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Restricted Stock Units vs. Restricted Stock Awards

Restricted Stock Units vs. Restricted Stock Awards

Restricted Stock Units vs Restricted Stock Awards

Decoding the Difference: Restricted Stock Units vs. Restricted Stock Awards

Restricted stock units (RSUs) vs. restricted stock awards (RSAs) are two common methods used to compensate employees in the form of equity.

As an employee, it’s important to understand the differences between these awards and how they might impact your financial plan. Both RSUs and RSAs offer benefits. However, their tax treatments and other factors can vary significantly, making it essential for you to know the key differences.

RSUs are typically granted in the form of a promise to issue shares at a later date. Typically when vesting conditions are met. In contrast, RSAs involve the actual transfer of company stock. However, the employee’s ownership rights might be limited until vesting requirements are satisfied. Your financial success and tax planning strategies can be significantly affected by your understanding of these topics.

Key Takeaways

  • Understand the differences between RSUs and RSAs to make informed financial decisions
  • Consider tax implications and vesting conditions for each equity compensation type
  • Seek professional help to tailor your equity compensation strategy to your financial goals

Restricted Stock Units vs. Restricted Stock Awards:

Restricted Stock Units

Overview of RSUs

Restricted Stock Units (RSUs) are a form of equity compensation that companies can use to attract and retain talent. They are essentially promises to give employees stock in the future if certain conditions. For example, staying with the company for a specified period, are met. With RSUs, you don’t immediately own the stock, but rather receive them as they “vest” over time.

Vesting Schedule

The vesting schedule is an essential aspect of RSUs, as it outlines when and how you’ll receive the promised stock. Typically, vesting occurs over a set number of years (e.g., 4 years) and may include a “cliff” – a period (usually one year) during which no shares vest. After the cliff, shares start vesting monthly, quarterly, or annually, depending on the company’s policy.


When it comes to taxation, RSUs are considered income, and you’ll be taxed upon vesting. The value of the vested shares is treated as ordinary income. It will be subject to income tax and, if applicable, payroll taxes. Depending on your location, you might also be subject to state and local taxes. It’s essential to consult with a tax professional to understand the tax implications specific to your situation.

Advantages and Disadvantages


  • Predictable value: Unlike stock options, RSUs have a predictable value because they are not dependent on the stock price at a future date.
  • No upfront cost: You don’t have to pay an exercise price to receive your RSUs, unlike stock options.
  • Simplicity: RSUs are often simpler to understand and manage than stock options or other forms of equity compensation.


  • Limited control: You have less control over when the shares are taxed, as they are taxable upon vesting.
  • No voting rights: Until the shares vest, you do not have any voting rights associated with the underlying stock.
  • Lack of potential gains: Unlike stock options, RSUs don’t provide the potential for significant gains if the company’s stock price rises rapidly.

Overall, RSUs can be a beneficial component of your job offer, but it’s essential to understand how they work and consider the potential tax implications. As with any equity compensation, it’s a good idea to consult with a financial advisor or tax professional to make the most of your RSUs.

Restricted Stock Units vs Restricted Stock Awards:

Restricted Stock Awards

Overview of RSAs

Restricted Stock Awards (RSAs) are a form of equity compensation offered to employees by companies. They grant employees the right to own company shares either at a set price or for free. RSAs can be an attractive part of your job offer, as they align your interests with those of the company and provide you with an additional form of compensation.

Vesting Requirements

The shares granted to you through an RSA usually come with vesting requirements. These requirements determine when you can actually claim ownership of the shares. Vesting schedules can be based on time or performance milestones, and they’re typically set up to incentivize you to remain with the company for a certain period.

For example, a common vesting schedule might require you to remain employed for four years, with 25% of the shares vesting each year. This means that after one year of employment, you would gain ownership of 25% of the shares granted to you, and so on.


Taxes are an important aspect of RSAs you should be aware of. When your RSAs vest, you’ll be liable for income tax on the value of the shares at that time. The value of shares is typically treated as additional income and thus, taxed at your ordinary income tax rate. However, you have the option to make an 83(b) election within 30 days of the grant date, allowing you to pay taxes on the value of the shares at the grant date instead of the vesting date. This can be beneficial if you expect the stock’s value to rise over time.

