Company Discount Stock Purchase

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Topic Author
PhillyInvestor
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Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by PhillyInvestor »

Hello everyone. This is my first post here. I couldn't dig anything up on this topic on here (but could have easily missed it) so apologies if this has been covered before.

I'm 35. My wife and I are in good shape. Our major debt is our mortgage and my remaining student loans from grad school. Both are really manageable. We also live pretty frugally and also don't have kids yet. We've both put money into our 401(k) and similar plans over the years.

I started a new job in February with a very big media company. This is the first publicly traded company I've ever worked for. It offers an employee stock discount purchasing play where I can purchase shares at a 15% discounted rate.

I've never had this option before. Without wanting to give away the name of the company, are there any general opinion about these types of things? I'm a huge believer in spreading things out over a lot of different asset classes and have only ever put money into either a 401(K) or mutual fund or bonds. I've never owned an actual stock.

The stock offers a dividend. I can either take the dividend directly or use it to purchase more shares. I like that option -- I'm a fan of dividend stocks.

I have absolutely no idea what an option like this would mean for taxes in case/when I decide to take any of the money in the share plan and move it into a different asset.

Thanks!
Topic Author
PhillyInvestor
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by PhillyInvestor »

I should also add that my company is actually Canadian and I guess that could enter into the dividend tax scenario, too.
LifeLearner
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by LifeLearner »

You might hear this a lot from other posters soon. Your salary is already dependent on your company; holding the stocks is putting too much into one basket.

You should buy the max if you can afford to do so, and then sell immediately.

It's likely also dependent on how soon you can sell after buying, but with a 15% discount, you should be fine in most cases.
Topic Author
PhillyInvestor
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by PhillyInvestor »

I have to wait three months. I allocate in my paycheck and then purchase the shares at the beginning of a quarter. I then can't sell until the start of the next one.

I can put up to 10% of my paycheck. I can't afford to do all that, though. I'm already in the company 401(K) and have insurance and other benefits.
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Tortoise
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by Tortoise »

A 3-month holding period isn't too bad. I would just keep rolling it along: purchase some shares, wait 3 months, sell, and buy some more. I wouldn't do it with more than a few percent of my total portfolio value. Keep in mind when the stock pays dividends. During that time period, I would try to sell before the dividend distribution and buy after. It will reduce your taxes.
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Bob's not my name
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by Bob's not my name »

PhillyInvestor wrote:I have to wait three months. I allocate in my paycheck and then purchase the shares at the beginning of a quarter. I then can't sell until the start of the next one.

I can put up to 10% of my paycheck. I can't afford to do all that, though. I'm already in the company 401(K) and have insurance and other benefits.
Are you sure you have the rules right? Usually these plans take a 10% contribution from your paycheck, hold that in escrow until the plan period is complete, then purchase the shares. If you are misunderstanding the rules it's possible the holding period is not really three months.

Your statement about affording it doesn't make sense because there's nothing to afford, just the cash flow challenge of getting paid quarterly instead of biweekly for 10% of your pay. Here's an excellent article to read: http://thefinancebuff.com/employee-stoc ... pp-is.html Note that a 15% discount gives you a 17.6% immediate return if you sell immediately. If your money is tied up for an average 3 months (that's the case for a plan with a six-month plan period and regular paycheck deductions), your annualized return is 90%.
Valuethinker
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by Valuethinker »

if a Canadian company but you are based in the USA then your HR dept should have a pamphlet-- because they will have made arrangements for US employees (for example most big CDN cos are NYSE listed, no withholding tax on dividends for US residents).

Note most of these schemes require you to hold the shares for a minimum period-- say 3 years? Only requiring you to hold stock for 3 months, and selling it to you at a discount, sounds very counterproductive.
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by Bob's not my name »

No, most ESPP plans have no required holding period -- or at least most started that way, and in recent years some have added a required holding period, but I've never heard of a holding period longer than a year. Perhaps you're thinking of RSU plans with a vesting schedule.
georgewall42
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by georgewall42 »

I've worked at several companies with discount stock purchase plans. Holding periods, if any, are very short (I've never heard of 3 years). In most, the only "holding" period was the time the shares were purchased in your name until the time they were delivered to your account. Back in the 1980's, you used to have to wait until the certificate was issued and delivered to you via mail, which took about 3 weeks (although you could always hedge via a short sale).

