Pros and Cons of Restricted Stock Units (RSUs)

Upstock Team

June 3, 2023

Pros and Cons of Restricted Stock Units (RSUs)

August 30, 2023

Pros and Cons of Restricted Stock Units (RSUs)

Many companies offer equity compensation plans to attract and retain talented employees. Among them are Restricted Stock Units (RSUs), which have become a popular form of compensation for employees in public and private companies, especially in the technology and startup industries. RSUs are a type of equity award that companies grant to their employees, providing them with an ownership stake in the company.

Unlike stock options, RSUs are a type of stock-based compensation that gives employees the right to receive company shares at a future date, generally subject to a vesting schedule. 

But while RSUs can be a great benefit, it's important to understand their pros, cons, and considerations to maximize your gains. Let's take a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of RSUs, as well as key factors to consider when evaluating RSUs as part of your overall personal finance goals.

Pros of Restricted Stock Units (RSUs)

RSUs offer several advantages over stock options as a form of equity compensation for employees:

1. Reward Employees with Equity Ownership

Awarding RSUs provides employees with a sense of ownership in the company. In fact, they can serve as an incentive for key employees to contribute to its growth, as the RSUs may only vest if certain performance or tenure criteria are met. This can help companies retain and motivate top talent, especially in competitive industries.

Compared to traditional stock options, RSUs align the interests of employees with the performance of the company. As the stock unit price is tied to the company's financial performance, employees have a vested interest in the success of the company, which can foster an ownership mindset that motivates everyone to contribute to the company's growth.

2. Cash Payment

RSUs can provide payment of cash equivalent to the stock price at the time of vesting, allowing employees to realize the value of their RSUs without having to purchase company stock. This can be especially beneficial for employees who may not have the financial means to purchase company shares or who prefer to receive cash instead.

3. Potential for Stock Price Appreciation and Fair Market Value

The value of restricted stock units is typically determined based on the fair market value of the company's stock during the grant date. As the company stock price increases over time, the fair market value of the RSUs also rises, potentially resulting in significant gains for employees when the restricted stock units vest and the shares are delivered to them. 

As such, RSUs can serve as a powerful incentive for employees to contribute to the long-term success of the company, as they directly benefit from any appreciation in the market value of company stock.

4. Long-Term Investment

As RSUs typically vest over time, employees have the incentive to stay with the company for the long term, contributing to its success and benefiting from potential increases in the stock price.

RSUs are typically subject to a vesting schedule, which encourages employees to hold onto the RSUs or shares for a longer period of time. This can promote a long-term investment mindset, as employees are incentivized to stay with the company and hold onto the shares until they are fully vested, potentially leading to greater wealth accumulation over time.

5. Tax Deferral Opportunities

RSUs can offer tax deferral opportunities, as employees are not required to pay taxes on the shares until they are vested and settled at a future date. As an employee, you have the flexibility to manage your tax liabilities on the RSUs and potentially defer taxes to a later date when your tax bracket may be lower.

RSUs can have favorable tax treatment compared to other forms of equity compensation, such as stock options. This is because RSUs are typically taxed as ordinary income when they vest, and employees may have the option to pay taxes on the vested RSUs via tax withholding, which can help manage the tax impact. When this tax liability is paid by your employer on your behalf, you don’t need to worry about setting aside funds to pay the taxes on your vested RSUs separately.

Additionally, RSUs do not require employees to purchase company shares, which can be advantageous in situations where the stock price drops or if employees want to sell the stock immediately upon vesting.

8. Graded Vesting Schedule

RSUs often have a graded vesting schedule, where a portion of the RSUs vest over time. This can provide employees with a consistent stream of equity awards, creating a sense of loyalty and motivation to remain with the company. Additionally, graded vesting can provide employees with a more predictable tax impact, as they may be able to manage their tax obligations over time as the RSUs vest.

Cons of Restricted Stock Unit (RSU)

Despite its amazing advantages, a restricted stock unit may also have potential drawbacks, none of which can’t be addressed through the help of a financial planner. Here are some of those:

1. Tax Implications

RSUs can be a valuable form of compensation for employees, providing them with the opportunity to purchase company stock at a discounted price. However, it's important to understand the tax liability associated with RSU stock units to avoid any surprises come tax time.

