Leap year can make things complicated. For example, if you use a daily accrual rate for some purpose related to stock compensation, such as calculating a pro-rata payout, a tax allocation for a mobile employee, or expense accruals, you have to remember to add a day to your calculation once every four years. Personally, I think it would be easier if we handled leap year the same way we handle the transition from Daylight Saving Time to Standard Time: everyone just set their calendar back 24 hours. Rather than doing this on the last day of February, I think it would be best to do it on the last Sunday in February, so that the “fall back” always occurs on a weekend.
In a slightly belated celebration of Leap Day, I have a few tidbits related to leap years and tax holding periods.
If a holding period for tax purposes spans February 29, this adds an extra day to the holding period. For example, if a taxpayer buys stock on January 15, 2015, the stock must be held for 365 days, through January 15, 2016 for the sale to qualify for long-term capital gains treatment. But if stock is purchased a year later, on January 15, 2016, the stock has to be held for 366 days, until January 15, 2017, to qualify for long-term capital gains treatment. The same concept applies in the case of the statutory ISO and ESPP holding periods–see my blog entry “Leap Year and ISOs,” (June 23, 2009).
Even trickier, if stock is purchased on February 28 of the year prior to a leap year, it still has to be held until March 1 of the following year for the sale to qualify for capital gains treatment. This is because the IRS treats the holding period as starting on the day after the purchase. Stock purchased on February 28 in a non-leap year has a holding period that starts on March 1, which means that even with the extra day in February in the year after the purchase, the stock still has to be held until March 1. See the Fairmark Press article, “Capital Gains and Leap Year,” February 26, 2008.
Ditto if stock is purchased on either February 28 or February 29 of a leap year. In the case of stock purchased on February 28, the holding period will start on February 29. But there won’t be a February 29 in the following year, so the taxpayer will have to hold the stock until March 1. And if stock is purchased on February 29, the holding period starts on March 1. Interesting how none of these rules seem to work in the taxpayer’s favor.
The moral of the story: if long-term capital gains treatment is important to you, it’s not a bad idea to give yourself an extra day just to be safe–especially if there’s a leap year involved.
One area of ISS’s voting policy that you can count on changing every year are the burn rate benchmarks. ISS updates these benchmarks based on historical data. In theory, if granting practices haven’t changed, the burn rate benchmarks won’t change either. But, inevitably, practices change (in response to changes in the economic environment, the marketplace, and compensation practices, not too mention pressure to adhere to ISS’s burn rate benchmarks) and the burn rate benchmarks change as well.
Surprise, Surprise (Not!)—Burn Rate Benchmarks Lower in 2016
It seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy to me that if ISS sets a cap that burn rates can’t exceed and companies are forced to manage their grants to come in under that cap, burn rates are going to keep decreasing. This year, by my calculations, burn rate benchmarks dropped for 40% of industries in the S&P 500, 59% of industries in the Russell 3000, and 68% of industries in the Non-Russell 3000. ISS indicates that the median change across all industries/indices is a decline of .07%.
It’s a “Benchmark” Not a “Cap”
ISS calls the standard a “benchmark” not “cap.” When they made this change last year, I thought maybe this was because they thought the word “benchmark” sounded friendlier. This isn’t the case at all, however. It’s a “benchmark” because the cap is actually lower than the benchmark. To get full credit for the burn rate test in ISS’s Equity Plan Scorecard (EPSC), a company’s burn rate has to be less than 50% of the benchmark. In other words, the cap is 50% of the benchmark.
Burn Rate Scores Can Go Negative
Laura Wanlass of Aon Hewitt tells me that, just like the score for the SVT test (see “Update on the ISS Scorecard,” July 21, 2015), the burn rate score can also be negative.
Burn Rate Is Important
Burn rate is not quite as important as a plan’s SVT score, but it’s still significant—a negative score could be impossible to come back from in the EPSC. Laura tells me that it is the largest percentage of points in the Grant Practices pillar, which is worth less than Plan Cost (i.e., the SVT test) but more than the Plan Features pillar.
