Do you know the difference between an RSA and an RSU?

Apr 4, 2013 7:17:31 AM |

RSAs vs RSUs

The two may be close cousins, but there are significant differences between the two.


A Restricted Stock Award (RSA) is a grant that permits you the right to purchase shares at the fair market value, a discount, or at no cost.

The Restricted Stock Unit (RSU), is a grant valued in terms of company stock, but you do not actually receive shares until the restrictions lapse or vest. Once those conditions are met, you then receive the shares or cash as outlined in the plan rules.


There are also different legal and tax compliance differences between the two.

  • As RSAs are purchased on the grant date they are therefore subject to tax from the date of grant. RSU’s are not purchased, therefore tax is deferred until shares are granted after a time limit has been raised.
  • RSAs usually have time-based vesting conditions. RSU’s often have multiple vesting conditions until the employee owns the shares outright.
  • Termination: Unvested RSA shares are subject to repurchase upon termination. Unvested RSU shares are forfeited back to the company immediately.
  •  RSAs are eligible for 83(b) elections. RSUs are not eligible for 83(b) elections and are taxed when they vest.


Finally, unlike its cousin an RSUs release of shares may be deferred until a later date.

This means you, the employee, must pay statutory minimum taxes as determined by the employer at vesting, but payment of all other taxes can be deferred until the time of distribution/when you actually receive the shares (you are choosing to defer receipt of the shares as well) or cash equivalent (again depending on the company’s plan rules).


To learn more check out our equity administration solutions or to talk to us about how we can help you set up your plan, contact us today.

Please Note: This publication contains general information only and Global Shares is not, through this article, issuing any advice, be it legal, financial, tax related, business related, professional or other. The Global Shares Academy is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be used as such. Global Shares does not assume any liability for reliance on the information provided herein.



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