One key consideration is when and how to pay taxes on stock shares units. To pay estimated taxes is a crucial step for employees who exercise their RSUs and realize a gain. When you exercise RSUs, it's considered a form of income, and you may need to pay federal income taxes on the difference between the grant price and the stock's current market price, also known as a capital gain. Meanwhile, employees may need to pay income taxes or opt to seek tax advice from a tax advisor to manage their obligations effectively.

RSUs are typically taxed as ordinary income when they vest, and the company may be required to withhold taxes at the time of vesting. This can result in significant tax liability for employees, especially if the RSUs vest at a high stock price or if the employee is in a higher tax bracket. 

Additionally, as RSUs are subject to various taxes, you may be required to pay income tax and possibly even additional state and local taxes depending on the employee's location and the stock policy of the company. 

2. Lack of Immediate Liquidity

RSUs are typically subject to a vesting period, and employees cannot sell or transfer the shares until they are fully vested. This lack of immediate liquidity can impact employees' ability to access the value of their RSUs when needed for financial goals or emergencies.

Employees may need to wait until the RSUs fully vest before being able to sell or transfer them, which can potentially affect their ability to use the RSUs for personal finance purposes or when diversifying their investment portfolio.

3. Risk of Stock Unit Price Volatility

RSUs are tied to the stock unit price of the company, and the value of RSUs can fluctuate based on the stock’s performance. If the company’s stock price declines, it can result in lower returns or even losses from RSUs. As an employee, you should be aware of the potential risks of price volatility and its impact on the value of each restricted stock unit.

RSUs are subject to market volatility, and the value of the RSUs can fluctuate based on the performance of the company's stock in the stock market. 

4. Concentrated Stock Risk

Holding a concentrated position in the company's stock through RSUs can be risky, as it exposes employees to the potential risk of the company stock unit price declining significantly, leading to potential losses. Diversification can be limited, as RSUs may represent a significant portion of an employee's overall investment portfolio.

RSUs are tied to the company's stock price, and if the stock price decreases, the value of the RSUs may significantly decrease. This can result in employees receiving less value from their RSUs than anticipated, which can be disappointing and impact their overall compensation. Employees may also face challenges they finally sell stock if the stock price plummets, which can affect their ability to realize the value of their RSUs.

5. Vesting Restrictions and Forfeiture Risk

RSUs are generally subject to a vesting schedule, which means that employees may not have immediate access to the full value of their RSUs. If an employee leaves the company before the RSUs are fully vested, they may forfeit the unvested portion of their RSUs, resulting in a loss of potential value. This forfeiture risk should be taken into consideration when evaluating RSUs as part of an overall compensation package.

6. Tax Withholding

RSUs are typically subject to tax withholding at the time of vesting, which means that a portion of the RSUs may be withheld by the company to cover the employee's tax obligations. This can reduce the number of stock shares that actually vest and result in employees receiving fewer shares than anticipated. Employees may need to carefully plan for the tax withholding impact of RSUs to avoid any surprises when the RSUs vest.

Considerations Checklist for Managing Stock Units

When considering RSUs as part of your overall compensation package, there are some important factors to consider when evaluating RSUs as part of your overall compensation package. Here are some important factors to keep in mind:

Company's Financial Health and Stock Performance

The financial health and stock performance of the company is crucial considerations when evaluating RSUs. It's essential to assess the company's financial stability, growth prospects, and historical stock performance to gauge the potential value of RSUs in the future. A financially healthy company with a strong stock performance may indicate a higher likelihood of RSUs increasing in value over time.

Vesting Schedule and Forfeiture Risk

Carefully review the vesting schedule and forfeiture risk associated with RSUs. Understand the time period over which RSUs vest and the conditions that may trigger forfeiture. This information can help you plan your financial goals and manage your investment strategy effectively. Consider factors such as your employment contract, the company's policies, and your future career plans when evaluating the vesting schedule and forfeiture risk.

