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Companies often reward their employees with their stock, either in the form of employee stock option plans (ESOP) or  Restricted Stock Units(RSU) or employee stock purchase plans (ESPP). This article explains in detail about ESPP. What is ESPP?  Terms associated with ESPP, Tax Implications of ESPP, hot to calculate Long term capital gain/short term capital gain?

What is ESPP?

Under the employee stock purchase plan or ESPP the employee has the choice of purchasing stocks of his company from his salary usually at a discounted price. If an employee enrols from ESPP then he will contribute a fixed part of his salary, usually between 1 per cent and 15 per cent, for a fixed period of time. At the end of fixed period the company will use this money to purchase the company’s stock.  Once the shares are bought for you, they are yours. They are treated just like any other shares you have bought. You can hold them for as long as you want, you get to decide when to sell the shares. There are no restrictions. Investment in ESPP is similar to an investment in stocks so it suffers from stock market volatility.

Once enrolled in ESPP can one stop it?

The ESPP plans allow flexibility in terms of stopping the plan or modifying the contribution levels during the enrolment period.  Some allow employees to even suspend their enrolment even during the offering period. In such cases usually, no further deductions from salary will be made but for the amount deducted already, it will purchase shares on the share date. Each ESPP plan is unique so please check your plan document for details

Terms associated with ESPP

Typical terms associated with ESPP are as follows:

Enrolment Period: Period during which you can enrol for ESPP. If you miss this then you have to wait till next enrolment period to get enrolled.

Offering Period: A period during which your salary gets deducted and accumulated for purchasing of company’s stock. It’s usually 6 months or multiples of 6 months. During the offering period.

Purchase Period: Purchase period is one after which the stocks will be purchased. When the offering period is 6 months companies use purchase period and offering period interchangeable. But if the offering period is long (example 1 year) then there will be multiple Purchase period. For example: Offering period id 12 months. Purchase period is 6 months. Then stocks would be purchased twice at the end of the purchase price.

Grant Date The grant date is usually the first day of the offering period. This is sometimes called the enrollment date. In ESPP grant date is important for tax purposes and for lookback price it also serves as point for calculating stock price.

Purchase Date or Exercise Date: Pre-determined date upon which stock is bought for all employees who have opted for ESPP. If there are several purchase periods during a single long offering period, there will also be several purchase dates (one at the end of each purchase period). For example, a 12-month offering period that includes two purchase periods will have a purchase date at the end of every six months.

Purchase (or Exercise) Price: The purchase price of a share of stock bought at the end of a purchase period or offering period. If the ESPP includes a lookback provision  the purchase price will be determined by comparing the market price of a share of stock on the offering date with the market price of a share of stock on the purchase date and applying a discount to the lower of the two prices. Check whether your plan allows the purchase of fractional shares or only whole shares with your payroll deductions. If only whole shares, any amount remaining in your account may be rolled over to the next purchase period (without interest).

Lookback: If your ESPP has lookback provision then your purchase price is based on the stock price at either the first day or the last day of the purchase period, whichever is lower. For example If the price at the start of the period is Rs. 100 and at the end is Rs. 70, then the lower one or Rs. 70, is the price at which stock will be purchased. If company allows discount then it is applied to this price.

Discount: Discount given by the company to the purchase price. Company policy determines How much discount can one get. Discount is typically up to 15% for  US based company.

Example of Lookback and Discount : Stock price of your company during the six month offering period was $10 at the start and $12 at end of the period and you get 15% discount and have lookback provision. So $10 is the purchase price as it is the minimum price during the purchase period. As you get a 15% discount so you get stocks at $8.50 ($10 – 15% of $10).

If the stock price at the start was $12 and at the end was $10 then purchase price would still be $10 and you would have got stuck at $8.50 ($10 – 15% of $10)

ESPP timeline

ESPP timeline

Qualified: means there is no tax until you sell your shares. nonqualified your employer will withhold taxes at the time of purchase. (An advantage of a nonqualified plan is that it allows the employer to offer a discount greater than 15%.)

How do you get the ESPP shares?

Shares are deposited in the brokerage account of the country where your company is listed. For U S based companies listed on NASDAQ there are trading portals like E*Trade, Charles Schwab Corporation etc.

Why does a company offer ESPP?

It is one of the ways  to attract and retain employees. It  also thought of motivating employees as shareholders to maximise returns both for them  and the company.

