Are RSUs the Secret Sauce in Your Annual Increment?

Casey Fenton

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December 13, 2023

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Should you count RSUs—the Restricted Stock Units casually mentioned in your benefits package—when you're tallying up your annual raise?

Imagine you've just sat down with a cup of coffee and your benefits statement. You see terms like “base salary,” “bonuses,” and then there's this line item: RSUs. What's the deal with that?

Are these mysterious units merely a perk, or should you consider them as real dollars (or stock) added to your annual income?

Let’s find out how they fit—or don’t fit—into your annual salary bump.

What Are RSUs and How Do They Work?

What are these Restricted Stock Units or RSUs everyone keeps talking about? Understanding these will provide a more rounded view of what's really in that paycheck.

What is an RSU?

RSUs are not exactly stock; they're a promise of stock.

Picture a golden ticket that turns into shares of your company's stock at a later date. This golden ticket comes with a set of rules, or rather, a “vesting schedule.” That means one can't cash in immediately, but have to wait for the magic moment when those RSUs turn into real, live shares.

Tax Implications of RSUs

Don't celebrate just yet! Uncle Sam wants a piece of the action, too.

Tax obligations arise the moment those RSUs vest and become actual shares. The income from vested RSUs is typically treated as ordinary income, so brace for a tax bill when they vest.

However, some people also opt to delay the sale of shares to qualify for lower capital gains tax rates. Tax situations can vary, so a chat with a tax advisor can really help to navigate these murky waters.

Vesting Schedules

Hear the term “vesting schedule,” and ears should perk up. It's a timetable that outlines when the RSUs turn from promises into tangible assets. It's usually a set period of time or tied to specific performance milestones.

These schedules are critical because they directly influence when one can actually sell or transfer the shares. It’s not just a countdown to a payday, but a roadmap for understanding how this financial instrument matures over time.

Ready to see how all these pieces fit into the annual salary picture? Let’s explore the traditional components of an annual increment.

The Traditional Components of an Annual Increment

Navigating the annual increment is a lot like exploring a treasure map. Various elements contribute to the overall boost in one's paycheck.

Understanding each component provides a comprehensive view of what that treasure chest—your annual increment—truly contains.

Base Salary Increases

The backbone of any annual increment is the base salary increase. This is often the percentage bump you'll see following performance reviews.

For example, a stellar annual review might result in a 3% to 5% salary increase. This is typically considered the "safe" and predictable portion of an annual increment and is often the most easily negotiated.

Additional Benefits

Adulting comes with its fair share of concerns, and a good benefits package aims to ease those worries. Health insurance, dental plans, and retirement contributions, like 401(k) matching, fall into this category. Some companies even go the extra mile with wellness programs or educational stipends.

While these may not show up directly in the paycheck, they add significant value to one's overall compensation.

Performance and Skill-Based Rewards

Eyes on the prize! Achieving specific milestones or exceeding expectations can result in bonuses or even promotions. For instance, hitting all quarterly targets might unlock a one-time bonus of $5,000.

Alternatively, demonstrating expertise in a newly acquired skill could lead to a promotion and a more substantial base salary. These are exciting components that can make a considerable difference in annual compensation.

Comparison With Other Companies

Knowledge is power. Keep an eye on industry standards by using platforms like Glassdoor or Payscale. These tools offer insights into what similar roles in similar companies pay, including benefits and bonuses.

Understanding the industry norm can offer leverage in negotiations and satisfaction in knowing one is getting a fair deal.

To recap, here’s what traditionally goes into your annual increment:

  1. Health benefits
  2. Retirement contributions
  3. Bonuses
  4. Annual raises
  5. Promotions

Armed with this knowledge, the next big question looms: how do RSUs factor into this established framework?

Should You Consider RSUs as Part of Your Annual Increment?

The big question, of course, is whether to include RSUs as part of that tantalizing annual increment. It's a lot like deciding if you should count a lottery ticket as part of your wealth—it could be a windfall or a washout.

Pros of Including RSUs

Starting on a high note, RSUs can add a delightful layer to your annual increment.

Take a company like Apple, for instance. If you received RSUs from them five years ago, those shares have likely ballooned in value. So, counting RSUs means potentially counting a significant boost in your overall financial picture.

