Taxation of Restricted Stock Units

Restricted Stock Units (RSUs) have become prominent in the news recently as a result of the Facebook IPO. Many of Facebook’s employees received RSUs in addition to their wages, and will soon be paying a heavy tax bill. Facebook has estimated that its employees’ total tax liability will be approximately $4 Billion dollars. In fact, many startup companies, especially tech companies, are turning towards RSUs to reward their employees. Therefore, if you are an employee of such a company, you may want to read about the basics of RSUs, and how they are taxed in this article.


In general, RSUs differ from traditional stock options in that RSUs are only transferred when the certain conditions are met, and the shares have vested. Whereas stock options may be taxed when a holder exercises or sells the options, RSUs are taxable (as explained below) once they vest. This means of course, that employees may face a significant tax once the RSUs vest, even if they haven’t actually sold a single share of the stock.

Taxation of RSUs

Once RSUs initially vest, the shares are not eligible to be treated as capital gains under the Internal Revenue Code. Instead, RSUs are treated as compensation, to be taxed as ordinary income. Additionally, no section 83(b) election will be available.

The amount of ordinary income to be reported is the fair market value price of the stock as of the vesting date times the numbers of shares vested, minus the original purchase or exercise price, if any. Additionally, because of the treatment of the vesting of RSUs as compensation income, withholding taxes may also apply. For US employees, this means that Federal and any applicable state taxes, as well as Social Security and Medicare taxes, will be withheld (special rules may apply for non-US taxpayers, depending upon foreign taxation regimes).

Once a shareholder does sell the stock after the vesting date, capital gain or loss treatment will then be available. The capital gain or loss will be the difference between the fair market price on the date of vesting and the final sales price of the stock.

RSUs and US Employees of Foreign Subsidiaries

US taxpayers working abroad for foreign subsidiaries of U.S.-based multinational companies face special obstacles. Unfortunately, in the past, despite having large compliance departments, some companies failed to fully comply with the RSU reporting requirements regarding U.S. taxpayers employed by these companies’ foreign subsidiaries.

This may result in placing additional burden on these employees, including going back and amending their prior tax returns to properly reflect the tax liability that resulted from RSUs. Therefore, employees in this situation should be especially concerned regarding the proper treatment of RSUs by their employer.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Questions Regarding RSUs

If you have any questions about the taxation of RSUs, or other stock option plans, or if you seek to minimize your taxation through proper tax planning, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office today.