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What Is Equity Compensation? Everything You Need to Know

Are you interested in unlocking the secrets behind equity compensation? If so, read on. Equity compensation is a way to reward an employee with a share of the company’s ownership in exchange for their service and commitment. When you join a new company, attending an equity compensation informational session is often one of the first things on the agenda.

Even if that’s not the case, it’s important to understand what equity compensation can do for you when negotiating your initial offer and considering future job opportunities.

This article will explain what equity compensation is, how it works, and its pros and cons. By the end of this article, you should have all the information you need to decide whether equity compensation is right for you. Let’s get started!

What Is Equity Compensation?

Have you ever heard of equity compensation but are unsure what it really means? Let’s break it down. Equity compensation is a form of payment typically offered to employees in the form of company stock, which acts as an incentive for employees and can provide several potential benefits.

In contrast to the traditional salary, equity compensation carries no fixed monetary amount but has a varying value based on the performance of the company’s stock. It also comes with tax benefits, as shares acquired through equity compensation are often exempt from taxation until sold or gifted.

In short, equity compensation is a great way to reward employees who have helped increase the value and success of your business. It stands to reason that if your business continues to grow and thrive, so will the value of its equity compensation!

Types of Equity Compensation

When understanding equity compensation, you should know three main types of awards: stock options, restricted stock units (RSUs), and restricted stock awards. They all have unique features that can make a huge difference in the financial rewards you receive.

Stock Options

Stock options allow employees to purchase company stock at a set price. If the share value increases, you can take advantage of that increased value. This means if the share price grows, so does your worth.

Restricted Stock Units (RSUs)

RSUs are stocks or shares of a company’s stock that an employee accrues over time and can eventually turn into actual shares. The key here is that you don’t actually own these shares until all of the conditions—vesting period, performance measure—are met.

Restricted Stock Awards

Restricted Stock Awards (RSAs) give employees shares of company stock as a reward for working hard and doing their job well. You get to keep them even if they don’t meet certain conditions like RSUs because they are awarded outright and not subject to vesting or other restrictions. When cashed out, they might have tax implications, so research before taking the plunge here.

Benefits of Equity Compensation

Are you curious about what equity compensation can do for you? Equity compensation is a powerful tool that can unlock many potential benefits.

Payday Alternative

Equity compensation often provides employees with an alternative to a traditional salary. On average, equity-based compensation can offer up to 3 times the financial value of what a traditional salary offers. This is especially beneficial for startups with fewer resources in the early stages of growth or companies looking to retain high-value employees who may be difficult to replace.

Performance Incentive

Equity compensation also gives employees a strong incentive to perform well and achieve company goals, as doing so will directly affect the value of their stock. It serves as a reminder that they are an integral part of the company’s overall success and are helping to drive its growth.

Long-term Investment

Finally, equity compensation allows employees to benefit from long-term investments in the company. By making steady contributions over many years, employees can help not just themselves but other stockholders since their efforts will significantly increase the value of their shares over time.

Calculating the Value of Equity Shares

If you have equity compensation, you may have questions about calculating your shares’ value. It depends on your equity type—stock options or restricted stock units (RSUs)—and the current market value.

Stock Options

To calculate the value of stock options, you need to know the strike price (the set amount at which your employee stock option is purchased) and the current share price. To arrive at the fair market value of your shares, subtract the strike price from the current share price and multiply that by the number of stocks optioned to you. For example: if your strike price is 40 and a share currently costs 60, then (60-40)*100=2,000 is your estimated value.

Restricted Stock Units

RSUs are slightly different because they tend not to have a strike price, as they are company stock given as part of an employee’s compensation package. To calculate their worth, multiply their number by their current market value. So if there are 100 RSUs and one stock is currently worth 60, then 100*60=6,000 is your estimated value.

In either case, keeping an eye on stock performance to maximize your gain or minimize losses on these investments over time is important.

Risks of Equity Compensation

Are you considering equity compensation for your employees or executives? Equity compensation can benefit the employer and employee, like stock options and restricted stock awards. But there are some risks that you should be aware of before going ahead with it. Let’s dive in!

Risk of Volatility

The main risk of equity compensation is the volatility of stocks on the market. If the company stocks don’t perform well, you won’t receive the same benefits as you would have with a cash bonus. And since stocks are prone to swings in price, it’s possible that your employee can suffer significant losses if they exercise the option when prices are low.

Time Commitment

Another risk to consider is a time commitment—awarding stock can require more paperwork than simply paying out a cash bonus and more time to vest. For example, most stock options need to be held for a period before they can be exercised—which means that if an employee doesn’t stay with your company long enough to vest their stock options, they may not actually benefit from them.

Finally, remember that certain states may have restrictions on how long an employee has to hold their stock after being vested before taking any action—so make sure you’re aware of these regulations when considering offering equity compensation to your team or executives.