They are a good deal, in that you are getting the 15% discount to buy the shares. Just be sure it's money you can afford to set aside and put at some risk; you don't want to count on the 15% return, especially with a 3 month holding period.

These stock holdings should be considered as part of your asset allocation; in general, you do not want to be overweight in the same company you work for.
ieee488
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by ieee488 »

I have done this twice with my ESPP.
They deduct money from my paycheck. And at the end of the end of 6 months, they purchase the discounted stock. It usually takes about 2-3 business day to show up in my Fidelity brokerage account. Then the next day I immediately put in a sell order.
Both transactions showed up as short-term capital gain.
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Topic Author
PhillyInvestor
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by PhillyInvestor »

Would this make sense to everyone?

I signed up for the ESSP. Too good of a deal to pass up on. My shares will be purchased Oct. 1. I can't sell until Jan. 1.

I was thinking of selling some of my shares every quarter and putting those into some sort of index fund, unless I need the cash for something.

It makes sense to use the ESSP in order to generate some savings but it doesn't make a lot of sense to have a decent amount of my paycheck completely held to the whims of whatever happens to the company I work for. At least I can generate some income and put it towards other investment income.
Bob's not my name
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by Bob's not my name »

PhillyInvestor wrote:I signed up for the ESSP. Too good a deal to pass up on. My shares will be purchased Oct. 1. I can't sell until Jan. 1.
I don't understand how your shares can be purchased Oct 1 if you just started contributing now. Are you sure they're not just withholding 10% of your pay for the Oct 1 - Dec 31 quarter, placing that in escrow, and buying shares on Dec 31?

Also, does the plan have a look-back provision? This means you get 15% off either the ending (Dec 31) or the beginning (Oct 1) price. Therefore, if the stock rises over the quarter, your discount is greater than 15%.
TareNeko
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by TareNeko »

I guess ESPPs can be implemented in different ways, but as far as I know it is always a good deal. In our company we get our shares every 6 months and we don't get them just for 15% discount. That's the absolute worst case. We look back 2 years. As an example: Let's say the stock was $10 in december 31, 2012. Comes June 1st, 2013 and if the stock is now above $10, we get our ESPPs at $8.5 (15% discount from $10). If the stock is less than $10, then that's the new purchase price (again, with 15% discount on top of it).

In my mind, if you know about your company (which you should, you are working in it), it makes a lot of sense to participate in ESPP. And I would not sell the ESPP shares the day after I get them either (unless the company is in trouble). Hold on to them.
Topic Author
PhillyInvestor
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by PhillyInvestor »

Ah, yeah. That's how it works. I elected now. Deductions don't start until Oct. 1. Then that goes into escrow for the rest of the quarter. Shares are then purchased at the end of December. There's no lookback, unfortunately -- it's whatever the stock price is at the end of the December quarter. Then there's a three-month holding period, so I can't do anything until March.

I still think I'm going to use the plan to generate income to put into an index fund, though. That seems like the best idea. I already have a decent amount in my 401(K) and would love to have something with liquidity.
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by TareNeko »

So you are saying that you will put money into ESPP from Oct 1st to Dec 31st, but get your shares at the end of March? That doesn't make sense to me. It has much more risk that way.
PhillyInvestor wrote:Ah, yeah. That's how it works. I elected now. Deductions don't start until Oct. 1. Then that goes into escrow for the rest of the quarter. Shares are then purchased at the end of December. There's no lookback, unfortunately -- it's whatever the stock price is at the end of the December quarter. Then there's a three-month holding period, so I can't do anything until March.

I still think I'm going to use the plan to generate income to put into an index fund, though. That seems like the best idea. I already have a decent amount in my 401(K) and would love to have something with liquidity.
georgewall42
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by georgewall42 »

Erhan wrote:I guess ESPPs can be implemented in different ways, but as far as I know it is always a good deal. In our company we get our shares every 6 months and we don't get them just for 15% discount. That's the absolute worst case. We look back 2 years. As an example: Let's say the stock was $10 in december 31, 2012. Comes June 1st, 2013 and if the stock is now above $10, we get our ESPPs at $8.5 (15% discount from $10). If the stock is less than $10, then that's the new purchase price (again, with 15% discount on top of it).

