RSU Explained For Employees

Casey Fenton

|

September 2, 2023

Today, we're diving into the world of Restricted Stock Units RSU—a hot topic in the world of equity compensation. If you've received a restricted stock unit or RSU as part of your compensation package, it's crucial to understand how they work, the tax implications, vesting schedules, and other important considerations. So buckle up and let's get started!

Understanding Restricted Stock Units (RSUs)

Let's start with the basics. 

What exactly are RSUs? Well, RSUs are a form of equity compensation that most private companies grant to employees as part of their overall compensation package to reward employees for their loyalty and performance. When you're granted RSUs as an employee compensation plan, your company promises to give you a certain number of company shares at a future date, known as the vesting date. 

However, keep in mind that RSUs are "restricted," meaning they come with certain conditions and restrictions that must be met before you can fully own the company shares awarded to you. It's like having a delicious piece of cake, but you can't dig in yet—you have to wait for that perfect moment!

How Does Restricted Stock Unit Work?

Let's break down how restricted stock units work so you can ease your mind about the stock units being dubbed as “restricted”.

Restricted stock units or RSUs are typically granted as part of employee compensation plans and other benefits and are subject to a vesting schedule. A vesting schedule is a timeline that determines your restricted stock units will become fully vested, and you'll have the right to receive the company shares. Vesting schedules can vary depending on your company's policies, but they usually span from 1 to 4 years. So, it's like a countdown until you can enjoy that slice of cake!

Once your “restricted” stock units are vested, you'll have the option to receive the company shares through stock awards or sell them at the current market price, depending on your company's trading policy and other restrictions. 

If you choose to receive the shares from your private company, you'll get the net shares after any applicable taxes and withholding, or you can choose to sell the shares immediately if you prefer cash over cake.

Tax Implications of Your Company Stock Units

Ah, taxes—the inevitable part of any financial transaction. Naturally, your stock units aren’t exempted from this obligation to pay tax as they come with their own set of federal income tax provisions and other local revenue liabilities.

So let's break it down into tidbits to make it easier for you to pay taxes when they’re due while similarly reaping your financial rewards and other benefits from your stock grant.

Ordinary Income Tax

When your restricted stock units (RSUs) vest and you receive the stock shares, the stock value at that time is considered ordinary income and is subject to federal income tax, as well as any applicable state and local taxes. The value of the actual shares is usually based on the fair market value (FMV) of the company stock at the vesting date. It's like taking a bite of that cake—it's delicious, but you'll have to pay for it.

Capital Gains Tax

If the company offered you a stock option plan on a grant date and choose to sell the vested shares, any gains realized from the sale may be subject to capital gains tax. Capital gains tax is typically calculated based on the difference between the sale stock price and the fair market value (FMV) of the shares at the end of the vesting period.

The rate of capital gains tax depends on the holding period of the shares and your individual income level. So, if you decide to sell that cake, you might have to share a piece of it with the taxman.

Vesting Schedule and Vesting Dates of Your Stock Units

Alright, let's talk about the vesting schedule and vesting dates. Vesting schedules determine when your restricted stock units become fully vested, and you'll have the right to receive the company’s vested shares. 

Vesting schedules can be time-based, performance-based, or a combination of both, which all serve to reward employees and incentivize their loyalty. In a time-based vesting schedule, the restricted stock vests on a specific timeline, such as 25% vesting after 1 year, and the remaining 75% vesting in equal installments over the next 3 years. Meanwhile, a performance-based vesting schedule is based on achieving certain performance milestones, such as revenue targets or other company goals.

Vesting dates are the specific dates when the restricted stock units become fully vested shares and you can receive the company’s actual stock shares. Vesting dates are determined by your company's trading policy and are usually communicated to you when you receive the RSUs during the stock grant. It's important to keep track of the vesting dates and understand the conditions and restrictions associated with them.

