What is Stock Compensation?

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  • 29 Nov 2023
What is Stock Compensation?

Key Highlights

  • Stock-based compensation provides a way to reward employees without needing cash payments. It aligns the interests of both owners and employees, creating a beneficial relationship.

  • Stock compensation agreements often include vesting and changes in control clauses. These clauses help to ensure that employees receive fair compensation for their work.

  • Stock-based compensation types include restricted stock, performance shares, stock options, SAR, and phantom stock.

  • Stock-based pay encourages employee retention, aligns interests, and helps businesses save money. However, it can lead to losses during a stock price decrease.

Stock compensation involves offering shares of the companies to employees. Companies use it as a means of rewarding their employees. Employers provide stock or stock options to their employees as an alternative to cash. This allows them to participate in the company's earnings and acquire a portion of the business. This strategy is frequently used by startups and smaller businesses. Stock compensation can motivate employees to enhance the value of their stocks. So, it can boost the productivity of an organisation.

Now that you understand stock compensation meaning, let's see how it works. Stock compensation is usually subject to vesting. This means that employees' choices to exercise their stock compensation vary based on the duration of stock ownership. For instance, an employee receives 500 shares, which vest annually for over three years. He may be eligible to exercise 200 shares in the first year, 200 shares in the second year, and so on.

Vesting is a common strategy to encourage employees to work with them for longer periods of time. If an employee quits during vesting, he usually loses the unvested shares. Employees buy a predetermined number of shares at a predetermined price throughout a vesting process. A number of variables determine the precise time to vest. This includes the time of year and whether each employee is achieving his targets. Employees can execute the stock options anytime until the expiration date. The expiration date is usually ten years

Here’s an example of stock compensation:

Let’s say Rakesh just received an option to buy 500 shares in his company for Rs. 400 each. As the firm has set up a multi-year vesting plan for five years, Rakesh can exercise 100 shares in the first year. This means he can buy and sell the stocks covered by the option. During the first year, the company's growth was very good, and its stock value increased to Rs.650. Rakesh then buys 100 shares at Rs. 400 each. So, he pays Rs. 40,000.

Rakesh then sells the 100 shares in the market for Rs. 650 each. So, he gets Rs. 65,000. Thus, Rakesh gained Rs. 25,000.

The following are the four kinds of stock compensation.

Non-qualified Stock Options (NSOs): The difference between the grant price and the exercised price must be paid in cash as taxes by employees who receive NSOs.

Incentive Stock Options (ISOs): They are available to employees and non-employees, such as directors or consultants. These stock options have special tax benefits.

Restricted Stocks: After working for a set number of years, employees can buy or receive these shares as gifts. These options can only be exercised by the employees once the vesting period is over.

Performance Shares: You can get performance shares after reaching certain performance-related targets. Directors and executives of the organisation often get them as incentives to achieve their targets.

Here are the key benefits of stock compensation.

  1. Most other pay types, like salary and bonuses, are based on a fixed sum. However, stock compensation gives the employee an active stake in the company's performance.

  2. Most of the stock options are conditional. So, employees are incentivised to remain with a firm for a longer time and contribute more significantly to its success. Long-term advantages like equity compensation increase employee performance and help retain employees.

  3. The value of stock compensation rises with a company's success, giving employees a share in the company's profits.

There are some disadvantages of stock compensation that you should note. These include the following.

  • Shares are distributed to the employees, which may dilute their existing value. So, it could lower market price and profits per share (EPS). This may not be advantageous for the shareholders in the long term.

  • Valuing stock compensation may be challenging since it depends on a number of variables. These include the exercise price, vesting time, and stock price volatility. Thus, the stock options may be overvalued or undervalued. This can impact the accuracy of a compensation plan.

  • Stock compensation relies on the overall performance of all employees and management. So, it can lead to dependency and uncertainty for the employees. External elements also impact the stock price. These include competition, market circumstances, and regulations that are outside the control of employees.

  • Stock remuneration may lead to issues with employee retention. Individuals may decide to quit the firm after exercising their options or look for higher pay.

Taxation on stock compensation works in the following manner.

Taxes on Stock Options: Taxes on a stock option are applied at the time of its exercise. The difference between the exercise price and the shares' market value is subject to taxation.

Taxation of RSUs: At the time of vesting, Restricted Stock Units (RSUs) are subject to perquisite taxation. The fair market value of the shares at the time of vesting is the taxable value.

Tax on ESPPs: When buying shares through an Employee Stock Purchase Plan (ESPP), the discount received is subject to taxation.

Capital Gains Tax: If workers sell the shares they have acquired, they will be subject to capital gains tax on the profits.

It is important to note that each individual's tax consequences may differ. Moreover, taxes are also subject to modifications to the tax laws.


Stock compensation offers the stock of a company to its employees. It is an attractive instrument for both companies and their employees. It not only increases the firm's worth but also acts as a motivator for employees. This inspires them to work for the company until the vesting period. This strategy efficiently lowers employee turnover. So, it helps create a motivated and steady workforce in a fast-paced environment.

FAQs on Stock Compensation

The expenses from stock compensations are mentioned on the income statement of a company. So, this usually reduces the earnings reported by the company.

Stock compensation options are recorded when they are awarded to employees under the fair value method of accounting. On the other hand, some businesses account for stock compensations upon exercise or vesting.

The price difference between the stocks and the exercise price determines the taxes on stock compensations under the different capital gains tax slabs.

Employees can forfeit unvested stock options when they quit before the vesting of stock compensation. It usually depends on the terms and conditions of a plan.

Selling of stocks depends on the terms and conditions of a stock compensation plan and whether employees can sell the stock options immediately after they exercise them.

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