How to Negotiate Equity Compensation

One important question many people have is: how do I negotiate for equity compensation? Like anything else, it’s all about understanding the value of what you’re asking for and knowing what type of person or business you’re dealing with.

Here are some tips for negotiating successfully:

  1. Do your research and know the value of what you’re asking for. What terms and conditions are standard in a similar company or industry? What do those terms mean for you and the company, and what will you give up?
  2. Know who you’re dealing with. Are they cash-strapped startup that needs to save every penny they can? Or are they a more established company with money to throw around and can afford to give out equity compensation?
  3. Learn to read between the lines. Equity compensation isn’t just about the money but also other things like job security, career trajectory, and more. Make sure your employer understands those needs too!
  4. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to push back if the terms of your equity compensation aren’t satisfactory – remember that negotiations are a two-way street!

Negotiating equity compensation isn’t easy – but if you know the value of what you’re asking for, understand who you’re dealing with, read between the lines, and don’t be afraid to push back when necessary – then you’ll find yourself in a much better position to get a fair deal!

Strategies for Optimizing Equity Award Plans

Do you want to know the secrets of optimizing equity award plans? Equity compensation is an important tool for attracting and retaining top talent, but there are strategies you can deploy to make sure your plan is working optimally.

Consider the tax implications

Taxes can have a huge impact on how much of your equity award you actually get to keep. You’ll want to speak with a financial advisor or accountant to determine the best type of compensation from a tax perspective. Different awards—such as stock options, restricted stock units (RSUs), and deferred stock units (DSUs)—come with different tax implications, so you must choose your award carefully.

Think about your vesting schedule

Your vesting schedule—or how long it takes for the equity award to vest fully—can also impact how much you can take away from the award at the end of the day. A longer vesting period might mean less money up-front but more in the long run, while a shorter vesting period could mean more money in the short term but less in total when all is said and done.

Here are some things you should consider when planning out your vesting schedule:

  1. The size and stage of your company
  2. How quickly do you need employees to contribute value
  3. Your financial resources
  4. How competitive and stringent are other companies’ offers are

Why Companies Give Equity Compensation

Why do companies offer equity compensation? Well, it’s an incentive to keep employees with the company. By offering this as an employee benefit, companies are showing you that they value you. Plus, it can be a great way for employees to increase their wealth if the company does well, and share prices increase.

Companies give equity compensation for several key reasons:

  1. To reward employees for their work and dedication
  2. To attract and retain employees in competitive industries by providing them with added incentives
  3. To align the interests of employees with those of the company
  4. To provide tax relief to themselves and the employee
  5. To motivate current and potential employees to stay with the company longer

Ultimately, offering it is a win-win situation for both parties: It incentivizes employees to stay put while helping companies maintain great talent in a competitive environment over time.

Pros and Cons

Exploring equity compensation can be a tricky business, and there are definitely pros and cons to the practice. Even if you understand the basic principles, having all the facts is critical. With that in mind, let’s look at the pros and cons of equity compensation.


One of the most attractive aspects of equity compensation is its potential to increase value for shareholders and employees. Companies that offer this type of perk may see higher levels of employee engagement because they enable them to benefit directly from the success of their organization. Moreover, aligning employee interests with those of shareholders incentivizes everyone involved to work together towards shared goals.


As beneficial as equity compensation can be, some risk is associated. The primary concern is dilution: when more shares are issued as part of a compensation program, it reduces shareholder control over the company. It can potentially lead to greater volatility in share price. Additionally, offering employees a significant amount of equity can put corporations at risk for a higher tax bill—another important factor that must be considered when evaluating an equity compensation program.

Employee Stock Purchase Plan

An employee stock purchase plan (ESPP) is a type of equity compensation that allows employees to purchase company stock at a discounted rate. This is often seen as an attractive perk when trying to attract or retain talented employees, as it gives them the potential to benefit from the increase in the value of the company’s stock.

If your employer offers an ESPP plan, you can elect to participate during an enrollment period and make payroll deductions toward purchasing company stock. Typically, there are two types of ESPPs; those where shares are purchased at market price and those where shares are purchased at a discounted price.

1. Market Price Plans

In these plans, you will purchase company common stock on a specific date—known as the “purchase date”—at its market value on that day. It’s important to note that any appreciation or decline in the value of the stock after this date will not affect your purchase price.

2. Discounted Price Plans

In these plans, you will purchase company stocks at a discounted rate—typically 15%, usually up to 25%. You will typically need to wait two or three years before having access to these shares; any appreciation or decline in the stock price within two or three years can affect your pay.

It’s also important to know that any gains made after purchasing company stocks through an ESPP are subject to regular taxation, like income taxes. Awareness of these facts is key to maximizing equity compensation while minimizing your tax burden.

