What are RSUs and how do they work?

At my current employer, I receive RSUs (restricted stock units) as a form of bonus. I have received a RSU package as a signing bonus and also my annual bonus is paid in RSUs. So, I needed to learn how these assets work.

Investopedia says:

A restricted stock unit (RSU) is an award of stock shares, usually given as a form of employee compensation. The recipient must meet certain conditions before the restricted stock units are transferred to the owner.

Yes, my RSUs are a form of compensation. The certain conditions that I have to meet are to stay long enough in the company to actually get these stock units, because they vest (are really mine) over a 4 year period.

Restricted stock units are issued to employees through a vesting plan and distribution schedule after they achieve required performance milestones or upon remaining with their employer for a particular length of time.

Restricted stock units give employees interest in their employer’s equity but have no tangible value until they are vested. The RSUs are assigned a fair market value (FMV) when they vest. Restricted stock units are considered income once vested, and a portion of the shares is withheld to pay income taxes. The employee then receives the remaining shares and has the right to sell them.

Indeed, my current employer is a scale-up, that has its fair market value evaluated independently each year, and based on that evaluation, the stock price is higher or lower. The RSU package has a vesting plan and in my case is a 4-year plan: 25% of stocks are vested after first year and then 6.25% after each quarter, for the remaining three years. When a part of the units get vested, in Germany, I have to pay taxes on it, as it is considered an income.

Luckily, my employer recently introduced the possibility to sell a part of the RSUs in order to cover the taxes. That’s a really good option, as so far, the units have value only on paper. They don’t have the same liquidity as stocks from a public traded company.

That’s indeed a disadvantage when working for a private company, but the great advantage should be (theoretically) that you receive the stock units at a low price, when the company is in its early days, and you have the potential to make a lot of gain. But it can also go in the other direction and the units can become worthless in a few years. Time will tell…

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