Advantages and Disadvantages

RSAs come with both advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, they can offer you a larger stake in the company and potentially significant financial gains if the company performs well. They also help to align your interests with those of the company and incentivize you to stay and contribute to its growth.

However, RSAs also come with some drawbacks. The most notable being the tax implications, as mentioned earlier. Additionally, receiving an RSA means your compensation is tied to the performance of the company – if the stock does not perform well, your overall compensation can be negatively impacted.

In summary, Restricted Stock Awards can be an attractive form of equity compensation for employees. However, it’s essential to understand the vesting requirements, tax implications, and advantages and disadvantages associated with RSAs to make an informed decision about their role in your job offer.

Restricted Stock Units vs. Restricted Stock Awards

Equity Compensation

When it comes to equity compensation, both Restricted Stock Awards (RSAs) and Restricted Stock Units (RSUs) are popular choices. RSAs give you actual shares at the moment of the grant, whereas RSUs represent a promise to issue shares in the future once they vest. Both RSAs and RSUs are alternatives to stock options, such as incentive stock options and non-qualified stock options (NSOs).

Vesting Schedules

The vesting schedule for both RSAs and RSUs is a critical aspect of your equity compensation. Vesting schedules determine when you can take full ownership of the shares and enjoy the benefits, such as voting rights and dividends. Typically, RSAs and RSUs have a graded vesting schedule, which means that your shares vest gradually over a set period, usually 3 to 5 years. In some cases, there may be a cliff vesting schedule, where all shares vest at once after a certain period. Do ensure you are aware of your vesting schedule to manage your expectations effectively.

Tax Implications

Taxes are an essential consideration when dealing with RSAs or RSUs. Although both are subject to tax, the treatment may vary. In the case of RSAs, you can be taxed when the shares are granted or when they vest, depending on the election you make under Section 83(b). However, RSUs are taxed only when they vest and are usually considered ordinary income.

Risk and Reward

While both RSAs and RSUs come with their own risks and benefits, it’s essential to weigh these based on your individual circumstances. RSAs provide immediate stock ownership and voting rights, which may be favorable if you value these aspects. On the other hand, RSUs offer a future promise to granted shares, which can be beneficial if the company’s value continues to increase.

In summary, keep in mind the differences in equity compensation, vesting schedules, tax implications, and risk and reward aspects when considering RSAs or RSUs as part of your compensation package.

Restricted Stock Units vs. Restricted Stock Awards: Tax Planning Strategies

When it comes to managing the tax implications of your Restricted Stock Units (RSUs) and Restricted Stock Awards (RSAs), a few key strategies can help you minimize the tax impact and optimize the value of your equity compensation.

83(b) Election

An 83(b) election is a strategic tax planning move that you can make if you receive RSAs. By filing this election with the IRS, you’re electing to be taxed on the fair market value of the shares at the time of grant, rather than at vesting. This can be beneficial if you expect the value of the shares to increase significantly before they vest, as it allows you to pay taxes based on a lower fair market value, converting future appreciation to capital gains instead of ordinary income.

Alternative Minimum Tax

The Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) is a parallel tax system designed to ensure that high-income individuals and corporations pay a minimum amount of tax. It’s essential to consider the impact of AMT when planning your tax strategies for RSUs and RSAs. As RSUs are taxed as ordinary income, they may not trigger AMT. However, if you make an 83(b) election for RSAs, the shares’ value might be subject to AMT at the time of grant. Consult with a tax professional to determine if you’re subject to the AMT and how it may affect your equity compensation.

Capital Gains Tax

One way to minimize your tax burden is to strategically manage your capital gains tax rates. Capital gains tax applies when you sell the shares received from your RSUs or RSAs. If you hold the shares for at least a year from the date of vesting (or grant if you made an 83(b) election), any appreciation in the share value will be taxed at the long-term capital gains rate, which is generally lower than ordinary income tax rates. By doing so, you can potentially reduce your overall tax liability.

Tax Withholding

When your RSUs vest, they are considered as ordinary income, and taxes must be withheld. Companies typically withhold taxes using the “sell-to-cover” method, in which they sell enough shares to cover the required tax withholding. It’s essential to understand your company’s tax withholding method and plan accordingly to avoid any surprises at tax time.

