November 21, 2023

Maximizing Your Stock Options: The 83(b) Election Explained


Stock options are a popular form of employee compensation, especially in the tech industry. They offer the potential for significant financial gains, but they also come with complex tax implications. One important decision you may face when granted stock options is whether or not to make an 83(b) election. In this blog, we’ll explore  the 83(b) election, when you should consider making it, and why it can be a valuable strategy for managing your stock options.

What is an 83(b) Election?

Before diving into when and why to make an 83(b) election, let’s first understand what it entails. Section 83(b) of the Internal Revenue Code allows individuals who receive restricted stock to elect to include the fair market value (FMV) of the stock at the time of grant as part of their taxable income, even though the stock may still be subject to vesting restrictions.

In simpler terms, when you receive restricted stock, you typically don’t own it outright until certain conditions (usually related to employment tenure) are met. These restrictions can include a vesting period during which you must stay with the company to earn full ownership of the stock. By making an 83(b) election, you’re choosing to pay taxes on the stock’s value at the time of grant, potentially at a lower rate than if you wait until the restrictions have fully lifted.

When Should You Consider Making an 83(b) Election?

  1. Low Initial Value, High Growth Potential: Making an 83(b) election can be particularly advantageous when the stock’s value is relatively low at the time of grant but is expected to appreciate significantly in the future. By paying taxes on the lower initial value, you can potentially save a substantial amount in taxes when the stock becomes more valuable.
  2. Confidence in the Company’s Success: If you have strong confidence in your company’s prospects and anticipate its stock price will increase substantially, an 83(b) election can be a smart move. It allows you to lock in a lower tax liability on the stock’s current value, which may result in significant tax savings down the road.
  3. Early Exercise of Options: Some companies offer employees the option to exercise their stock options before they vest fully. If you choose early exercise, you can then make an 83(b) election to minimize future tax consequences. This strategy can be beneficial if you believe in the company’s long-term growth potential.

Why Make an 83(b) Election?

  1. Tax Savings: The primary advantage of making an 83(b) election is the potential for tax savings. By paying taxes on the stock’s value when it’s lower, you may reduce your overall tax liability, especially if the stock appreciates significantly over time.
  2. Avoiding Higher Tax Rates: Waiting until your stock fully vests to pay taxes means you’ll pay taxes on the appreciated value at your ordinary income tax rate, which can be substantially higher than the capital gains rate. By making an 83(b) election, you can lock in the lower capital gains rate on future gains.
  3. Mitigating Risk: If the company faces financial difficulties or the stock’s value decreases, you may still owe taxes on the initial value you reported in your 83(b) election. However, this risk can be managed by selling the stock if its value declines significantly, potentially resulting in a lower tax liability.

The Downsides of an 83(b) Election

While an 83(b) election can offer significant tax advantages, it’s not without its downsides. One of the most prominent drawbacks is the risk associated with paying taxes on stock that may never fully vest. Here are some key considerations:

  1. Loss of Unvested Stock: When you make an 83(b) election, you’re essentially betting that the stock will become valuable in the future. However, if you leave the company before the vesting conditions are met (e.g., you change jobs or the company goes under), you won’t get a refund for the taxes you paid. This means you could end up paying taxes on stock that you ultimately forfeit, resulting in a financial loss.
  2. Lack of Liquidity: Paying taxes upfront through an 83(b) election can create a cash flow challenge, especially if you don’t have the liquid assets readily available to cover the tax bill. It’s essential to ensure you have the means to pay the taxes without jeopardizing your overall financial stability.
  3. Complexity and Risk: Making an 83(b) election requires careful planning and adherence to strict deadlines. Failing to file the election within the 30-day window after receiving the stock grant can render the potential tax benefit unavailable. Additionally, accurately predicting the future value of the stock can be challenging, and your tax liability may end up being higher than you initially anticipated.
  4. Tax Payment Timing: When you make an 83(b) election, you pay taxes on the stock’s value at the time of grant, even if you haven’t received any cash from the stock yet. This can create a timing mismatch where you owe taxes but haven’t realized any income to cover the tax liability, potentially leading to liquidity issues.
  5. Recovery in the Event of a Stock Price Drop: If the stock’s value declines significantly after you’ve made an 83(b) election, you will still owe taxes on the higher initial value. This can result in a situation where you pay taxes on gains that no longer exist, further complicating your financial situation.


Making an 83(b) election is a strategic decision that should be made carefully, preferably with the guidance of a financial advisor or tax professional. While it can offer significant tax benefits when executed correctly, it also carries some risks, particularly if the company’s fortunes take a turn for the worse.

In summary, you should consider making an 83(b) election when you receive restricted stock with a low initial value, anticipated significant stock price appreciation, and have confidence in the company’s long-term success. It can be a valuable tool for tax optimization and wealth accumulation when used thoughtfully and in conjunction with a comprehensive financial plan. Always consult with a qualified professional to assess your individual circumstances before making this important financial decision.

By weighing the potential benefits and drawbacks of an 83(b) election and aligning your decision with your financial goals and risk tolerance, you can make a more informed choice that best suits your unique situation. Remember that tax laws and regulations can change over time, so staying informed and seeking professional advice when necessary is essential to navigate the complex landscape of stock options and taxation effectively.

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