Stock Option Taxation
Today, more and more companies are issuing stock options to their employees because this ties employee compensation to the success of the company. I am going to cover the basic taxation of two standard types of options: Incentive Stock Options or ISOs and Nonqualified Stock Options.
The main advantage of an ISO is favorable tax treatment; however, there are holding period requirements which must be met. An employee must sell the stock at least two years from the date of grant and one year from the date of exercise in order to have long-term capital treatment on the appreciation. Furthermore, there are Alternative Minimum Tax adjustments at date of exercise and date of sale.
For example, let’s say 1,000 ISOs are granted with an exercise price of $10. As long as this is higher than the fair market value of the stock, there will be no taxable income at the date of grant. The employee waits one year to exercise the ISOs while the stock is at $20 resulting in an AMT adjustment of $10,000. One year from the date of exercise, the employee can sell those shares at $30 a share and will receive $20,000 taxed at long-term capital gain tax rates and a negative AMT adjustment of $10,000.
If the holding period requirements are not met, the sale is known as a disqualifying disposition and any appreciation is taxed at ordinary income tax rates and the AMT adjustment is reversed.
This is essentially how a Nonqualified Stock Option functions. There is no holding period requirement thus all appreciation is taxed at ordinary income tax rates and there are no AMT adjustments.
While the preferential tax treatment of ISOs is attractive, there are many factors to consider such as cash required up front to purchase the options, the AMT adjustment potentially resulting in higher taxes in one year and uncertainty of the stock price after the holding period requirement. I encourage you to reach out to a financial advisor or tax professional about your individual situation.