Another benefit is that RSUs offer a passive way to invest; you're accumulating value without having to manage a portfolio actively.

Cons of Including RSUs

On the flip side, the stock market doesn't always act like your best friend. Remember the volatility seen with companies like Enron or Kodak? Those who counted RSUs from such companies as a sure thing learned a tough lesson.

Relying too heavily on these shares as a fixed part of your income can be risky. Unlike a salary increase, the value of RSUs can decrease, meaning you're not just standing still; you could be going backward.

Real-Life Scenarios

To give you a clearer picture of how all these translate to the real world, let’s imagine a couple of hypothetical—but feasible—examples.

Take Jane, who counted RSUs as part of her annual increment while working at a startup. The company went public, and her RSUs quadrupled in value. On the other end, meet Mark, who did the same but found himself in a tight spot when his company's stock plummeted.

These contrasting stories show that while RSUs can be a financial boon, they can also be a risky bet.

Expert Opinions

Consulting experts on this matter can add clarity.

Financial advisors usually caution against considering RSUs as guaranteed income due to market volatility. HR professionals often offer a balanced view, suggesting that RSUs can be a part of your overall compensation strategy but shouldn't replace more stable income sources.

So, having chewed over the pros and cons, along with real-world stories and expert insights, you might be wondering how to make the final decision.

Making an Informed Decision

So, the facts are on the table, and now comes the moment of truth: making that informed decision about including RSUs in your annual increment. But remember, like choosing the right pair of shoes, one size does not fit all.

Balancing Risk and Reward

Feeling gutsy or playing it safe? It’s a balancing act between the potential of RSUs to grow and the possibility of them nosediving.

Say, you work for a tech giant like Google; the risk factor might seem relatively low. But if you're with a newly minted startup, understand that things can be more volatile.

If willing to embrace some risk, RSUs can add that zing to your financial wellness.

Talking to a Financial Advisor

Time for a chat with someone who knows the ins and outs of personal finance.

A financial advisor can offer tailored advice that can be incredibly valuable. For instance, they can help with tax planning related to RSUs, which could save you a good chunk of money in the long run.

An advisor can help you evaluate whether including RSUs in your annual increment aligns well with your long-term financial goals.

Understanding Your Company’s Policy

Knowing the policy of your employer can be enlightening. Upstock.io, for example, offers Double Trigger RSUs, which come with unique tax and vesting benefits. Understanding these specific policies can give you a clearer picture of how RSUs could fit into your annual increment.

Then, it’s decision time! Armed with all this information, here are some action items:

  • Review your employer's RSU policy thoroughly.
  • Set up an appointment with a financial advisor.
  • Weigh the risks and rewards based on your financial goals and risk tolerance.

Once these steps are ticked off, you'll be in a much better position to decide whether or not to include RSUs in your annual increment.

Final Thoughts

And so, the journey through the winding roads of RSUs and annual increments comes to an end. But remember, this isn't just about crunching numbers or tallying up figures on a spreadsheet.

It's about understanding your financial standing from a 360-degree angle. Equity compensation, like RSUs, adds another layer of complexity but also offers a new avenue for wealth creation.

It's essential to keep questioning the status quo. Ask what benefits can truly serve you best in the long term. Is it the stable, straightforward salary increase, or is it the exciting but volatile world of stock options and RSUs?

Knowing this can be your guidepost in navigating your compensation package.

Armed with this fresh insight, the next step is to implement it. Revisit your company’s policy, engage with financial experts, and don't shy away from probing discussions with HR. Each step you take is a step closer to a more secure financial future.

And if you need help and an extra push, drop us a message. We’re excited to help!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Casey Fenton

Founder, Upstock & Couchsurfing, AI and Equity Innovator

Casey Fenton, the founder of Upstock & Couchsurfing and an AI and equity innovator, has revolutionized how we perceive and implement equity in the workplace. His foresight in creating platforms that not only connect people but also align their interests towards communal and corporate prosperity has established him as a pivotal figure in technology and community building. Casey speaks worldwide on topics including ownership mindset, worker equity, With Upstock and Couchsurfing, he has demonstrated an unparalleled expertise in harnessing technology for the betterment of community interaction and organizational benefits.

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