Definition of stock options

Definition

Stock options are contracts that allow individuals to buy a specified number of shares in the company they work for at a fixed price. Stock options are the most common way early-stage companies grant equity.

Related terms

More from The Holloway Guide to Equity Compensation

How Equity is Granted › Stock options

Definition A person who has received a stock option grant is not a shareholder until they exercise their option, which means purchasing some or all of their shares at the strike price. Prior to exercising, an option holder does not have voting rights.

Definition The strike price (or exercise price) is the fixed price per share at which stock can be purchased, as set in a stock option agreement. The strike price is generally set lower (often much lower) than what people expect will be the future value of the stock, which means selling the stock down the road could be profitable.

confusion Stock options is a confusing term. In investment, an option is a right (but not an obligation) to buy something at a certain price within a certain time frame. You’ll often see stock options discussed in the context of investment. What investors in financial markets call stock options are indeed options on stock, but they are not compensatory stock options awarded for services. In this Guide, and most likely in any conversation you have with an employer, anyone who says “stock options” will be referring to compensatory stock options.

confusion Stock options are not the same as stock; they are only the right to buy stock at a certain price and under a set of conditions specified in an employee’s stock option agreement. We’ll get into these conditions next.

technical Although everyone typically refers to “stock options” in the plural, when you receive a stock option grant, you are receiving an option to purchase a given number of shares. So technically, it’s incorrect to say someone “has 10,000 stock options.”

You’re reading an excerpt from a Holloway Guide.
The Holloway Guide to Equity Compensation
Joshua Levy, Joe Wallin, and over 35 contributors
Over 3 hours and 300 linked resources
Stock options, RSUs, job offers, and taxes—a detailed reference, including hundreds of resources, explained from the ground up and made to be improved over time.