Tax Implications

It's important to know that RSUs come with tax implications that can impact your wallet once they reached the vesting date. RSUs that vest would be treated as ordinary income, and thus you should pay tax on the proceeds. When RSUs vest, you may owe ordinary income tax on the fair market value of the RSUs at that time, based on your current tax bracket and laws on federal income taxes. 

In addition, depending on the stock plan of your company and where you live, there may be other tax liabilities like having to pay capital gains tax to consider when you sell your RSUs if they've increased in value.

The timing of the RSU vesting schedule can also affect the tax treatment. RSUs usually have a vesting schedule that outlines when you'll receive the shares, either all at once or in parts over time. The market value of the RSUs at each vesting date may be subject to ordinary income tax, which could impact your tax bracket and estimated tax payments.

It's also important to know that how your RSUs are settled can affect taxes too. RSUs can be settled in different ways, like cash, company stock, or a mix of both. If you receive RSUs as company stock, the market value of the shares at the time of vesting may be considered taxable compensation, hence you may owe ordinary income tax. But if you receive a cash payment, that amount may also be subject to ordinary income tax.

To navigate the tax implications of RSUs such as capital gains tax and income taxes, it's a good idea to work with a tax professional who can help you understand the rules and come up with a strategy to manage your tax liabilities efficiently. Factors like your current tax bracket, potential changes in tax laws, and any tax planning opportunities should be taken into account when evaluating the tax implications of RSUs. Staying proactive and informed can help you make wise financial decisions and make the most of your RSUs in the long run.

Additionally, the timing of when you sell stock can impact your tax liability. When you purchase company stock at a discounted price, it is considered a taxable event, and the difference between the grant price and the purchase price is typically subject to income tax. If you hold the stock for a certain period of time, such as more than a year, you may qualify for long term capital gains treatment, which has lower tax rates compared to short-term capital gains. It's essential to consult with a qualified tax practitioner or financial professional for personalized guidance on RSUs and their tax implications based on your individual financial situation and tax year.

Diversification and Risk Management

Holding a concentrated position in your company's stock through RSUs can be risky. Consider diversifying your investment portfolio to mitigate concentration risk and manage overall investment risk. This may involve selling a portion of vested restricted stock units RSUs and investing in a diversified portfolio of other assets. Diversification can help protect against the potential risk of a decline in the company stock unit price and provide a more balanced approach to managing your investments.

Long-Term Financial Planning

Restricted stock units RSUs are a long-term investment, and it's crucial to incorporate them into your overall financial planning. Consider your financial goals, risk tolerance, and time horizon when evaluating RSUs and how they fit into your long-term financial plan. This may involve setting up a strategy for selling or holding RSUs beyond the vesting date, managing when to pay income taxes, and diversifying your investment portfolio. Develop a comprehensive financial plan that takes into account your RSUs as part of your overall wealth-building strategy.


In conclusion, restricted stock units can be a valuable form of employee stock compensation, offering potential benefits such as company stock unit price appreciation, alignment with company performance, long-term investment opportunities, and tax deferral. However, they also come with potential drawbacks, including tax implications, lack of immediate liquidity, risk of price volatility, concentrated stock risk, vesting restrictions, and tax withholding. 

Regardless, unlike stock options, RSUs are still way recommendable due to their flexibility. You’ll only need to carefully evaluate the pros and cons of RSUs, consider key factors, and incorporate them into your overall financial planning to make informed decisions about your compensation package. Consulting with financial and tax professionals on when and how to pay tax and leverage RSU gains can be beneficial in navigating the complexities of restricted stock units and maximizing their potential benefits while mitigating risks.

Upstock’s Equity Solutions for Restricted Company Stock Units

Thankfully, Upstock has RSU employee compensation solutions that can help you optimize your financial future and potentially offset possible drawbacks. Upstock's innovative equity compensation platform offers flexible and personalized company stock plan management tools and expert guidance from a team of experienced professionals. Upstock understands the unique needs of both employees and employers when it comes to RSUs and provides tailored solutions to ensure you, as a worker, can fully capitalize on the advantages of RSUs as employee compensation with less of the associated risks.

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