Employer Q&A: Why Can RSUs Be More Expensive Than Common Stocks?‍

Employer Q&A: Why Can RSUs Be More Expensive Than Common Stocks?‍

August 30, 2023

Employer Q&A: Why Can RSUs Be More Expensive Than Common Stocks?‍

Suppose you have two options: you can either buy a masterpiece painting at a seemingly higher price or invest in a promising but relatively unknown artist. Both choices involve a price disparity, but the former promises a more substantial return in the long run. 

When it comes to employee compensation, a similar dilemma often arises when comparing Restricted Stock Units (RSUs) with common stocks. Despite the initial perception of RSUs as a costlier option, they bear the potential for significant advantages, much like investing in that masterpiece painting. Understanding why RSUs can seem more expensive than common stocks is the first step in realizing their unique benefits, including flexibility, transparency, tax efficiency, and the potential for maximum gains.

What Makes RSUs Initially More Expensive Than Common Stocks?

Restricted Stock Units (RSUs) can initially appear more expensive than common stocks because they are granted without an upfront purchase cost. Instead of buying shares directly, your company grants RSUs to your employees, which represent a promise to deliver company shares at a later date. This deferred delivery makes RSUs appear more costly on your financial statements.

The perceived cost of RSUs is primarily related to how they are structured. When you grant RSUs, you are essentially giving your employees a future right to a specific number of company shares. While this might seem like a significant expense on your balance sheet, it's important to recognize that this is a deferred compensation arrangement. The value of the RSUs only becomes concrete when they vest, which often occurs over a predetermined time frame or when certain performance goals are met. This means that your employees do not have immediate access to the value of the RSUs, making them appear more expensive than common stocks, which can be purchased directly.

What Are the Advantages of RSUs in Terms of Flexibility?

One key advantage of RSUs is their flexibility. RSUs provide you, as an employer, with more control over when and how your employees receive the shares, allowing you to structure them to align with your business objectives. This flexibility can be especially useful in a dynamic business environment.

With RSUs, you can set vesting schedules that align with your long-term goals. For example, you can structure RSUs to vest over a few years, ensuring that employees remain motivated and committed to your organization. Moreover, RSUs can be tied to specific performance metrics, giving you the power to incentivize desired behavior and results. Common stocks, on the other hand, do not provide this level of flexibility.

How Do RSUs Offer Greater Transparency?

RSUs offer a higher level of transparency compared to common stocks. This transparency can be advantageous for both employers and employees, as it fosters trust and understanding within the organization.

RSUs come with clear terms and conditions, including vesting periods and performance targets, which are typically outlined in the RSU agreement. This transparency ensures that your employees are aware of the criteria they need to meet to receive the shares. Moreover, the value of RSUs is directly tied to your company's stock price, which is publicly traded. This means that both you and your employees can easily track the value of RSUs, fostering trust and reducing ambiguity in the compensation structure. In contrast, the value of common stocks can fluctuate significantly, leading to uncertainty for both parties.

How Can RSUs Offer Tax Efficiency?

RSUs can be more tax-efficient for both you and your employees. The tax treatment of RSUs can be favorably compared to the tax implications of owning common stocks.

When RSUs vest, employees receive the shares as part of their compensation. At this point, they are typically taxed based on the fair market value of the shares. However, employees have the option to defer selling the shares, potentially reducing their tax liability. Additionally, RSUs are subject to capital gains tax rates if held for a specified period, which can be more advantageous than the ordinary income tax rate that often applies to the sale of common stocks. This tax-efficient structure can be a significant incentive for your employees, as it helps them retain more of the value of their compensation.

Do RSUs Require Huge Administrative Costs?

No, RSUs typically do not entail substantial administrative costs. In fact, RSUs often offer a more streamlined and cost-effective solution compared to common stocks, making them an attractive choice for many employers.

When you grant common stocks to your employees, you often need to navigate a complex process that includes managing a cap table, handling stock issuances, and addressing various regulatory requirements. This can be time-consuming and costly, especially for smaller businesses. 

On the other hand, RSUs are relatively straightforward. They are essentially a promise to deliver company shares at a later date upon vesting. This simplicity reduces the administrative burden associated with stock grants, saving both time and money. Additionally, RSUs often come with built-in tracking and reporting systems, further streamlining the process and minimizing the need for extensive administrative support. In this respect, RSUs provide a cost-effective and efficient option for employers looking to reward their employees with equity incentives.

Are RSUs Ideal for Startups?

Yes, RSUs are often an ideal choice for startups. They offer several advantages over common stocks, making them a preferred option in the dynamic environment of a startup.

Startups typically face unique challenges, including limited financial resources, uncertainty, and a need to attract and retain top talent. RSUs can be particularly well-suited to address these challenges.

Firstly, RSUs require no upfront purchase by employees, which can be especially appealing to startups with limited capital. This means that even when financial resources are constrained, you can still offer equity-based incentives to your employees.

Secondly, RSUs can be structured to vest over time or upon reaching specific milestones. This aligns the interests of your employees with the growth and success of your startup. Common stocks, on the other hand, might not provide the same level of motivation and loyalty, as employees would need to make a financial investment upfront to acquire shares.

Furthermore, RSUs can be designed with built-in performance metrics, ensuring that employees are directly contributing to your startup's objectives. This performance-based approach can be a powerful tool in motivating and rewarding employees as your company navigates the challenges and opportunities of the startup phase.

In addition, RSUs can be more straightforward to manage from an administrative perspective, saving valuable time and resources. For startups where every penny counts, the efficiency of RSUs can be a significant advantage.

While common stocks have their merits, RSUs offer a tailored approach that is often better aligned with the needs and circumstances of startups, providing a cost-effective and motivating way to reward and retain key team members.


Indeed, the seemingly higher initial cost of RSUs compared to common stocks is a small price to pay for the myriad benefits they offer. The flexibility, transparency, tax efficiency, and potential for maximum gains make RSUs an excellent choice for employers seeking to motivate, retain, and reward their employees. Moreover, the streamlined administrative processes and their suitability for startups make RSUs an even more compelling option. Don't let the upfront numbers deter you; instead, consider the long-term advantages that RSUs can bring to your organization, fostering a more engaged, committed, and successful workforce.

Want a more cost-effective way to approach RSU compensation? Book a demo with Upstock today and see how our RSU plans make all the difference when it comes to empowering your team.

Unlock Your Equity IQ: Are You an Upstock Pro Yet?