What if the stock price goes down?

The company does not have any obligation to compensate the employee if the share price goes down. Tough luck man.

 Tax and ESPP

Where there is money there are taxes and brokerage. For foreign listed stock exchange one needs to also consider currency conversion rate(difference in Rs – $) between the purchase date and sell date.

Perquisite: As the company is giving you a discount on the stock price this part of salary comes under perquisite and hence is taxed as per your tax slab.  So if you are in 30% tax slab as , ESPP contribution will be taxed at 30.9%(include education cess etc). Perquisite is calculated on the difference between the Market price and the allotment price at the time of purchase. So if you got 10 shares when the market price of the stock was $12 and you got at $8.5 then you would be taxed on 10* ($12-$8.5) = $35= Rs 35 * US Dollar conversion rate one the date of allotment.  On this company will deduct tax as per your income slab. Hence your actual discount becomes ~10%. This would be deducted by your company as TDS and deposited to the Indian Government. It would also be reflected on your Form 12BA. Our article Understanding Form 12BA explains perquisite and salary in detail.

Brokerage:  When you sell the shares the brokerage company also charges for sale of shares and for wiring funds to India. At times they also deduct TDS (called as Withholding tax in the US) from the sale proceeds.

Tax: The income earned from the sale of shares and tax on it depends on whether the shares are listed on Indian stock exchange or not and the time period for which you hold the shares.  It is calculated as following:

For stocks listed on Indian stock exchange

Income earned from stock comes under the category of Capital Gains.  For stocks the capital gain is difference in the selling price and buying price.

  • If you sell the shares within 1 year of getting the shares, then the gains are called Short Term Capital Gains (STCG) and you pay 15% tax on the profit earned.
  • If you sell the shares after 1 year of buying shares, then the gains are  Long Term Capital Gains (LTCG). There is no tax on long term capital gains.

For stock listed on the foreign stock exchange

  • If you sell the shares within 2 years(24 months) of getting the shares, then the income(the difference between selling and buying price) is taxed as per your income tax slab.
  • If you sell the shares after 2 years of buying shares, then the gains are taxed as Long Term Capital Gains (LTCG). You have to pay  20% with indexation on profit. You will have to fill these details in ITR2 in capital gain section CG-OS. Our article Cost Inflation Index, Indexation and Long Term Capital Gains has information on indexation, calculation of Long term capital gain in detail.

Example of STCG you got 100 shares of your company which is listed in the US on 18 Jul 2014 at $8.50 when USD is 59.93 INR. Say you sell the share on 17 Jan 2015 when USD is 61.63 If you sell at any time before 19 Jan 2016) at $12, then the difference  is added to Income. 10= * (61.63 – 59.93) * (12-8.5) = Rs 595

Example of LTCG,  you got 10 shares of your company which is listed in the US in Nov 2011 when the market price was $20 and indexation was 711 and 1USD=51.99 Rs and you sold shares sold for $40  in May 2013 when 1 USD= 56.3855 and indexation was 939. A commission of $20 was charged by the brokerage.

  • Sale Price of 10 shares =  10 * $40 = $400 = Rs. 400 * 56.3855 = Rs. 22,554.2
  • Purchase price of 10 shares =  10  * 20 = $200
  • Indexed cost of acquisition = $223.5 * 939/711 =  $ 264.14 = Rs.  264.14  * 51.99 = Rs. 13,732.38
  • Expenditure on transfer = $20 * 10/100 = $2 = Rs. 2 * 56.3855 = Rs. 112.771
  • Long term capital gain = Rs. 22,554.2 – Rs. ( 13,732.38 + 112.771) = Rs. 8709.049
  • Tax on Long term capital gain is 20% of 8709.049 =  Rs 1741.8098

 Alternatives to ESPP:  Restricted Stock Units(RSU) and ESOP?

Restricted Stock Units(RSU) represent an unsecured promise,i.e no strings attached, by the employer to grant an employee a set number of shares (at zero strike price) on completion of the vesting schedule or other conditions. Basically your purchase price is 0.

Employee Stock Options Program (ESOP): The employee has the option to purchase stock of the company at a future date at a pre-determined price. Employee can buy or not exercise his option on the date. Our article What are Employee Stock Options (ESOP) explains it in detail.

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Have you availed ESPP? Would you suggest going for ESPP?