More and more startups are issuing stock and other forms of equity as a form of compensation for work, especially in the early stages of a venture. This arrangement allows a business to recruit talent that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford and, if the company is successful, can result in a significant windfall for people who worked to get a company off the ground without a guarantee of compensation.
Generally speaking, when you are transferred equity in a company it is necessary to pay taxes on the fair market value of that equity as you would with any other type of income. In many cases, however, a grant of equity is subject to a vesting agreement, which means that the equity is not actually owned by the grantee until a certain period of time passes. As a result, at the time of the grant, nothing is actually owned, so there is no tax liability associated with the initial grant. When the stock vests, however, that income becomes realized, meaning that there may be significant tax liability, particularly if the company has done well.
83(b) elections can minimize tax liability associated with grants of equity