What To Think About When Choosing Incentive Stock Options Or Isos

Jan 04, 2023 By Triston Martin

ISOs or incentive stock options, are a special kind of employee stock option with favorable tax treatment for the employee. The employee must satisfy certain conditions, including keeping the shares obtained via the exercise of the ISO for a specified amount of time, to qualify for the tax advantages associated with doing so. Employees sometimes get ISOs as a component of their overall pay. These grants allow the employee to purchase stock in the firm at a predetermined price (the "exercise price"). The stock's market price at the time of option issuance is often used to determine the exercise price. An essential perk of ISOs is the possibility of preferential tax treatment. After one year, the employee may cash in the shares they bought when they exercised their ISO.

What Are Incentive Stock Options, Or Isos, And How Do They Work?

Employees who get incentive stock options (ISOs) can buy shares in the firm at a discounted price and enjoy favorable tax treatment. Including an ISO in a compensation package is common practice when employing new staff or increasing the ranks of an existing workforce. Deferred compensation plans, such as incentive stock options, are utilized to attract and retain top talent. The only way to reap the rewards of your ISOs is to remain a dedicated employee of your company over the long term—the value of your stock options increases in proportion to your firm's share price growth.

What's The Difference Between Isos And Nsos?

Statutory stock options, as well as nonstatutory stock options are the two forms of stock options available to employees. Both terms—qualified and nonqualified—are acceptable. There are many fundamental distinctions between incentive stock options (ISOs) and NSOs (nonqualified stock options) that define the former as a statutory (qualified) stock option.

Eligibility. However, non-employee service providers like advisers, board members, and consultants may be awarded NSOs instead of ISOs. Because a firm is not obliged by law to provide ISOs to its employees, the majority of ISOs are often handed to the company's upper management or its most valuable workers. Advantages in one's tax situation. Compared to NSOs, the tax benefits associated with ISOs are more alluring. Below is an expansion on this point.

How To Exercise Incentive Stock Options

The "grant date" refers to the day your firm officially gives you incentive stock options. Your ISOs will become fully vested in you once you meet the vesting requirements or wait the allotted time. Assuming your ISOs are granted, you will have the option (but not the requirement) to buy a certain number of firm shares at the strike price. The strike price is the set exercise price specified in your ISO grant. Before the ISO expiry date, you can decide whether or not to exercise your options. The typical term length is ten years.

When Should You Use Your Isos?

You will likely decide to cash in your ISOs if the strike price is lower than the current market price of your shares of the firm. This allows you to acquire stock at a lower strike price and then sell it on the market for a profit based on the difference between your strike price and the current market price. If the market price is lower than the strike price, it makes more financial sense to sell your shares of the firm rather than exercise your ISOs.

How To Practice Using Your Isos

It is only sometimes necessary to pay cash for the shares when exercising. If your firm provides a stock swap, you may trade in the shares you currently hold in return for additional stock in the company. A case in point is as follows: Vested ISO allows you to buy 1,000 shares of company stock for $20 per share. The current market price of a share of stock is $40. Instead of paying $20,000 in cash, you may exchange 500 of your existing claims for 1,000 new shares.


When certain conditions are satisfied, ISOs are an employee stock option that may give tax advantages to the employee. Although incentive stock options (ISOs) may be a beneficial element of an employee's total pay package, employees must be aware of the rules and regulations that govern their use. Employees who have Incentive Stock Options (ISOs) have the opportunity to buy shares of their company's stock at a future date for a predetermined price (the "exercise price"). If conditions are followed, such as keeping the shares for at least two years from the day the ISO was granted, but another calendar year following the exercise date, the option will become fully vested.

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