It's worth mentioning that restricted stock or RSUs are different from stock options, which is another common form of equity compensation. While both RSUs and stock options can offer employees a way to share in the company's success, they have different tax implications and mechanics such as varying federal income taxes and capital gains income taxes.

Restricted stock options or RSUs are usually taxed as ordinary income when they vest, whereas stock options are taxed based on the difference between the exercise price and the stock's fair market value at the time of exercise.

Retirement Savings

There is a growing employees interest in leveraging restricted stock units for pension and retirement. Hence, as you plan for your eventual separation from your private company employer, it's important to consider how RSUs can play a significant role in your retirement savings strategy.

As restricted stock vests, they can provide an additional source of retirement savings, especially if you choose to hold onto the vested shares and benefit from potential stock price appreciation over time, or the event where it can have a higher market price. Incorporating restricted stock units plan into your retirement savings and aligning them with your overall financial goals can help you build a solid foundation for your retirement.

Retirement Account Contributions

In addition to the restricted stock unit, maximizing your contributions to retirement accounts, such as 401(k)s, IRAs, or other retirement plans, should also be a part of your overall retirement planning strategy. 

Contributing to retirement accounts can provide tax advantages, such as reducing your current taxable income and allowing for tax-deferred growth of investments over time. By maximizing your contributions to retirement accounts, you can diversify your retirement portfolio and have more options for retirement income.

Vesting and Forfeiture Risks

It's important to understand that the restricted stock unit or RSUs typically vest over a period of time and the vesting period may have conditions that need to be met for full vesting. If these conditions are not met, such as continued employment with private companies or achievement of certain performance goals, the RSUs may be forfeited or partially vested. 

Lock-up Periods

Some employers may impose their company’s trading policy for lock-up periods on RSU shares, which restricts employees from selling or transferring their RSU shares for a certain period of time after vesting or company events such as initial public offerings (IPOs).

Lock-up periods can limit your ability to access the actual market value of your RSUs, which may impact their liquidity event and financial flexibility. It's important to be aware of any lock-up periods associated with your restricted stock units and consider them in your financial planning.

Exchange Rates (for Global Employees)

If you’re a remote employee who works for a multinational company or has received company stock in the form of RSUs in a currency different from yours, exchange rate fluctuations can impact the actual market value of your restricted stock unit. 

Changes in exchange rates between the time of the RSU stock grant and the time of vesting or sale can affect the amount of proceeds you receive in your local currency, which may impact the share price and your overall financial situation. As a global employee who receives RSUs at the company’s stock price, it's important to consider exchange rate risks and potential currency conversion costs as part of your management strategy for your RSU equity compensation.

For Equity Management of Your RSUs, There's Upstock

Managing RSUs effectively requires careful planning and professional guidance when needed. You don’t necessarily need to pay for your own financial advisor to understand the basics, although you may want to consider getting one to get some tax advice. Restricted stock units work like a cake baking in the oven, and until then, you’ll only need to watch out for underlying stock trading policies and see if you owe capital gains tax or other income tax dues on your stock compensation income.

Meanwhile, we at Upstock provide a comprehensive platform for equity management, including RSUs, to help employees make the most of their equity and stock based compensation as part of their overall financial plan. We’re like your helpful financial advisor, who can give you and your employers sound personal finance advice through our innovative offerings that align with your financial goals.

By understanding the intricacies of your restricted stock unit RSU and its tax liabilities such as paying ordinary income tax and mandatory supplemental wage withholding among many others, you can work towards a secure and prosperous financial future.

Want to know more about our equity products and other offerings? Send us a message here.

Foster an Ownership Mindset

Are your workers phoning it in? Or are they psyched to do their very best every day? See how Upstock creates an Ownership Mindset for your team. Start building an Ownership Mindset today.

Learn More
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.

Previous: RSU Disclosure Best Practices After Atlassian's Acquisition of Loom Next: RSU Failures: Lessons to Learn‍