How to Expense Stock Options Under ASC 718

To incent and retain key employees, many private companies choose to issue stock option grants or restricted stock units. What they may not realize, however, is that those options need to be recorded as an expense on the company’s financial statements. While this may sound straightforward, expensing options can be quite complex.

In practice, there are several methods companies can use to expense options. Here we look at just one: how to expense stock options under ASC 718.


The process of expensing a stock option can be broken into two distinct steps. The first step involves calculating the fair value of the option. The second step involves allocating the expense over the option’s useful economic life.


Step 1: Calculating the Fair Value of an Option

The fair value of an option is the price at which the option would be purchased in an open market. This raises a challenge as most options are not bought or sold on a public market. As a result, an option’s fair value must be calculated.


There are several models that can be used to calculate fair value, and most require companies to enter specific inputs into a formula. These inputs include:

  1. Strike price, which is the price at which the option can be exercised.

  2. Price of the underlying security, which is the price assigned to the company’s common stock as determined by an independent 409A valuation.

  3. Term of the option, which is its time to expiration.

  4. Volatility of the price of the underlying security—or the variance of the stock price over time—which can be difficult for private companies to calculate as their stock doesn’t trade.

  5. Annualized interest rate, which is generally calculated by using the interest rates on US Treasury Bonds as a proxy.

Step 2: Allocating the Expense Over the Option’s Useful Economic Life

Once fair value is calculated, the expense can be recorded. However, because the value of an option can change over time, the expense is not recorded all at once. Instead, it is recorded over the useful economic life of the grant, which is the period of time during which it continues to incentivize and compensate the option holder.


In most cases, options vest over time—so their useful economic life generally aligns with their vesting period. While there is more than one way to allocate options over their useful economic life, the easiest way is to allocate the expense over the vesting period in even increments. This is called the straight-line allocation method. That said, an accelerated method can be used. To determine which method is right for you, it makes sense to consult with a professional advisor.


More Complex Than It Seems

While this two-step process for expensing options under ASC 718 may seem straightforward, in practice it can get quite complex. If, for example, options are expensed when they are issued but an employee leaves the company before their options vest, the recorded expense may need to be reversed. A repricing event, where the strike prices for existing options are adjusted, can trigger exception accounting. Early exercise provisions, changes to existing option agreements and grants to non-employees may change how options are expensed. There are also numerous other edge cases where the option expense may need to be handled in a manner different from what is described above.


For these reasons and more, it may make sense to use an equity plan management platform to help calculate your stock option expenses under ASC 718. 

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