In my mind, if you know about your company (which you should, you are working in it), it makes a lot of sense to participate in ESPP. And I would not sell the ESPP shares the day after I get them either (unless the company is in trouble). Hold on to them.
OK, I had to reply to this. First, while there is no hard and fast rule about selling immediately, an employee participating in an ESPP can end up in a situation where his or her portfolio becomes concentrated in one stock. And, if the company tanks, the stock price will go down with it, and possibly the employee's job when the layoffs come. Always pay attention to overall portfolio allocation; being overly concentrated is never a good idea, even if you think you know the company.

Also, recall that hardly any of Enron's employees knew that their firm was nothing but an operating Ponzi scheme. It's not easy to truly "know" a company, even if you work for it, unless you're the CFO, in which case your trades will be restricted and closely monitored.

I do have an interesting anecdote, however. One company I worked for did a 2-year look back. And, just prior to the "lock in" period for the stock purchase plan price, the company's stock, which had been performing poorly over the past 12 months, suddenly tanked by about 50% to about $3/share. Noone really knew why. But what we did know is that the stock price was trading well below the company's cash breakup value. In other words, the company could have sold off its assets, paid down its debt, and the remaining cash could have bought the remaining stock at a premium to its current trading price. Anyway, some folks sold right away and took the 15%, while some of us held on figuring that the price is bit too low. The company was not doing well at the time (there had been recent layoffs), having reported a couple of quarterly losses, so we assumed that the price was just a reaction to current investor sentiment. Keep in mind that holding on those shares was not an easy decision; some of us had shares from prior purchase plans that we bought at $15/share.

Fast forward 3 months later. By then, the stock price had recovered most of its lost value. Then we found out the reason for the price plummet; a disgruntled executive told an analyst that the company was running out of cash and would be out of business in less than 6 months. This was in the days before Fair Disclosure Regulations, and the analyst reported this information to some of the company's institutional holders, causing the price to drop. The executive was hoping this would convince the Board of Directors to dump the CEO. The rumor turned out to be unfounded; the executive was slowly being forced out the door by the CEO, and was subsequently fired about a month after this rumor came out. Eventually, the company's profitability improved, by the time the 2-year price lock expired, the company was trading at 10x its lock in price (yes, that's $30/share). :sharebeer

But there are lessons: we were completely clueless about the reasons for the sudden price drop. We were only slightly less clueless about the company's actual cash position. And we had no idea of the intrigue going on at the executive level. It all worked out OK, but there was no way to know that beforehand. Given where the stock was trading, a private equity firm could have bought the company, liquidated the assets, fired the employees, and made a tidy profit. Those holding those $15 shares would have not only lost money on those shares, but also their jobs.
ieee488
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by ieee488 »

Erhan wrote:So you are saying that you will put money into ESPP from Oct 1st to Dec 31st, but get your shares at the end of March? That doesn't make sense to me. It has much more risk that way.
That does not make any sense to me either.

However, assuming that that is the indeed the case for your ESPP, unless there was a 15% discount, I would not participate in this.
Simply too risky what can happen in 3 months.
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Spirit Rider
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by Spirit Rider »

Erhan wrote:I guess ESPPs can be implemented in different ways, but as far as I know it is always a good deal. In our company we get our shares every 6 months and we don't get them just for 15% discount. That's the absolute worst case. We look back 2 years. As an example: Let's say the stock was $10 in december 31, 2012. Comes June 1st, 2013 and if the stock is now above $10, we get our ESPPs at $8.5 (15% discount from $10). If the stock is less than $10, then that's the new purchase price (again, with 15% discount on top of it).

In my mind, if you know about your company (which you should, you are working in it), it makes a lot of sense to participate in ESPP. And I would not sell the ESPP shares the day after I get them either (unless the company is in trouble). Hold on to them.
This is a fairly typical ESPP scenario. Your ESPP funds are withdrawn during the quarter. Then on the first of the next quarter stocks are purchased at 85% of the lowest daily close of the 1-2 previous quarters. Then depending on the company you have a minimum holding period (generally 0-2 quarters).

