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
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has given taxpayers another option, however, in 26 U.S.C. § 83(b). Under this section, a person who has been granted equity that is subject to a vesting agreement can elect to be taxed on the entire amount of the stock’s present value. This election must be made within 30 days of the date that the equity was granted to you.
As a practical matter, it makes most sense for people to use this election if they have been granted stock in a new company that has little actual value. Because the stock is basically worthless at this time, your tax liability will be fairly low, and you will not need to pay taxes on the shares that vest each year as their value increases. The only time that you will have to pay taxes on the value of the stock you have been granted is when you liquidate it in some way, at which point it will be subject to the lower long-term capital gains tax, so long as the liquidation occurs more than a year after the state that the stock was initially granted.
Contact a Silicon Valley startup law firm today to schedule a consultation with an experienced attorney
Receiving stock or other securities in exchange for your work can raise significant issues related to your tax liability. For this reason, it is critical for anyone who is either considering issuing stock as a form of compensation or accepting a grant of stock to discuss their circumstances with an experienced attorney. To schedule a consultation with one of our Silicon Valley business lawyers, call the Structure Law Group today at 408-441-7500.