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IRC 409A / ASC 718 Compliance

Valuing stock options internally for 409A compliance can carry several risks, particularly if the valuation is inaccurate or not conducted in accordance with the requirements of Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 409A. 409A valuations are used for setting the strike price of stock options granted to employees and must meet certain standards to avoid tax and penalty implications. Here are some risks associated with internally valuing options for 409A:


  • IRS Penalties: If the valuation is not conducted correctly and does not meet 409A requirements, the IRS can impose severe penalties on both the company and the recipient of the options. The recipient may be subject to immediate income tax on the options' value, along with a 20% additional tax and potential interest charges.

  • Valuation Errors: If the valuation is inaccurate or does not reflect the fair market value of the underlying stock, it can lead to setting the option strike price too high or too low. A strike price that is too low could result in a potential tax liability for employees, while a strike price that is too high may not provide sufficient incentive for employees.

  • Increased Regulatory Scrutiny: If the IRS or other regulatory agencies suspect that a company's internal valuation is not accurate or compliant with 409A, they may subject the company to additional scrutiny and audits.

  • Difficulty in Raising Capital: If a company's stock options are undervalued, it can be challenging to attract investors, as they may be concerned about the company's financial practices and potential tax liabilities.

  • Employee Disputes: Inaccurate valuations can lead to disputes and dissatisfaction among employees, particularly when it comes to the perceived value of their stock options.

  • Impact on Employee Morale: Inaccurate valuations can lead to a misalignment of employee incentives and expectations. If employees believe the options are undervalued, they may not see the options as a valuable incentive, potentially affecting morale and retention.

    • Reduced compensation: Inaccurate valuations of company stock can lead to employees receiving fewer stock options or equity compensation than they are entitled to. This can result in reduced overall compensation for employees.

    • Diminished Sense of Ownership: When employees receive stock or equity compensation, an inaccurate valuation can reduce their sense of ownership in the company, as they may perceive that their shares are worth less than they believed. This can affect their motivation and commitment to the organization.

    • Decreased Morale: Employees who believe they are being shortchanged due to inaccurate valuations may become demotivated and disillusioned. This can affect workplace morale and productivity.


Compliance with 409A regulations is essential to ensure that stock options remain a valuable tool for incentivizing and retaining employees without causing adverse tax consequences. To mitigate these risks, it's advisable to hire an independent, qualified valuation firm with expertise in 409A valuations. An independent valuation can provide a more objective and defensible assessment of the fair market value of the company's stock. Additionally, regularly updating valuations is essential, as 409A valuations have a limited shelf life (12 months at most).

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