Keep away from These 5 Huge Tax Errors with RSUs, Inventory Choices, and ESPP


Inventory compensation generally is a nice pathway to wealth, however in addition they include their very own set of tax implications. Sadly, many taxpayers miss necessary tax concerns in relation to inventory compensation.

On this publish, we are going to discover the highest 5 issues which can be usually missed in relation to taxes and inventory compensation, together with:

If you happen to can keep away from even considered one of these errors, you would possibly save $1000s in taxes and costs to a tax advisor to re-do incorrectly performed tax returns…to not point out a big problem.

[Flow’s Note: This post was written by guest blogger John McCarthy. John’s firm, McCarthy Tax Preparation, is a tax preparation and planning firm that has been serving clients since 2001. Their mission is to help technology employees with proactive tax planning for their equity compensation. Learn more about John and his firm, or schedule an introductory call.]

A “Transient” Abstract of Inventory Compensation Tax Reporting

The surest option to get your self in sizzling water with the IRS is to not report inventory choices appropriately in your tax return. Every sort of inventory compensation is dealt with in a different way, so it’s necessary to know what reporting you might be chargeable for.

Let’s check out the tax therapy at varied levels:

TYPE OF STOCK COMPENSATION STAGE 1: GRANT
(when shares are awarded to you; often they’re not yours but)
STAGE 2: VEST STAGE 3: EXERCISE/PURCHASE STAGE 4: SALE
Worker Inventory Buy Plan (ESPP) The beginning of the Providing IntervalNo tax reporting Through the Buy Interval

No tax reporting

On the finish of the Buy Interval, when shares are routinely bought for you.

No tax reporting

Both Strange Earnings or Capital Positive aspects
Restricted Inventory Models (RSU) No tax reporting When the RSUs flip into shares of inventory for you

Strange Earnings  in your paystub and tax withholding 

n/a Capital Acquire or Loss
Non-Certified Inventory Choices (NQSO) No tax reporting When the choices vest, you at the moment are permitted, not obligated, to train them to personal a share of inventory

No tax reporting

If you pay the strike worth to show the choice right into a share of inventory you personal

Strange Earnings  in your paystub and tax withholding

Capital Acquire or Loss
Incentive Inventory Choices (ISO) – Disqualified Disposition (bought earlier than one yr of train or two years from grant) No tax reporting When the choices vest, you at the moment are permitted, not obligated, to train them to personal a share of inventory

No tax reporting

If you pay the strike worth to show the choice right into a share of inventory you personal

Strange Earnings  in your paystub (no tax withholding)

Capital Acquire or Loss
Incentive Inventory Choices (ISO) – Certified Disposition No tax reporting When the choices vest, you at the moment are permitted, not obligated, to train them to personal a share of inventory

No tax reporting

If you pay the strike worth to show the choice right into a share of inventory you personal

Potential Different Minimal Tax (AMT)

Capital Acquire or Loss & AMT Credit score
Restricted Inventory – 83(b) election (rationalization under) Strange Earnings added to your 1040 (i.e., not in your paystub, no tax withholding) No tax reporting No tax reporting Capital Acquire or Loss

As you’ll be able to see, there are lots of tax reporting necessities, and reporting might be fairly a bit totally different relying on what sort of inventory compensation you obtain. 

Typically, the IRS desires their share every time there was a switch of worth to you.

At grant and at vesting, there’s typically no additional motion that that you must take in your return, with one exception: 

83(b) Election (“Early Train”)

If you happen to’ve acquired Restricted Inventory (typically known as “founder inventory”, very low-value inventory usually given to early staff at a start-up) you could wish to think about an 83(b) election. An 83(b) election means that you can report revenue at a probably (hopefully) a lot decrease worth and begins the clock on decrease capital beneficial properties charges. 

Timing is necessary right here, as a result of the IRS requires this election inside 30 days of you receiving this inventory. 83(b) elections are outdoors the scope of this text, so please be sure you see your tax advisor if this is applicable to you.

Which takes us to the primary generally missed merchandise…

Mistake #1: Not Reporting Capital Positive aspects (or Losses) on the Sale of Inventory

Because the chart above signifies, you need to all the time report gross sales when inventory is bought. 

Folks usually get confused in regards to the taxes and withholding on the vesting or train and the way that impacts the reporting when the shares are bought. Purchasers usually suppose that as a result of taxes have been already withheld, nothing must be reported to the IRS on the sale. This ends in tons of notices and correspondence from the IRS.