Before the EPSC, burn rates didn’t matter as much. If a company didn’t pass the burn rate test, they simply made a three-year commitment to stay under ISS’s cap in the future—no harm, no foul. But those three-year commitments are just a distant fond memory under the EPSC.
The Burn Rate Test Is Getting Harder
While the standard to earn full points for burn rate remains 50% of the benchmark, overall, the benchmarks have been lowered for most industries/indices. In addition, Laura tells me that ISS is recalibrating the test so that burn rates above 50% of the benchmark will earn fewer points and will go negative sooner than last year.
In just a couple of weeks, employees will begin receiving Forms 1099-B for sales they conducted in 2015. Here are five things they need to know about Form 1099-B:
What Is Form 1099-B? Anytime someone sells stock through a broker, the broker is required to issue a Form 1099-B reporting the sale. This form is provided to both the seller and the IRS. It reports the net proceeds on the sale, and in some cases, the cost basis of the shares sold. The seller uses this information to report the sale on his/her tax return. [Same-day sale exercises can be an exception. Rev. Proc. 2002-50 allows brokers to skip issuing a Form 1099-B for same-day sales if certain conditions are met. But your employees don’t need to know about this exception unless your broker isn’t issuing a Form 1099-B in reliance on the Rev. Proc.]
The Cost Basis Reported on Form 1099-B May Be Too Low. For shares that employees acquire through your ESPP or by exercising a stock option, the cost basis indicated on the Form 1099-B reporting the sale is likely to be too low.
Sometimes Form 1099-B Won’t Include a Cost Basis. If employees sold stock that was acquired under a restricted stock or unit award, or if they acquired it before January 1, 2011, the Form 1099-B usually won’t include the cost basis (although procedures may vary, so check with your brokers on this).
What To Do If the Cost Basis Is Incorrect (or Missing). If the cost basis is incorrect, employees will need to report an adjustment to their gain (or loss) on Form 8949 when they prepare their tax returns. If the basis is missing, they’ll use Form 8949 to report the correct basis.
An Incorrect Cost Basis Is Likely to Result in Employees Overpaying Their Taxes. It is very important that employees know the correct basis of any shares they sold. They will subtract the cost basis from their net sale proceeds to determine their taxable capital gain (or deductible capital loss) for the sale. Reporting a cost basis that is too low on their tax return could cause them to pay more tax than necessary. In some cases, this doubles their tax liability. The only person who wins in this scenario is Uncle Sam; your employees lose and you lose, because no one appreciates the portion of their compensation that they have to pay over to the IRS. Your stock compensation program is a significant investment for your company; don’t devalue the program by letting employees overpay their taxes.
Employees should review any Forms 1099-B they receive carefully to verify that the cost basis indicated is the correct basis. If it is missing or incorrect, they should use Form 8949 to report the correct basis.
The Portal also has examples and flow charts, all of which have been updated for the 2015 tax forms. [In case you are wondering, there were no significant changes to Form 1099-B, Form 8949, or Schedule D in 2015.]
This past summer, the NASPP and Solium co-sponsored a quick survey on global stock plan administration. We asked companies about the technological challenges they experience when it comes to administering global stock plans, focusing on 12 primary challenges related to tax compliance, financial reporting, and other administrative matters. Close to 70% of respondents indicated that they struggle with four or more of the challenges identified and several noted that they struggle with nine or more of the challenges.
For today’s blog entry, I highlight five things I learned from the survey:
1. There are still a lot of manual processes out there.
Two-thirds of respondents say they spend too much time on manual processes. This is a high-risk proposition: it is difficult to implement adequate controls over processes and calculations performed in a spreadsheet. This seems especially concerning given that the SEC is in the process of adopting rules requiring recovery of compensation for all material misstatements, even if due to inadvertent error (see “SEC Proposes Clawback Rules,” July 7, 2015). One incorrect calculation discovered too late could result in recoupment of bonuses and other incentive compensation paid to executive officers.
2. Tax compliance is a top concern for companies.
This really isn’t a surprise—let’s face it, tax laws outside the United States are a hot mess. Every country does something different. Some countries change their laws every few years (I’m looking at you, Australia and France) and grandfather in old awards. Some countries have different rules for social insurance taxes vs. income taxes. Add in mobile employees and, well, you have a lot of work for tax lawyers.