Yes, these are taxed as short term gains. However, waiting for the year letting long term gains tax treatment drive investment decisions is a bad idea. I can't begin to tell you the number of times this has not worked out for people.

So yes, taking advantage of ESPPs can be a good idea. However, sell them as soon as you are able.
TareNeko
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by TareNeko »

You know what, you are right. I shouldn't make general statements about other companies based on my experience with mine. Our company is a little more transparent and it gives us a better feel about what the stock may do in the future, so it helps to put money in ESPP.
georgewall42 wrote: OK, I had to reply to this. ...
dbr
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by dbr »

Erhan wrote:You know what, you are right. I shouldn't make general statements about other companies based on my experience with mine. Our company is a little more transparent and it gives us a better feel about what the stock may do in the future, so it helps to put money in ESPP.
georgewall42 wrote: OK, I had to reply to this. ...
You must be kidding . . .
Topic Author
PhillyInvestor
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by PhillyInvestor »

Erhan wrote:So you are saying that you will put money into ESPP from Oct 1st to Dec 31st, but get your shares at the end of March? That doesn't make sense to me. It has much more risk that way.
PhillyInvestor wrote:Ah, yeah. That's how it works. I elected now. Deductions don't start until Oct. 1. Then that goes into escrow for the rest of the quarter. Shares are then purchased at the end of December. There's no lookback, unfortunately -- it's whatever the stock price is at the end of the December quarter. Then there's a three-month holding period, so I can't do anything until March.

I still think I'm going to use the plan to generate income to put into an index fund, though. That seems like the best idea. I already have a decent amount in my 401(K) and would love to have something with liquidity.
I get the shares on Dec. 31. However, there's a three-month holding period before I can sell them.

I mean, it's a risk but I'm paying 85% of the value of the shares. This mitigates that risk by a fair amount -- the stock will have to drop a lot by the quarter.

As far as knowing the company: The company I work for has something like 50,000 employees and an unknown amount of divisions. I work in one small division far away from company headquarters. The only thing I really know about is what goes on in my office. There's no way I can know the decision making process. Intra-company PR is even worse than general PR. (And that's for any company.)
MathWizard
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by MathWizard »

I would consider going longer than the 3 months when cashing in. You will have to pay Short-Term Cap. Gains
(STCG) rather than LTCG.

If you put in $100/month, and wait 15 months plus one day, rather than 6 months before cashing in, you will
have 1500 tied up, but you will be have the cash flow back after 15 month, and all your gains will
be taxed as LTCG. If you are in the 15% tax bracket, that would be a significant issue, since LTCG have
a 0% tax rate then.

Also consider costs. What transaction fees would there be to cash in the $100/month? It may be so
much as to not make it worth it.

I would not enroll and pull out on a monthy basis, or even a quarterly basis.
I would enroll for a small amount each month and make sure it does not get above 5% of your portfolio.
Is it possible to do the ESSP with an IRA if you are not alreday maxing one out? Then the 15% extra
that you expect to get long-term by buying below market price is never taxed.
Bob's not my name
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by Bob's not my name »

Read tfb's article on why you should max it out and sell immediately. The three-month holding period is a negative, but you have characterized your risk and your knowledge of what the stock will do (viz., you know nothing) correctly.

Assuming the stock is on average flat for the three-month holding period, you will have three-month increments of 10% of salary tied up for an average period of 4.5 months. Your immediate average return is 17.6%, which annualized is 1.176**(12/4.5) - 1 = 54% before considering fees and commissions. The 3-month holding period introduces more volatility than the ideal 3-day holding period, so in some periods you will earn less and you could lose money, but as you've already figured out you should do well compared to other investments because of the discount.

As long as you sell immediately upon expiration of the holding period, at any given time you will have 10% of two quarters' salary, or 5% of your annual salary, committed to the program, which is reasonable.

