When you take an executive job through a company, you may have some choice in the way that your earnings are payed out. Aside from a cash salary, some companies may offer stock options as a part of your compensation package. These stock options are generally considered part of your salary.
When a company offers stock options in lieu of more cash for a position, this is known as equity compensation. Most employees of a company do not get this offer. Equity compensation, including stock options, is generally reserved for high-level executives and the distribution of these stock options is determined by the company’s board of directors. In some instances, if a company wants to hire a candidate, they may provide the new employee a choice between the stock options and upfront pay.
If an employee receives stock options as part of a compensation package, those stocks remain in shares until the employee chooses to sell them. The employee may not sell any of the shares, however, until the stock is fully vested. For the stock to be vested, the employee must successfully adhere to the prearranged conditions set forth in the equity compensation agreement. Generally, this requires a certain length of employment with the company.
Even if a stock is in share form, and regardless of whether it is fully vested or not, the stock usually provides some additional income to an employee. If the company pays out quarterly dividends, the employee receives dividends from his or her shares of stock just like any other shareholders. The amount of those dividends is usually based on the amount of vested stock, which means payouts increase over time.
Even though stock options granted by an employer do not provide upfront pay, they do still provide tax liabilities. If you receive any dividends from the stock options during a year, you must add that payouts to the yearly income that you report on your tax return. If the stock option is considered vested at the time that it is granted to you, you must include the entire value of the stock as part of your income for that year and pay the taxes on it, even though you don’t have it in cash form. If it is not vested, you must pay taxes on the amount of stock that becomes vested each year.
- Federal Reserve Bank of New York; Executive Equity Compensation and Incentives; John E. Core, et al.; April 2003
- New York Stock Exchange: Shareholder Approval of Equity Compensation Plans
- Fairmark.com; Equity Compensation 101; Kaye A. Thomas
- Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 525: Taxable and Nontaxable Income." Accessed Aug. 20, 2020.
- PwC. "Stock-based compensation," pages 3-252. Accessed Aug. 20, 2020.
Alexis Lawrence is a freelance writer, filmmaker and photographer with extensive experience in digital video, book publishing and graphic design. An avid traveler, Lawrence has visited at least 10 cities on each inhabitable continent. She has attended several universities and holds a Bachelor of Science in English.