3. Regulatory compliance is also a challenge.
56% of respondents cite keeping up with regulatory changes as a top challenge and 45% cite regulatory requirements in other countries. Regulatory compliance goes beyond tax laws to include things like securities laws, data privacy (a hot topic these days, see “Data Privacy Upheaval,” December 3, 2015), labor laws, currency restrictions and a host of other issues. It’s hard to stay on top of it all.
4. It’s the participants that suffer.
Ultimately, in the struggle to administer a global stock plan, something has to give and that something is usually the participant. Only 50% of respondents offer a qualified plan in countries where they could; the hurdle of regulatory compliance gets in the way. And 75% of respondents said that they would focus more on employee education if they could just spend less time on basic administration.
5. Expectations are low.
When we asked companies what is on their wish list for their administrative system, I was surprised at how low some items ranked (it was a “check all that apply” question, I thought everyone would want just about everything). For example, despite the fact that 71% of respondents reported tax-compliance for mobile employees as a top challenge, only 64% wanted a system that could calculate tax liabilities for mobile participants. It left us wondering if companies need to dream bigger for their administrative platforms.
Check out the White Paper and Survey
If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, check out the white paper on the survey results and download the full results from the Solium website.
Earlier this fall, Frederic W. Cook released the findings of their 2015 Director Compensation study in a report titled “2015 Non-Employee Director Compensation Report”. In today’s blog I share some of the stock compensation related highlights from their report.
The study was conducted with analysis of non-employee director compensation practices at 300 US public companies across a variety of sectors.
One Size Fits All?
In this year’s study, virtually all size categories (small, medium and large-cap) of companies that were studied compensate non-employee directors with primarily stock compensation (meaning more than 50% of director compensation was paid in stock awards and/or stock options). This continues a trend of increasing the equity compensation piece of the compensation pie, which makes sense when you think about aligning director compensation with the shareholder value they are tasked to oversee. Interestingly, while stock compensation ruled the majority when looking at size of company, it didn’t necessarily represent the majority of compensation in each industry sector. The financial services and industrials sectors have yet to pass the 50% mark in issuing equity over cash (cash still is the majority of compensation in those industries).
Stock Awards Continue Their Reign
The dominant equity compensation vehicle is full value stock awards (or units). 85% of the companies in the study use dollar denominated stock awards rather than share numbers. Stock option grants to directors continue to diminish. The technology sector continues to be the heaviest user of stock options to compensate directors, but even that industry is trending down in stock option usage – only 22% of tech companies issued stock options to directors (down from 32% the prior year).
The Trend Continues: Stock Ownership Guidelines
We’ve previously blogged about the continuing uptick in the number of companies adopting share ownership guidelines for executives and directors. The overwhelming majority (96%) of large-cap companies have stock ownership guidelines in place for directors. Small-cap companies continue to catch up in implementing guidelines for directors, with 60% having some form of guideline and/or retention policy in place. The good news is that’s up from just over half of small-cap companies last year. According to the Frederic W. Cook report, “The median ownership requirement is now five times the annual cash board retainer.” 10% of the companies studied have a mandatory hold-until-retirement policy for directors.
The report on this study, along with many other NASPP and outside surveys and studies can be found in the NASPP’s Survey and Studies portal. NASPP and co-sponsored surveys can also be found in the Surveys section of our website.
This week I provide additional coverage of the decisions the FASB made on the ASC 718 simplification project (see my blog from last week for Part 1).
Cash Flow Statement
The Board affirmed both of the proposals related to the cash flow statement: cash flows related to excess tax benefits will be reported as an operating activity and cash outflow as a result of share withholding will be reported as a financing activity. Nothing particularly exciting about either of these decisions but, hey, now you know.