You will hear your co-workers saying things about holding longer for preferential tax treatment, but you'll see this is bunk if you do the math and understand that the discount is always taxed as ordinary income.
smackboy1
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by smackboy1 »

I confess I don't know jack about ESPPs. But is there anything to prevent OP just purchasing the stock at 15% discount and simultaneously buying a protective put to insure against a short term decline? For that matter what if OP used a costless collar (buying a put combined with writing a call)?
Disclaimer: nothing written here should be taken as legal advice, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.
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PhillyInvestor
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by PhillyInvestor »

smackboy1 wrote:I confess I don't know jack about ESPPs. But is there anything to prevent OP just purchasing the stock at 15% discount and simultaneously buying a protective put to insure against a short term decline? For that matter what if OP used a costless collar (buying a put combined with writing a call)?
I know what puts and calls are and how they work. I also know that getting into options are going to be way too much for me to manage.
Bob's not my name
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by Bob's not my name »

Discussed in almost every ESPP thread. Typically a violation of corporate policy.
MnD
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by MnD »

Ok so this this is a large international media company with many divisions, not Gene Splice International riding on one FDA approval.

If it was me I'd build up and then maintain an average rolling $25K position. if the stock is flat I'd buy/sell after that level is established and pocket the 15% discount. If the stock declined I'd stop selling until I had the $25k restored by new money in, and if the stock popped I'd sell more to get things back down to $25K. Remember you are playing with 15% off money, so that buffers a fair amount of risk in actually losing any of your own money. it's really a somewhat leveraged and disciplined dollar cost averaging system with a hard dollar cap on your allocation.

$25K is the smallest individual stock position I'll take but enough to encourage me to study the company like any other company I owned and some of the knowledge I learn by studying it from that perspective could pay off in career advancement. Otherwise you are just probably going to focus on the division you work in.

I'd also let it slip to my boss or even higher ups (at the appropriate time!) that I participate in the purchase plan and make some insights about items in the quarterly or annual report and/or ask some big picture questions. A new employee investing in the company and having interest or questions about the big picture or other divisions could make a good impression. They don't have to know you'll never be in for more than $25K. :happy
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dimdum
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by dimdum »

General advise is to participate in ESSP. How much to contribute depends, you can start with 5%, then increase to higher percent in subsequent quarter.
3 month holding period is negative as individual stock or market can swing in either direction.

Overall period of 4 quarter it will balance out and you should be positive, even if you end up losing money in single quarter due to market swing.
I won't recommend holding beyond 3 month period.
68ShelbyGT500KR
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by 68ShelbyGT500KR »

Our Company's first ESPP has a 30% max contribution, lookback feature and I can sell immediately, which I have always planned to do......

The first 6 month period started Jul 1st and will end Dec 31st. As of the market close today, the stock is down a hair over 15%. This re-enforces me to sell immediately when the shares hit my account. If there was no lookback, I very seriously don't think that I would of enrolled into the ESPP. On the plus side, I was always reading 10% was standard but when I heard 30% of gross net pay, I jumped into the ESPP.......
Bob's not my name
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by Bob's not my name »

68ShelbyGT500KR wrote:If there was no lookback, I very seriously don't think that I would have enrolled in the ESPP.
Because a guaranteed 90% annualized return isn't good enough?
countdown
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by countdown »

Would a 5 percent discount over average 3 month price be worthwhile to exercise in an ESPP? Sure makes the 15 percent look huge.
ieee488
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by ieee488 »

countdown wrote:Would a 5 percent discount over average 3 month price be worthwhile to exercise in an ESPP? Sure makes the 15 percent look huge.
My employer's ESPP discount is "just" 5%.
I still do it, though it can be a bit dicey since there is less margin for error so to speak.
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countdown
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by countdown »

Thanks ieee488.
i'm not very familiar with ESPP and have learned a lot through this thread.
Thank you all.
slbnoob
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Re: Company Discount Stock Purchase

Post by slbnoob »

This thread actually made me consider enrolling in my company's DSPP when it comes up for enrollment end of this year. Though my company only offers 7.5%. They are trading rather high right now and if this continues, I would have to sell almost immediately. I figured I would want to contribute at least 10% to make the gain significant enough for me to bother with it. I also ascribe to the thinking that I don't want to be (significantly) invested in the company that pays me.
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