Understanding RSUs: Your Comprehensive Guide

As an employee of a globally recognized tech company, you may be offered an equity compensation option called Restricted Stock Units, or RSUs. While RSUs may seem like a daunting concept, understanding how these equity compensations work can be a valuable asset in your personal finance management. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll dive deep into the world of RSUs to help you understand what they are, how they work, and how you can maximize their potential.

What are RSUs?

RSUs are a form of equity compensation used by public companies to incentivize employees. They represent a promise of future stock compensation, where the employer sets aside a certain number of shares with a vesting schedule that the employee must complete before they can receive the shares. Your RSUs will likely vest over a scheduled timeframe, such as a five-year program with 20% vesting each year. Once they’ve vested, the shares will be automatically deposited into your brokerage account.

How do they work?

When you’re awarded RSUs, your employer will provide you with a grant. This grant will specify the number of shares you’ll receive upon vesting. Once RSUs are vested, they are automatically converted to common shares of the company stock. Because RSUs typically vest in portions over time, you receive full ownership of RSUs granted to you as they vest, rather than all at once. Once those RSUs become shares, you will be able to sell them for cash or continue to hold them for future appreciation.

How are RSUs taxed?

One key feature of RSUs is that they can impact your taxes – and not always in a positive way. At the time of vesting, the value of your RSUs is considered as taxable income, and you’re required to pay withholding taxes. The exact amount depends on the share price of the company at the time of vesting. If you hold onto the shares after they’ve vested and they increase in value, you’ll likely pay capital gains tax on the difference between the share price at vesting and your eventual sale price.

What are the benefits of RSUs?

The most significant benefit of RSUs is that they allow employees to share in the financial success of their company. As the company stock market value rises, so too does the value of your RSUs. Additionally, RSUs are generally considered a less volatile form of equity compensation than stock options, because you don’t need to purchase the shares outright. If the company’s stock falls below your RSU grant price, you won’t experience a penalty for owning worthless shares.

Restricted stock units may seem like a daunting concept, but with a comprehensive understanding of how they work and what they offer, you can reap the many benefits of this equity compensation option. Don’t let the potential tax implications discourage you – with proper planning and insightful financial management, you can maximize your RSUs to help achieve your financial goals. As always, consult with a qualified financial advisor before making any financial decisions, as each person’s situation is unique.

Mike Sikar

Founder & Principal Advisor

I’ve been a leader and innovator of the financial services industry for almost two decades, as a stockbroker from 1997 – 2007 and as a financial advisor from 2008.

Managing money comes down to basic psychology-understand how it works, know what you want it for and consistently apply the key principles to get the most out of it.

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