The board decided not to go forward with the proposal on repurchases that are contingent on an event within the employee’s control. The proposal would have allowed equity treatment until the event becomes probable of occurring (which would align with the treatment of repurchases where the event is outside the employee’s control). The Board decided to reconsider this as part of a future project. The Board noted that this would have required the company to assess whether or not employees are likely to take whatever action would trigger the repurchase obligation, which might not be so simple to figure out (we all know how hard it is to predict/explain employee behavior).
Practical Expedient for Private Companies
The Board affirmed the decision to provide a simplified approach to determining expected term for private companies, but modified it to allow the approach to be used for performance awards with an explicitly stated performance period. I’m not sure that many private companies are granting performance-based stock options, but the few who are will be relieved about this, I’m sure.
Options Exercisable for an Extended Period After Termination
Companies that provide an extended period to exercise stock options after retirement, disability, death, etc., will be relieved to know that the FASB affirmed its decision to eliminate the requirement that these options should be subject to other applicable GAAP. This requirement was indefinitely deferred, but now we don’t have to worry about it at all.
If you are a company with employees in the European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA), you’ve likely long been aware of the stringent data privacy requirements surrounding the transmission and protection of data for those residing in that region of the world. To facilitate compliance with certain aspects of data privacy requirements, some companies relied (in all or part) upon the EU-US Safe Harbor Privacy Program (“Safe Harbor program”), which allowed for transfers of personal data for EU/EEA residents to US companies registered under the program. On October 6, 2015, the European Court of Justice ruled the Safe Harbor program invalid. What is the impact of this ruling on data transfers relative to stock plans? I’ll explore this question today’s blog.
If your company is a US based company, it’s likely that most or all of your stock plan data is housed in the US. This means that if your plan includes participants in the EU/EEA, their data needs to be sent to the US to be recorded and maintained in the stock plan recordkeeping system. That recordkeeping system could be maintained in-house, or externally via a third party, who also likely maintains data within the US. Additionally, there may be a need to transfer participant data to other third parties who support the company’s stock plans beyond recordkeeping services.
According to the Baker & McKenzie client alert,
“The impact of the ruling on the personal data collection /processing / transfer activities of US multinationals in the context of offering of equity compensation programs to European employees depends upon whether the company had relied on Safe Harbor in this context – or, instead, relied on an alternative method for managing data privacy considerations (e.g., relying on express consent obtained from participants, either through acceptance of its equity award agreements or provided as part of the local new hire on-boarding process). If alternative methods have been relied upon, the ruling is unlikely to have any impact on the equity program. If the company relied on Safe Harbor, it will likely need to start relying on an alternative method.”
The transfer of data provided to brokers is unaffected by this ruling, because financial institutions were never eligible to register under the Safe Harbor program, and as a result, it was never possible to rely on that program to transfer employee data to a broker. Companies had to find an alternate, permissible means of transferring data to brokers. Considering the now-invalidated Safe Harbor program, that is good news for data transfers to brokers or financial institutions, because they were never covered under the program and should remain unaffected by the ruling.
Is Our Stock Plan Affected?
If you have no stock plan participants in the EU/EEA, then this ruling does not affect your stock plans. This only applies to the data of those residing in that region of the world.
For companies that do have stock plan participants in the EU/EEA, the answer to that question is “it depends.” It depends on how the company was complying with data transfer requirements prior to the ruling, as described above. If your company relied on the Safe Harbor program in any capacity, then an alternate method for transferring that data will need to be used.
If your company has no participants in the EU/EEA, but decides to offer equity in that region in the future, it’s important to know that the Safe Harbor program will not be available as a means of compliance with data transfer requirements.
This ruling has created a wave of turmoil, and not just for equity plans. It’s likely other company functions such as Human Resources are impacted, too. Baker & McKenzie’s suggestion is that “Companies should review their practices with regard to data privacy, including in the context of operating their equity compensation programs. Even if the ruling does not have any direct impact on the equity program, data privacy requirements around the globe are tightening and a regular review of your company’s approach to data privacy is highly recommended.”
There is also talk of a Safe Harbor 2.0, with no telling on a timeline or potential for success of such an initiative. It’s important that companies recognize the implication of this ruling beyond the immediate affect on employee data transfers. The action of invalidating the entire EU/US Safe Harbor program seems to suggest that the EU has broader concerns about the US’s ability to protect the data of their residents, and it’s possible that other methods of complying with data transfers may follow in being evaluated for efficacy of protecting privacy. Expect the topic of data privacy to be a hot one for 2016.
