What does it mean to be an accredited investor?
Under the federal securities laws, a company or private fund may not offer or sell securities unless the transaction has been registered with the SEC or an exemption from registration is available. Certain securities offerings that are exempt from registration may only be offered to, or purchased by, persons who are accredited investors. One principal purpose of the accredited investor concept is to identify persons who can bear the economic risk of investing in these unregistered securities. Unlike offerings registered with the SEC in which certain information is required to be disclosed, companies and private funds, such as a hedge fund or venture capital fund, engaging in these exempt offerings do not have to make prescribed disclosures to accredited investors. These offerings, sometimes referred to as private placements, involve unique risks and you should be aware that you could lose your entire investment. The SEC recently adopted rules to permit general advertising for certain exempt offerings.
Are you an accredited investor?
An accredited investor, in the context of a natural person, includes anyone who:
- earned income that exceeded $200,000 (or $300,000 together with a spouse) in each of the prior two years, and reasonably expects the same for the current year, OR
- has a net worth over $1 million, either alone or together with a spouse (excluding the value of the person’s primary residence).
On the income test, the person must satisfy the thresholds for the three years consistently either alone or with a spouse, and cannot, for example, satisfy one year based on individual income and the next two years based on joint income with a spouse. The only exception is if a person is married within this period, in which case the person may satisfy the threshold on the basis of joint income for the years during which the person was married and on the basis of individual income for the other years. In addition, entities such as banks, partnerships, corporations, nonprofits and trusts may be accredited investors. Of the entities that would be considered accredited investors and depending on your circumstances, the following may be relevant to you:
- any trust, with total assets in excess of $5 million, not formed to specifically purchase the subject securities, whose purchase is directed by a sophisticated person, or
- any entity in which all of the equity owners are accredited investors.
In this context, a sophisticated person means the person must have, or the company or private fund offering the securities reasonably believes that this person has, sufficient knowledge and experience in financial and business matters to evaluate the merits and risks of the prospective investment.