The IRS receives a Type 1099 reporting doc from the corporate (ex. Shareworks, Constancy, and so forth) that holds your choices. This doc experiences the whole gross proceeds from the sale, however is usually lacking the worth of the inventory compensation that was already included in your W2 as revenue, aka your “price foundation.” 

Consequently, the IRS expects to see a big achieve reported from the sale, till you inform them in any other case. That is why reporting your inventory gross sales on Schedule D of your return is so crucial. 

That is the place you inform the IRS that you just’ve already paid taxes on these choices (via payroll tax withholding), by making an adjustment to the price foundation reported on the Schedule D. You might be subtracting your price foundation from the gross sales proceeds, which reduces your taxable achieve. This lowers your tax invoice.

Talking of price foundation…

Mistake #2: Double Counting Earnings

Bear in mind these 1099s we simply talked about? 

Most of the time, they present the incorrect price foundation. If you happen to take this data straight from the 1099 reporting type, you threat paying double the tax on the sale of this sort of inventory compensation: 

  • RSUs
  • NSOs, and
  • ISO shares that you just’ve owned for lower than a yr

Why can’t we depend on the 1099s issued? 

Get this, the IRS prohibits brokers (like Shareworks, Constancy) from together with the compensation revenue acknowledged by the worker in the price foundation reported on Type 1099-B. 

So the IRS is actively making it harder so that you can file your tax return. Nice. Simply Nice.

The bit of fine information right here is that the majority brokers make it comparatively straightforward to seek out the knowledge wanted to keep away from double paying tax in your choice gross sales. Buried someplace within the tax doc part of your portal, you need to see a doc known as “Supplemental Tax Info”. Make sure you obtain this and embody it along with your tax paperwork. Your tax professional goes to wish it.

And in the event you’ve found a mistake on a previous return, take into accout you have got three years from the due date of the return to file a correction or amended return. We will’t depend the variety of these we have now performed for shoppers on this precise scenario.

So…what about ISOs?

Mistake #3: Forgetting about Different Minimal Tax on ISOs

In our desk above you’ll be able to see that, generally, any tax penalties at train are dealt with via your organization’s payroll. The exception can be Incentive Inventory Choices. 

ISOs will usually set off Different Minimal Tax (“AMT”) in the event you maintain your shares for one yr after train (a professional disposition).

What’s AMT? The Different Minimal Tax (AMT) is a separate tax system designed to make sure that folks with greater revenue pay a minimal quantity of taxes. 

It was initially created to forestall rich taxpayers from utilizing deductions and credit to scale back their tax legal responsibility to zero. The AMT has a separate algorithm and exemptions, and taxpayers should calculate their legal responsibility beneath each the common tax system and the AMT to find out which is greater. 

One of many massive variations between Common and AMT tax computation is the therapy of ISOs.

If you train an ISO, you might be deemed to have acquired worth (revenue) for the distinction between the present truthful market worth (in a personal firm, that is the 409(a) worth) and the strike worth (aka, train worth) of the shares. You must report this revenue on Type 6251 for AMT functions, regardless that you haven’t bought (or couldn’t promote) the shares from exercising choices.

Understand that there isn’t a withholding tax while you train ISOs. 

You wish to be doubly positive of the tax penalties of exercising ISOs earlier than you train. We’ve seen shoppers with six-figure AMT tax payments which can be restricted from promoting the shares in pre-IPO firms.

So, what occurs to all that AMT tax while you promote shares? I’m so glad you requested…

Mistake #4: Forgetting in regards to the AMT Tax Credit score

If there’s any excellent news about paying AMT tax up-front on the train of your ISOs, it’s that you just get to hold ahead an AMT tax credit score that can be utilized while you promote your shares. (You possibly can even use a small portion of the credit score in years while you don’t promote ISOs, so long as your AMT tax is lower than your Common tax for the yr.)

Bear in mind after we talked about price foundation above? And the way it’s straightforward to report the inaccurate quantity of price foundation on inventory choices? Effectively…. ISOs don’t make issues any simpler, I’m afraid.

ISOs have a Common Price Foundation and an AMT Price Foundation.

Let that sink in a second.