Last Monday, the FASB met to review the comments submitted on the exposure draft of the proposed amendments to ASC 718. I have been watching the video of the meeting (and you can too) and have made it about half way through. After getting over my shock that no one on the Board has mentioned what a finely crafted comment letter I submitted, here’s what I’ve learned so far. (See the NASPP alert “FASB Issues Exposure Draft of ASC 718 Amendments” for a summary of the exposure draft).
The most controversial aspect of the exposure draft is the proposal to record all excess tax benefits and shortfalls in tax expense. Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of letters submitted opposed this (see my Nov. 10 blog “Update to ASC 718: The Comments“)—including my own aforementioned finely crafted letter—and the FASB staff’s recommendation that the excess benefits and shortfalls be recognized in paid-in-capital instead, the Board voted to affirm the position in the exposure draft. I was a little surprised at how little time the Board spent considering the staff’s recommendation.
The Board decided that stock plan transactions could be treated as “discrete items” that do not need to be considered when determining the company’s annual effective tax rate. I don’t know a lot about effective tax rates, but I’m guessing that this is poor consolation for the impact this change will have on the P&L.
The Board affirmed the proposal to allow companies to make an entity-wide decision to account for forfeitures as they occur, rather than estimating them. At one point, the board was considering requiring companies to account for forfeitures as they occur (without even re-exposing this decision for comment), which was a little scary. I think most of us have supported this proposal primarily on the basis that companies can keep their current processes in place if they want; I’m not sure it would have received as much support if accounting for forfeitures as they occur had been mandatory (this wasn’t even mandatory under FAS 123). Thankfully, the Board backed off from that suggestion.
The Board affirmed the decision to expand the share withholding exception to liability treatment, in spite of concerns that the potential cash outflow without a recorded liability could be misleading for users. For one nail-biting moment, eliminating the exception altogether was on the table (in my amateur opinion, this would seem to go well beyond the scope of what is supposed to be a “simplification” project, given the considerable impact this would have on practices with respect to full value awards). Luckily, this suggestion did not receive any votes (not even from the Board member who suggested it, oddly enough).
More on the rest of the FASB’s decisions in a future blog entry.
Last Friday, ISS issued an updated FAQ for its Equity Plan Scorecard. For most companies, the overall scorecard structure remains unchanged: a max of 100 points and 53 points is a passing grade. For companies disclosing three years of equity data, the points available under each pillar also remain the same, but the scores for each test within the pillars may have been adjusted (ISS doesn’t disclose the number of points each test is worth).
Here’s what ISS is changing for 2016 (effective for shareholder meetings on or after February 1, 2016):
New Company Category
The IPO/Bankruptcy category has been renamed “Special Cases” and includes any companies that have less than three years of disclosed equity grant data. This is still largely newly public companies and companies emerging from bankruptcy, but it could include other companies. For example, if a public company implemented a new stock compensation program in 2016 and had not previously granted any equity awards, they would presumably be in this category (because they wouldn’t have any equity grant data to disclose for prior years).
In addition, the Special Cases category is now divided into S&P 500/Russell 3000 companies and non-Russell 3000 companies. The S&P 500/Russell 3000 companies can earn 15 points for the Grant Practices pillar; to provide these points, their max score for the Plan Cost pillar is reduced by ten points to 50 and their max score for the Plan Features pillar is reduced by five points to 35. Scoring for the non-Russell 3000 companies in this category is the same it was for IPO/Bankruptcy companies last year: 60 points for plan cost, 40 points for plan features, and no points for grant practices.
The “CIC Single Trigger” category under Plan Features is renamed “CIC Equity Vesting” and is a little more complicated (last year it was pass/fail).
For time-based awards:
Full points for 1) no acceleration, or 2) acceleration only if awards aren’t assumed/substituted
No points for automatic acceleration of vesting
Half points for anything else (does this mean half points for a double trigger?)
