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How Not to Screw Up Your RSU’s

You’re feeling pretty confident these days. First, you’re doing awesome work at a great company, and second, your restricted stock units (RSUs) have vested.

Now for the big question: When do you cash your shares out? If you’re like most RSU recipients, you plan to hold on to your shares for a year before selling. That way, you’ll avoid the very high tax rate on short-term capital gains, and pay the lower, long-term capital gains rate, right?

Actually that’s not how RSUs work. Amazingly, their tax treatment is something that few people in the tech industry understand. Your taxes are calculated and withheld by your company as soon as your units vest. And that tax cut is painful, by the way: Depending on where you live, the IRS and your state of residence could end up taking nearly 50% of your stocks value.

So to be clear, there is no reason to wait a year before dipping into your vested stock. In fact, if you wait a year to sell your stock, and the stock price falls during that time, you’ll feel foolish because you’ll have paid taxes on the higher, original amount.

The bottom line: You might as well go ahead and do whatever you’re going to do with your vested stock. And for a lot of you, there are two choices:
1. Sell shares immediately; start living a little larger.
2. Keep shares and let them appreciate so you can one day live much, much larger.

But allow me to suggest something crazy: Use your stock proceeds to create an actual, grown-up investment portfolio—one that contains a blend of different investments rather than just the stock of your company.

Building diversified investment portfolios is standard practice among people who have money they don’t want to lose. I could explain the academic theory about why diversification is the best way to balance risk and reward, but in the end, the logic is pretty simple: Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket. And when you own nothing but company stock that is exactly what you’re doing.

I know what you’re thinking—that this is loser talk. Your company’s stock is only going to go up, and never down, right? And every share you keep is going to make you that much richer. There’s one problem though: Even tech companies have long periods of flat or falling stock prices. And yes, they go bust, a la, Webvan and Covad.

I know, I know, your company is different. But when you limit your investments to the stock of any one company, that’s really risky behavior. If your company runs into trouble, not only will your stock crater, but you might be out of a job as well. When your wealth is all in the form of your company’s stock, you’re not just putting all your eggs in one basket, you’re living in that basket too.

So consider this: You already have a good amount of wealth through your RSUs, and you’re probably going to receive a lot more units over the years. You are already successful, and you will continue to be more and more successful. Now it’s time to start protecting your wealth by creating a real, well-rounded investment portfolio.

By all means buy yourself some nice things. And keep a bunch of your company stock so you can live the good life one day. But in the meantime, sit down with a financial advisor and talk about taking part of your stock and building a real investment portfolio. If you’d like to talk about RSUs, taxes or investing, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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