Tax Implications of Equity Compensation

Equity compensation is typically taxable in the same way that other forms of income are taxed. The tax implications depend on the type and structure of the equity compensation you receive:

Restricted Stock Units (RSUs)

When RSUs vest, you will owe taxes on their fair market value. In addition, you may have to pay taxes on any dividends or distributions paid on these units while they were restricted. The good news is that, depending on your employer’s plan, you can make pre-tax contributions to your 401(k), IRA, or another retirement account to help cover the taxes due for RSUs.

Stock Options

The tax consequences of stock option grants come when you exercise and sell the shares. If it’s a nonqualified stock option (NQSO), the difference between the exercise price and sale proceeds is considered ordinary income for tax purposes. On the other hand, if it’s an incentive stock option (ISO), any gain from exercising and selling will be counted as a capital gain needed for tax purposes. It’s important to stay current with changes in local regulations; in some cases, local taxes may also apply when exercising and selling stock options.

Bottom line? Equity compensation can come in many forms with different tax implications. Hence, it pays to do your research upfront so that you know what to expect when taking advantage of this benefit offered by your employer.

Restricted Stock Units

Did you know that there are different types of equity awards when it comes to equity compensation? A unique type of award is a Restricted Stock Unit (RSU).

Like a stock option, RSUs give employees the potential to benefit financially from the company’s success. But with RSUs, you don’t have to pay anything upfront or exercise the units by buying the stock at an agreed-upon price.

Here’s how it works: your employer will grant you a predetermined number of units tied to a specific timeframe. At some point during the timeline, your employer will “vest”—or release—the units and make them available for you to use. When your employer vests your RSUs, they become real stock shares you can sell on the open market or keep. You’ll then get taxed at typical capital gains rather than ordinary income rates. Pretty cool, right?

RSUs can be an attractive form of compensation because they generally don’t carry any risk unless you plan on selling them right away after vesting—in that case, if the stock goes down in price, you might not gain as much as it is expected. But done well, they can be one of the best ways to save and benefit from investment opportunities in your company’s future growth.

Main Types of Equity Compensation Explained

Equity is a form of employee compensation where a company rewards its employees by giving them stock ownership. It is becoming increasingly popular among companies, especially in the technology industry, to attract and retain top talent. Equity compensation may include various forms, such as non-qualified stock options (NSOs), incentive stock options (ISOs), performance shares, and purchase shares.

Non-qualified stock options (NSOs) are a common type of equity compensation where an employee receives compensation in the form of stock options. Unlike stock options, NSOs are not qualified under the Internal Revenue Code and do not offer the same tax benefits. NSOs give the employee the right to buy stock at a certain price, usually the fair market value at the time of the grant. The employee must wait for a certain amount of time, known as the vesting period, before exercising their options and buying stock.

Equity compensation may impact employees’ cash flow, as they may need to pay taxes when they exercise their options and buy stock. However, accepting equity compensation can also provide long-term benefits, such as an ownership stake in the company and potential increases in net worth. Private companies often use equity compensation to incentivize employees, as they may not have the same cash flow as public companies.

Overall, equity compensation is a powerful tool that companies may use to reward and retain top talent. By providing employees with stock ownership; companies can align employee interests with the company’s success and create a sense of ownership among their workforce.


You might have some questions about equity compensation—it can be complex. So let’s look at some of the most common questions people have.

What Is Equity Compensation?

Equity compensation is a form of remuneration or financial reward from company stock or shares. The incentive allows employees to become invested in their company’s success and gain financial rewards should the company’s stock value increase.

Who Offers Equity Compensation?

Research shows that 95% of Fortune 500 companies offer equity compensation to their employees. This type of remuneration has become increasingly popular with executive leadership and senior management teams, although it is also being used for non-executive employees more and more.

What Are The Benefits Of Equity Compensation?

It can provide employees with significant financial benefits if their stock value increases. It also encourages employee loyalty, engagement, and retention as they invest in the company’s long-term success. As a form of remuneration, it can also be an attractive option as it ties a part of an employee’s salary to the success and growth of their business.

What Type Of Employees Receive Equity Compensation?

Equity compensation is generally reserved for executive leadership or senior management level employees hired on a salary basis rather than an hourly rate. However, it is becoming increasingly common for non-executive staff to receive equity. This helps bridge gaps between pay grade levels and ensures everyone feels valued.


Equity compensation is an important financial plan for employees and private investors. It can help unlock potential in a company and provide significant financial upside with less short-term taxation. It also provides an opportunity to be part of something bigger than your salary and can create a feeling of ownership and accomplishment.

However, equity compensation isn’t the right choice for everyone. It has its own taxes and risks to consider, and there’s no guarantee of success. It’s important to do your homework and understand the details of an equity compensation agreement before diving in.

Regardless of your situation, equity compensation can be valuable to your financial plan. It’s an important part of the investing world and should be considered when looking for ways to boost your current and future earnings.

Learn more about equity with our helpful Phantom Equity Guide.