For performance-based awards:
Full points for 1) forfeiture/termination, or 2) payout based on target as of CIC, or 3) pro-rata payout
No points for payout above target (ISS doesn’t say if this applies if performance as of the CIC is above target)
Half points for anything else
Post-Vest Holding Periods
The period of time required to earn full points for post-vest holding periods increased from 12 months to 36 months (or termination of employment). 12 months (or until ownership guidelines are met) is still worth half credit.
It’s that time of the year when attention begins to focus on year-end tax reporting. Sometimes when it comes to tax reporting, the devil is in the details – there are many nuances that need to be monitored and addressed to ensure proper compliance with the tax code. One of those is the IRS’s rule of administrative convenience, which allows companies to delay the collection of FICA taxes on certain transactions until a future date, on or before 12/31. In today’s blog, I’m going to dive into the inner-workings of this rule.
What is the Rule of Administrative Convenience?
The rule of administrative convenience allows FICA withholding for certain transactions to occur by 12/31 of the year of the triggering event. This means that companies can delay the mechanics of actually withholding FICA until the end of the year, when many employees may have already met their annual FICA limit. In this case, no additional FICA withholding for the original transaction would be necessary and the company is off the hook in terms of having to figure out how to collect FICA on the shares. However, if the employee hasn’t met their FICA limit as year end approaches, then an appropriate amount of FICA will still need to be withheld. This is the time of year when the stock plan administrator should evaluate the deferral of any FICA taxes under the Rule, and work with Payroll to ensure any necessary withholding occurs on or before 12/31. I should note that while the focus of most examples of this rule centers around the last possible date – 12/31 – to comply, companies can withhold the deferred FICA on any prior date as well. It’s just that for practical purposes, the “date” slated for collection is often near year-end, since that is a logical point in time when most employees who are going to max on on their FICA withholding for the year would be at that threshold, eliminating the need for any additional FICA withholding for the deferred event.
To What Types of Stock Compensation Does the Rule Apply?
The short answer is that the rule applies only to withholding of FICA on restricted stock units (RSUs). The long answer is below.
Both restricted stock units (RSAs) and restricted stock awards (RSUs) are subject to FICA taxes once the risk of forfeiture no longer exists (this usually occurs at vesting, but could occur be at the time of retirement eligibility – even if unvested). If the shares are not released to the employee at that time (let’s say that vesting will occur in the future, after the retirement eligible date, even though the risk of forfeiture no longer exists), then selling or withholding shares to pay for the FICA withholding is not an option. In these situations, the company must figure out how to withhold FICA (and other) taxes.
RSUs are considered to be a form of non-qualified deferred compensation and, therefore are taxed under a different section of the tax code than restricted stock and non-qualified stock options. This makes them eligible to rely on the Rule of Administrative Convenience.
RSAs are subject to tax under Section 83 of the tax code. As a result, both income taxes and FICA are due when the award is no longer subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture. This also means that the rule of administrative convenience is not available for this type of award.
ESPP and incentive stock option transactions are not subject to withholding or to FICA taxes, so the rule of administrative convenience also does not apply to shares acquired under these instruments.
Using the Rule, What FMV is Used to Calculate FICA?
“The rule of administrative convenience permits an employer to use any date, on or after the award vests (becomes nonforfeitable) but prior to the end of the year, to take the value of the award into account for FICA purposes. This rule of administrative convenience, for example, would allow an employer until December 31st as the date for all employees who vest during the course of the year. Bear in mind that the “taken into account” date will have the benefit, or detriment, of earnings/losses on the award that has become, effectively, deferred compensation. This is because under the nonduplication rule of FICA taxation, once compensation is taken into wages for FICA, further earnings/gains are not treated as FICA wages.”
More on Tax Reporting
Tax reporting can be tricky. The good news is that the NASPP’s upcoming Annual Tax Reporting Webcast will be on December 1st at 4pm eastern time. Mark your calendars! The webcast is free to NASPP members; non-members can contact firstname.lastname@example.org for information on how to access the webcast. We’ve got a Sneak Peek of the webcast available now in our latest podcast episode.