Close this search box.

Table of Contents

Howey Test


The Howey Test is a legal principle used to determine whether a transaction qualifies as an “investment contract” and thus falls under the U.S. Securities laws. This test originated from the Supreme Court case SEC v. Howey Co. and it evaluates whether there is an investment of money, in a common enterprise, with an expectation of profits predominantly from the efforts of others.


The phonetics of the keyword “Howey Test” would be: ˈhou-ē tɛst

Key Takeaways

<ol><li>The Howey Test originates from a 1946 Supreme Court case and is a legal standard used to determine whether certain transactions qualify as “investment contracts.” If so, they are considered securities and fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.</li><li>The test consists of four parts: (1) an investment of money; (2) in a common enterprise; (3) with an expectation of profits; (4) from the efforts of others. All these components must be met for the transaction to be classified as an “investment contract.” </li><li>In recent years, the Howey Test has been applied in the realm of cryptocurrency and Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs). This evaluation determines whether a digital asset is a security, allowing for enhanced financial regulation of the rapidly evolving domain of cryptocurrency.</li></ol>


The Howey Test is crucial in the realm of business and finance because it assists in determining whether a transaction qualifies as an “investment contract” and therefore falls under the jurisdiction of securities regulations. Named after a 1946 U.S. Supreme Court case, SEC v. W.J. Howey Co., the test is primarily used by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to ensure compliance with securities laws. If a transaction passes the Howey Test, it must adhere to strict disclosure, registration, and procedural obligations established to protect investors. In the context of recent financial developments, it plays a significant role in determining whether transactions involving cryptocurrency and Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) constitute securities, helping to shape the regulatory landscape for these emerging technologies.


The Howey Test serves as a fundamental mechanism in the financial sector, designed to determine whether a contractual agreement should be classified as an “investment contract” , and thus, falls under the umbrella of securities according to the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 in the U.S. Its primary purpose is to protect investors by ensuring that any investment they make is regulated and meets a basic threshold of transparency and fairness. It plays a pivotal role in the exercising of oversight and regulation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) over investment deals, fostering trust and enhancing investor confidence in the financial marketplace.The Howey Test is widely used in the assessment of transactions, especially in newer industries like cryptocurrency, where the classification and regulation of certain assets can be murky. This test aids in identifying whether an investor is subject to securities laws, and thereby facilitates preventative measures against fraudulent trading practices. By enabling the discernment of what constitutes an “investment contract” , Howey Test essentially delineates the parameters for due regulatory scrutiny in the interest of investor protection and market integrity.


The Howey Test is a test created by the Supreme Court for determining whether certain transactions qualify as “investment contracts”. If so, then under the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, those transactions are considered securities and subject to certain disclosure and registration requirements. Here are three real-world examples:1. SEC vs. W.J. Howey Co.: This is the original case from which the Howey Test originates. The SEC charged W.J. Howey Co. who was selling real estate contracts for citrus groves in Florida. The company argued that they were just selling real estate, not securities. But the Supreme Court ruled that the scheme involved an investment of money in a common enterprise with profits coming solely from the efforts of others, hence met all prongs of the Howey Test.2. SEC vs. Telegram: In this relatively recent example, the SEC applied the Howey Test to halt the release of Telegram’s new cryptocurrency, GRAM. Despite Telegram’s claim that GRAM was not a security but a form of currency, the SEC argued that since investors bought into GRAM with an expectation of profit based largely on Telegram’s efforts to develop their platform and promote the use of GRAM, it qualifies as an investment contract under the Howey Test.3. SEC vs. Tezos: The Tezos ICO (Initial Coin Offering) was one of the largest ever, raising $232 million in 2017. Later, several class-action lawsuits were filed against Tezos, alleging that they violated U.S. securities laws by selling unregistered securities. This case also proved that cryptocurrencies could be considered securities if they meet the criteria of the Howey Test.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is the Howey Test?

The Howey Test is a legal test established by the United States Supreme Court used to determine whether a transaction qualifies as an investment contract, and therefore could be subject to securities laws.

When was the Howey Test created?

The Howey Test was formed out of the Supreme Court case SEC vs. W.J. Howey Co., which took place in 1946.

What is the significance of the Howey Test in the finance and business world?

The Howey Test is significant because it helps to define the term security for legal purposes and is usually applied when a company is selling or promoting an investment product that may not be a traditional security.

What are the criteria for a transaction to meet the Howey Test?

There are four criteria that must be met: it’s an investment of money; there is an expectation of profits; the investment is in a common enterprise; the profit comes from the efforts of a promoter or third party.

Can non-traditional investments be subject to the Howey Test?

Yes, the Howey Test can be, and often is, applied to non-traditional investments, like cryptocurrency, for example.

How is the Howey Test used in cryptocurrency regulation?

It is used to determine whether a cryptocurrency falls under federal or state securities laws. If a cryptocurrency passes the Howey Test, it is considered a security and therefore subject to certain regulations and laws.

Is the Howey Test applicable worldwide?

No, the Howey Test is a U.S. standard. However, many other jurisdictions have adopted similar tests to determine whether an arrangement constitutes an investment contract.

Where can one find the official documentation or statement of the Howey Test?

The full judgement and details of the Howey Test can be found in the opinion of the SEC vs. W.J. Howey Co. case, readily available in many legal databases.

Related Finance Terms

Sources for More Information

About Our Editorial Process

At Due, we are dedicated to providing simple money and retirement advice that can make a big impact in your life. Our team closely follows market shifts and deeply understands how to build REAL wealth. All of our articles undergo thorough editing and review by financial experts, ensuring you get reliable and credible money advice.

We partner with leading publications, such as Nasdaq, The Globe and Mail, Entrepreneur, and more, to provide insights on retirement, current markets, and more.

We also host a financial glossary of over 7000 money/investing terms to help you learn more about how to take control of your finances.

View our editorial process

About Our Journalists

Our journalists are not just trusted, certified financial advisers. They are experienced and leading influencers in the financial realm, trusted by millions to provide advice about money. We handpick the best of the best, so you get advice from real experts. Our goal is to educate and inform, NOT to be a ‘stock-picker’ or ‘market-caller.’ 

Why listen to what we have to say?

While Due does not know how to predict the market in the short-term, our team of experts DOES know how you can make smart financial decisions to plan for retirement in the long-term.

View our expert review board

About Due

Due makes it easier to retire on your terms. We give you a realistic view on exactly where you’re at financially so when you retire you know how much money you’ll get each month. Get started today.

Due Fact-Checking Standards and Processes

To ensure we’re putting out the highest content standards, we sought out the help of certified financial experts and accredited individuals to verify our advice. We also rely on them for the most up to date information and data to make sure our in-depth research has the facts right, for today… Not yesterday. Our financial expert review board allows our readers to not only trust the information they are reading but to act on it as well. Most of our authors are CFP (Certified Financial Planners) or CRPC (Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor) certified and all have college degrees. Learn more about annuities, retirement advice and take the correct steps towards financial freedom and knowing exactly where you stand today. Learn everything about our top-notch financial expert reviews below… Learn More