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Cost-Basis: Five Things Your Employees Need to Know

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January 26, 2016 | Barbara Baksa

Cost-Basis: Five Things Your Employees Need to Know

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:

  1. 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.]
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Check out the NASPP's new sample employee email "Five Things You Need to Know About Form 1099-B."  Also, check out these other handy resources in the NASPP's Cost Basis Portal and use them to develop your own educational materials:

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.]

- Barbara

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