As tech stocks have soared in value in the past decade, employee stock options and other type of equity compensation have created a great deal of wealth for workers in high-tech cities such as Seattle. What many people don’t realize is that there are now many more types of equity compensation and company terms vary, especially when it comes to when shares vest and if they are forfeited in case of employee illness or death. Also, if your financial planning is built around equity compensation that has not yet vested or cannot yet be sold, you are exposed to stock market risk: share prices can go down as well as up. For these and other reasons, you cannot take anything for granted, pun intended.
Here 7 things LNWM advisors suggest you do if offered equity compensation, or are already participating in an equity compensation plan:
***Review the company’s prospects, especially if it’s a private company without a liquid market for its shares.
***Know the type of compensation you have or are being offered; consult with tax attorney if you do not know what taxes will be due when. Depending on the plan, some of your equity comp is considered regular income and taxed at your highest marginal rate, and some is taxed as long-term capital gains, which is more beneficial. Tax dates and types vary depending on the plan: Restricted Stock Awards (RSAs), Restricted Stock Units (RSUs), Incentive Stock Options, as well as Employee Stock Purchase Plans (ESPPs).
***Flag key dates on your calendar(s), especially vesting and exercise dates; exercise “in the money” options before they expire.
***Find out what happens to your un-vested shares if you leave the company for any reason — medical or parental leave, termination, resignation or death.
***Explore buying insurance in case you forfeit your un-vested shares due to illness or death.
***Check your beneficiary designations to make sure they are up-to-date.
***Don’t get too concentrated in your employer’s stock – DIVERSIFY your asset base.