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Banking and Finance

The First Attack on the Accredited Investor Standard

Many of the provisions in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act merely provide for future regulatory framework. That it is in part true for the changing definition of "accredited investor" under the Securities Act. The other part is that the definition changed once President Obama signed the bill into law ten days ago.

The definition of accredited investor now excludes the value of the primary residence from the calculation of net worth. Angel investors who poured too much of their wealth into a new swimming pool and cabana may get excluded from future private placements.

The SEC has also shown that it intends to be aggressive in setting the new accredited investor definition through the rule-making called for in Section 413 of Dodd-Frank. Last week, as part of their regular Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations the SEC gave an opinion on valuing the primary residence.

Question 179.01

Section 413(a) of the Dodd-Frank Act does not define the term "value," nor does it address the treatment of mortgage and other indebtedness secured by the residence for purposes of the net worth calculation. As required by Section 413(a) of the Dodd-Frank Act, the Commission will issue amendments to its rules to conform them to the adjustment to the accredited investor net worth standard made by the Act. However, Section 413(a) provides that the adjustment is effective upon enactment of the Act. When determining net worth for purposes of Securities Act Rules 215 and 501(a)(5), the value of the person's primary residence must be excluded. Pending implementation of the changes to the Commission's rules required by the Act, the related amount of indebtedness secured by the primary residence up to its fair market value may also be excluded. Indebtedness secured by the residence in excess of the value of the home should be considered a liability and deducted from the investor's net worth. [July 23, 2010]

So you get no benefit to your net worth calculation for your home. Even worse, if you are underwater on your home then that excess debt is eating into your net worth calculation.

I think it's easy to argue with this interpretation. By excluding "value" you can argue that it should exclude positive value as well as negative value. You could also argue that in some states (and some loan documents) the mortgage is non-recourse so the excess of debt over the value of the home should be excluded.

You can make those arguments when the SEC begins its rule-making to create a new definition for "accredited investor." For now, you need to live by this interpretation while you are privately raising capital.

I expect the SEC is going to continue to be aggressive in establishing the new standards. As I said early this month:

Looking into my crystal ball, I expect the SEC to adjust the income standards based on inflation. That would put them at around $459,000 if single and $688,000 if married. I would also expect the standard to include some sort investment expertise and knowledge standard. Having a big pile of cash or a big paycheck will likely no longer be the only standard.  At least that's my guess.

Now you will need a bigger pile of cash if your home mortgage is underwater.


For additional commentary on developments in compliance and ethics, visit Compliance Building, a blog hosted by Doug Cornelius.