a 100 stock option award, the clock will start ticking on your first day, but you won't receive the first 25 options until your first work anniversary. Following that, you'll be able to purchase up to 25 shares. The remaining portion of your options will continue to vest each month following the vesting schedule.

Benefits Of Stock Options To Employees:

What are stock options for employees? Stock options are a popular benefit for employees because they allow them to participate in their company's success without risking their own money. However, you can lose all your money when purchasing options on the market. However, they also provide a method for making substantial profits from the short-term fluctuations in a company without risking a lot of capital. Market-bought options require a high-risk tolerance and a speculator's attitude to be profitable. Still, they provide a method for certain investors to make quick money or protect their holdings from market fluctuations.

When Do Stock Options Become Active?

When something is earned gradually, this is called vesting. Vesting is a tool used by employers to reward employees who commit to the firm long-term and make significant contributions to its success.

Timetables For Vesting:

Usually, a stock option agreement will provide a timetable for vesting. Your option agreement should specify the date on which vesting will begin. A company's vesting plan typically lasts four years, with the first year as a "cliff." A cliff must pass before any of your options become vested.

Understanding Stock-Related Terms:

Many words used in the financial services business are not intuitive to those without a background in finance. Let us assist you in articulating their nature.

Employee Stock Option:

Stock options are an incentive sometimes provided by companies to their employees. A predetermined number of shares are made available to employees at a predetermined price for a predetermined period.

Call Option:

It allows the option holder to purchase a stock at a predetermined price during a certain period.

Put Option:

The customer can sell stock at a predetermined price within a specified time frame.

Cost Of Bids:

The price at which an option buyer is willing to purchase stock is known as the bid price. The asking price for stock options is the price at which sellers are ready to part with their options. Remember that the price of a stock option contract is equal to the sum of the bid and stock prices multiplied by 100 shares of the underlying stock.

Date Of Vesting:

Usually, stock grants vest over time. The date your grant becomes active is called the vesting date. Only the shares that have actually "vested" can be used. It's possible that, after an initial vesting term of a few years, the contract will allow you to vest all of your shares at once. "Cliff vesting" describes this type of situation.

Hold Without Cash:

In this scenario, the stockholder makes the necessary payments by selling shares after exercising their options. The remaining stock is held for future investment.


There are two primary varieties of stock options. Gains on incentive stock options, typically exclusively issued to important personnel and top management, are often treated as long-term capital gains by the Internal Revenue Service. Employees at any level, as well as members of the board and outside consultants, may be awarded NSOs. Earnings from what is technically called "non-statutory stock options" are taxed like regular income.

Related Stories

Privacy Policy | Terms of Use

© 2023

Contact us at: [email protected]