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Cost-Basis Reporting: Still a Nightmare

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October 22, 2013 | Barbara Baksa

Cost-Basis Reporting: Still a Nightmare

As we head into the year-end season, I know many of you are going to be looking at your year-end communications to see which parts need to be updated. I thought it might be a good time to remind you that the regulations governing cost-basis reporting for shares acquired under stock options and ESPPs are changing as of January 1.

What's Changing?

Beginning January 1, 2014, brokers will no longer be allowed to include the compensatory income recognized in connection with shares acquired under an option or ESPP in the cost basis reported on Form 1099-B.  Instead, brokers are required to report only the purchase price as the basis and employees will have to report an adjustment on Form 8949 to correct the gain or loss they report on their tax return (see my blog entry, "Final Final Cost-Basis Reporting Regs," May 7, 2013)

Until next January, brokers can voluntarily choose to include this income in the basis, but are not required to do so. Thus, we are going from a situation in which the cost basis reported on Form 1099-B is actually sometimes correct to a situation in which it will virtually always be wrong.  Ten points if you can name a scenario in which the purchase price is actually the correct basis for shares that were acquired under a stock option or ESPP.

[Note that, technically, the regs will only apply to options acquired after January 1, 2014, but we think most brokers will apply them to all shares acquired after the date, even if the shares were acquired under an option granted prior to that date.]

How Does This Impact Forms 1099-B for Sales in 2013?

That is a good question!  Right now, we are in a transition period. Brokers can continue to report under the old rules for 2013 or they can voluntarily change over to the new rules. A good first step to reviewing your year-end employee communications will be to check in with your brokers on this, so you know what they are planning to do and can adjust your communications appropriately, if necessary.

Does this Impact Restricted Stock and Units?

In most cases, it will not have any impact on restricted stock or RSUs.  Arrangements in which employees don't pay cash for the shares aren't covered by the regulations so brokers don't have to report any basis for them at all on Form 1099-B.  That still applies under the regulations going into effect as of January 1, 2014.  So I expect that most brokers aren't reporting a basis for RS/RSUs now and still won't report a basis once the new regs go into effect.

The only exception will be those brokers that are currently reporting a cost basis on a voluntary basis for RS/RSUs (which I understand to be few and far between).  Brokers can still voluntarily report a basis for shares acquired under RS/RSUs, but for shares acquired after January 1, 2014, that basis cannot include any of the compensatory income recognized in connection for the award. In other words, the broker can still report a basis but the reported basis has to be $0. I hope that brokers don't do that--I think it would be better to not report a basis at all than to report an incorrect basis of $0.

Can the NASPP Help?

Why, yes, we can! Our Cost-Basis Reporting Portal includes some great sample materials to help you explain all of this to your employees.  We have sample tax forms, flow charts, and extensive FAQs. Check it out today and keep an eye on the portal; we will update it as new tax forms become available from the IRS.

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