This brief documents how the US tax system treats the most common forms of equity compensation, including stock, restricted stock units, and stock options. In most cases, these forms of equity compensation are taxed just like cash wages, salaries, and bonuses. Employees pay ordinary income taxes on the value they get from stock and most options. Employers deduct that value from their taxable income. And both employees and employers pay payroll taxes. The tax system thus creates a level playing field between equity and cash compensation. The large deductions businesses sometimes get for equity compensation—most famously when Facebook went public—are not a concern since they are accompanied by large tax payments by employees. Policymakers should maintain this equal treatment in any tax reform.
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