Because of this that you must monitor each price bases as a result of your Common tax achieve is computed in a different way out of your AMT tax achieve. This additionally signifies that within the yr of sale, your AMT price foundation on a professional disposition (shares held a couple of yr previous train) is mostly lower than your Common price foundation.

When your AMT tax is lower than your Common tax, the distinction frees up AMT tax credit that you just generated within the yr of train. Any AMT tax credit score that isn’t ready for use will get reported on IRS Type 8801 within the yr after your train.

After we see errors on this space, it’s usually the results of switching tax preparation software program (or switching tax preparers) from yr to yr. 

With out your prior yr tax data, it may be very straightforward to overlook AMT tax credit, particularly if the quantities should not very massive relative to your different revenue.

And, in the event you’ve made it this far into the weeds with inventory choices, Congratulations!  Right here is likely one of the most necessary errors of inventory compensation…

Mistake #5: Giant Balances Due (and Curiosity and Penalties) at Tax Submitting Time

After talking with a whole bunch of inventory compensation shoppers through the years, the commonest chorus we hear (and why they’re searching for out assist for the primary time) is a shock steadiness due at return time.

In spite of everything, it seems like a ton of taxes are taken out of your paycheck already. Why is there nonetheless such a big steadiness due in your tax return?

Let’s check out an instance:

Alice has quarterly vesting of RSUs at Apple and receives 100 shares valued at $215/share in Feb 2023. Alice’s wage is $350,000/ yr, submitting as single.

Alice’s paystub reveals the next:

Alice could also be saying, “I already paid 40% tax on my shares, how is it potential that I owe extra at tax time?!”

The bottom line is that of the 40% withholding, solely 22% goes in the direction of Federal revenue tax.

And Alice is making $350,000 per yr so she is within the 35% efficient tax bracket. Alice is underwithheld on these RSUs by about 13%, which implies a tax invoice of one other $2,795 come return time.

If you happen to don’t funds for this, it may be an enormous blow at return time.

To make issues worse, in the event you obtain different forms of compensation—like bonuses, commissions, and so forth. (something apart from wage)—the IRS additionally requires employers to withhold federal revenue taxes at 22%. 

The IRS considers all these forms of compensation “Supplemental Compensation” and requires employers to withhold at a flat 22% regardless of the tax withholding elections you have got in place along with your payroll division to your wage. (Notice: this withholding charge jumps to the highest charge of 37% as soon as your compensation is over $1MM for the yr.)

Some tech firms are permitting their staff to elect a better tax withholding charge on supplemental compensation. 

Electing a better tax withholding charge on RSUs, bonuses, and so forth., may help you keep away from each a big tax invoice at return time and the necessity to make quarterly estimated tax funds (that are a problem, arduous to compute, and straightforward to neglect). 

It’s possible you’ll solely have one shot to select this charge originally of the tax yr, so watch rigorously for any communication out of your payroll division and work along with your tax skilled to find out the suitable degree of withholding.

And a closing notice about curiosity and penalties…

You will need to perceive your full yr tax legal responsibility as a result of the IRS will count on you to pay the correct quantity of tax all year long  

To keep away from curiosity and penalties, that you must meet the decrease of the next “protected harbors”:

  1. Pay 110% of prior yr tax legal responsibility, or
  2. Pay 90% of present yr tax legal responsibility

Most states have comparable guidelines, however test your state to make certain.

If you happen to haven’t paid sufficient all year long, the IRS can assess underpayment penalties and curiosity. You possibly can simply keep away from this with the suitable tax planning.


Tax reporting for inventory compensation isn’t for the faint of coronary heart, however with the suitable planning you’ll be able to keep away from the commonest errors talked about above. 

If you happen to’re new to inventory compensation, please be sure you do your analysis or attain out to a professional tax skilled who recurrently works with stock-compensation shoppers for assist.

If you wish to work with a monetary planner who may help you make tax-aware selections, and who may help join you with different professional professionals (like CPAs!), attain out and schedule a free session or ship us an e-mail.

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Disclaimer: This text is offered for instructional, basic data, and illustration functions solely. Nothing contained within the materials constitutes tax recommendation, a advice for buy or sale of any safety, or funding advisory providers. We encourage you to seek the advice of a monetary planner, accountant, and/or authorized counsel for recommendation particular to your scenario. Replica of this materials is prohibited with out written permission from Stream Monetary Planning, LLC, and all rights are reserved. Learn the total Disclaimer.

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