Stock is a popular and valuable compensation tool for employers and employees. Employees are encouraged to stay with the company and to work harder, to enhance the value of the stock they will earn. Employers do not have to make a cash outlay to provide the compensation, yet they still are entitled to a tax deduction.
Employers may make a direct transfer of stock to an employee as compensation for services performed. In the simplest case, the employee’s rights in the stock are vested upon receipt. Under Code Sec. 83, the employee has income, equal to the fair market value of the stock, less any amount paid for the stock. The employer can take a compensation deduction under Code Sec. 162 for the amount included in the employee’s income.
Risk of forfeiture
The employer may decide to impose certain conditions on the employee’s right to the stock (such as a requirement that the employee continue to work for the company for two years before the stock “vests”). In this situation, the stock is subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture (or is “nonvested”) until the two-year period elapses. After two years, the stock vests, and the employee recognizes income for the excess of the stock’s value (at the time of vesting) over the amount paid. If the employee leaves the company within two years, the employee forfeits the stock.
An employee who receives stock subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture may anticipate that he or she will stay with the company for the required two years. The employee may also anticipate (or at least hope) that the stock will appreciate in value. Rather than wait two years and have to recognize income when the stock vests, an employee may elect under Code Sec. 83(b) to treat the property as vested upon receipt and to recognize compensation income (if any) at the time of receipt.
The employee may be required to pay for the stock when received. If the employee paid the fair market value of the stock, making a Code Sec. 83(b) election is particularly advantageous, because the employee will not recognize any income on the election.
Example. Widget Corporation transfers 10 shares of its common stock to Hal, an employee, subject to a requirement that Hal work for two years before the stock vests. The stock is worth $5 a share. Hal is required to pay $5 a share upon receipt of the stock. By making a Code Sec. 83(b) election, Hal will not recognize any income, because the value and the cost of the stock are the same. If Hal did not have to pay any money for the shares, and made an election, Hal would have $50 of compensation income (10 shares times $5 a share).
After making an election, if the employee then works for two years, and the stock appreciates, the employee does not recognize any further compensation income, because the employee has already been taxed under Code Sec. 83. By making the election, the employee is treated as owning the stock. When the employee sells the stock, the employee will recognize capital gain or loss, measured by the difference between the amount received and the value of the stock when it vested.
To make an election under Code Sec. 83(b), an employee must file a statement with the IRS, within 30 days of the transfer of the property to the employee. The statement must be filed with the Internal Revenue Service Center where the employee would file his or her income tax return. A copy of the statement must be provided to the employer, who is entitled to a compensation deduction when the election is made. A copy must also be attached to the employee’s income tax return.
IRS regulations prescribe the requirements for an election. In Rev. Proc. 2012-29, the IRS also provided sample language for employees to use to make the election. The IRS advised that the sample language is not required. The election must identify the taxpayer, the property being transferred, the date of the transfer, the restrictions on the property, the property’s value at the time of transfer (generally determined without the restrictions), the amount paid by the employee, and the amount of compensation income (the value minus the amount paid). The employee must also sign the election.
The election cannot be revoked without the IRS’s consent. The IRS will not ordinarily grant consent unless there has been a mistake of fact as to the underlying transaction.
If you have any questions about making a Code Sec. 83(b) election, please contact our office at (908) 725-4414.