Tax Glossary

Incentive Stock Options (ISOs)

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Last updated on:
March 17, 2024

Incentive Stock Options (ISOs) provide employees the opportunity to purchase company shares at a price below market value. This employment perk can lead to significant tax benefits, such as the absence of immediate Income Tax or National Insurance contributions on the acquisition of shares. The favorable tax treatment positions ISOs distinctly within the realm of employee benefits.

Tax Implications of ISOs

The primary appeal of ISOs lies in their initial tax advantages. When you acquire shares through an ISO, you're exempt from paying taxes on them at the time of purchase.

Selling Your Shares

Should you choose to sell your shares after holding them for at least two years—the minimum period for eligibility—you might encounter tax obligations. Specifically, if your profit surpasses the Capital Gains Tax (CGT) threshold (set at £3,000 for the 2024/25 tax year), you'll need to pay CGT on those gains.

Advantages of ISOs Over Standard Share Options

ISOs stand out compared to traditional investment avenues and share options for several reasons:

  • Dividend Taxes: Normally, dividends from shares that exceed the annual allowance of £1,000 require you to pay dividend tax. This tax is settled either via your tax code or through filing a Self Assessment tax return.
  • Capital Gains Tax: Profits from the sale of shares that exceed the CGT allowance necessitate the filing of a tax return and payment of CGT on the surplus.
  • Income Tax and National Insurance: Receiving company shares might typically trigger Income Tax and National Insurance liabilities, unless the employer has enrolled in specialized share option schemes like the Company Share Option Plan (CSOP) or the Enterprise Management Incentive (EMI).

The strategic advantage of ISOs primarily revolves around the tax deferment until the sale of shares, limiting the tax exposure to CGT on eventual profits. This makes ISOs an appealing choice for employees looking to benefit from company shares with minimal initial tax burden.

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