By considering these tax planning strategies and working closely with a tax professional, you can optimize the value of your RSUs and RSAs while minimizing the tax impact.

Key Considerations

When deciding between Restricted Stock Units (RSUs) and Restricted Stock Awards (RSAs), several key considerations should be taken into account. This section will outline some of the most important factors to consider, including company stage and size, dividends and voting rights, asset diversification, and employment termination.

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Company Stage and Size

For startups, RSUs might be more common due to their lower cost and efficient tax treatment. However, if your company is more established, RSAs might be more appropriate, as they better align employees with the company’s long-term goals.

Dividends and Voting Rights

With RSAs, you generally have voting rights and may be eligible to receive dividends upon granting of the shares. On the other hand, RSUs do not provide immediate voting rights or dividends until they are vested and converted into actual shares.

Asset Diversification

Considering RSUs and RSAs as part of your overall financial plan can provide opportunities for asset diversification. If your salary is largely tied to your company’s performance, holding both RSUs and RSAs can provide some balance and reduce the overall risk associated with your investments. This can be especially important for employees of startups with highly speculative future growth.

Employment Termination

Understanding the terms of your RSUs or RSAs in case of employment termination is crucial. If you have RSUs, upon termination, any unvested units may be forfeited, while vested units are typically still taxable as ordinary income. In contrast, with RSAs, you usually retain ownership of the shares granted to you, regardless of your employment status, unless otherwise stated in your grant agreement.

Remember to carefully weigh these considerations when deciding between RSUs and RSAs as part of your overall compensation package. This will help ensure that you make the best possible choice based on your individual circumstances and financial goals.

Seeking Professional Help

Financial Advisor

When dealing with Restricted Stock Units (RSUs) and Restricted Stock Awards (RSAs), it’s a smart move to seek help from a financial advisor. They can provide valuable guidance on how to best manage your equity compensation. A financial advisor can help you:

  • Understand the differences between RSUs and RSAs, and how each type of grant impacts your finances
  • Develop a plan to maximize the value of your grants, taking into consideration your long-term financial goals
  • Determine potential strategies for selling or holding your shares in the most tax-efficient manner

Remember, these decisions can have long-term implications for your financial future, so don’t hesitate to seek professional advice.


Another key professional to consult when navigating the world of RSUs and RSAs is an accountant. They have specialized knowledge in tax law and can help you understand the tax implications of your grants. Working with an accountant can help you:

  • Identify the various tax implications associated with RSUs and RSAs, such as vesting schedules, holding periods, and income reporting
  • Minimize your tax liability by strategically timing the sale or other disposition of your shares
  • Ensure your tax reporting is accurate and in compliance with applicable regulations

Enlisting the help of both a financial advisor and an accountant. You will create a solid support system that can guide you through the complexities of equity compensation. Equip yourself with the knowledge and expertise they offer to make informed decisions and thrive financially.


In the end, it’s important to understand the key differences between Restricted Stock Units (RSUs) and Restricted Stock Awards (RSAs) when considering equity compensation as part of your benefits package. RSUs are a promise to grant a specific number of shares in the future, usually upon meeting certain vesting requirements. On the other hand, RSAs involve the actual grant of shares, which may be subject to certain restrictions such as vesting and performance milestones.

When evaluating which option is more suitable for your needs, consider the tax implications. The tax treatment of RSUs and RSAs can be quite different. It’s essential to be aware of these aspects when planning your financial future. For instance, RSUs are taxed upon vesting. RSAs are taxed based on the value of the shares at the time of the grant if an 83(b) election is made.

As an employee, it’s crucial to understand the terms and conditions of equity compensation. Vesting schedules and any performance requirements that come with RSUs or RSAs. Be proactive and engage in discussions with your employer to clarify all the necessary details.

In a nutshell, both RSUs and RSAs can be valuable components of your compensation package. Carefully considering the advantages and disadvantages of each. In doing so, you can better determine which equity compensation method best aligns with your goals and personal financial situation. Remember, it’s always wise to consult with a financial professional to help guide your decision-making process.

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