Investing

ESPPs a Useful Stopgap for 401(k) Loans, Fidelity Says

Workers are using the profits from their employee stock purchase programs wisely, such as paying down debt or reinvesting the money in their retirement plan.

By Lee Barney editors@plansponsor.com | March 09, 2017

Having taken a deep dive into the trading activity of 365,000 workers who purchase company stock through an employee stock purchase program (ESPP) over the past three years, Fidelity Investments concluded that many sold their shares at a profit.

Those most likely to sell their shares are those who got a significant discount on the price and those under 40, Fidelity says.

“Company stock plans are increasingly viewed as a top employee benefit and can play an important role in an employee’s overall financial health,” says Mark Haggerty, head of stock plan services at Fidelity. “Employees often use these plans as a savings vehicle alongside their 401(k), but money from an ESPP can be used to address short-term expenses and financial needs—and help workers avoid the need to tap their 401(k).”

In the past three years, 50% of workers in an ESPP sold all of their shares. Plans that offer stock at a 15% discount have twice the participation rates than plans with lower discounts.

Overall, older employees are more inclined to hold onto their company stock. However, the percentage of workers between the ages of 50 and 60 who sold all of their company stock increased from 41% in 2014 to 44% in 2015. Likewise, among those age 60 and older, the percentage who sold all of their stock increased from 34% in 2014 to 38% in 2015.

Fidelity also found that the more that employees contribute to their ESPP, the more likely they are to sell their shares; among workers who contributed $10,000 or more to their ESPP each year, 57% sold all of their shares in 2015, up from 52% in 2014.

Fidelity also asked survey respondents what they used the proceeds for. The most common was paying down debt (34%); followed by reinvesting the money, either directly in a mutual fund or through their retirement savings account (19%); home improvement (17%); and establishing an emergency fund (11%).

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