Microsoft RSUs & ESPP

Avier Wealth Advisors is not affiliated with Microsoft. While Avier communicates with its clients regarding their Microsoft employee benefits, and educates itself on the Microsoft Benefits, there is no guarantee that the information we have provided is accurate. Microsoft employees are encouraged to contact their employer should they have any questions regarding their specific employee benefits.

Microsoft stock is an integral part of your compensation package and something you need to develop a plan for to help accomplish your financial goals.

What are Restricted Stock Units?

Stock awards make up a large portion of total compensation for many employees at Microsoft. Stock awards may be distributed as part of a hiring package, as part of annual compensation, or merit based and are given as what are called Restricted Stock Units.

If you’re looking for a basic foundation on RSUs at Microsoft and elsewhere, consult our blog post on RSU fundamentals and FAQs.

When do Microsoft employees receive Restricted Stock Units and when do they vest?

On-hire stock awards – Typically, your on-hire stock awards will have a different vesting schedule than your annual stock awards. The vesting scheduled is determined when you are hired.

Annual stock awards – each August, Microsoft employees are also eligible to receive new stock awards. If you started early in the year, you could receive your first stock award in August, with the first tranche of that award vesting in November.  These stock awards vest over five years (20% per year), on a quarterly basis. An easy way to remember when your annual stock awards are vesting is to use an acronym called FMAN (February, May, August, and November).

At the point when RSUs vest, your custodian, sells some of the stock to mitigate the taxes you would regularly owe on the new compensation. This is at least 22% (which is the federal default minimum) and can be as high as 37% in 2021.

Typically, employees let their stock grants accumulate in their investment accounts while covering expenses through their salary.

We encourage you to flip this thinking. By living off of vesting shares of stock, you gain cash-flow flexibility and can then take advantage of the many tax-preferred benefits available to you through pay check deductions.

Restricted Stock Units vest multiple times per year and can vary significantly in amount each time. We can work with you to organize and plan your cash flows in order to implement many of these tax-saving strategies.

What is the Employee Stock Purchase Plan?

Employee Stock Purchase Plans allow employees to have the option of setting aside some of their paycheck for buying Microsoft stock. 

The ESPP benefit allows Microsoft employees to purchase shares of Microsoft stock at a discount to its stock price. Your contributions to this program, come from payroll deductions, much like your 401(k) contributions. However, unlike pre-tax 401(k) contributions, ESPP contributions are taken out on an after-tax basis.

At Microsoft, you can defer up to 15% of your salary and let the cash build up during the course of each calendar quarter. At the end of the quarter, these funds purchase shares of MSFT at a 10% discount to Fair Market Value. It seems straight-forward, and yet each time shares are purchased, they have a different holding period with varying rates of tax and consequences to review.

Microsoft employees who do not qualify to contribute to the Deferred Compensation Plan might want to consider participating in the program.

When can stock be purchased?

Microsoft determines pre-set dates on which an employee’s funds can be used to purchase stock at a discount from market price.

The Difference an ESPP Makes

If you work at Microsoft and decided to defer $500 per paycheck into the ESPP, you would see $500 added into your Fidelity account each paycheck and held in cash until the end of the quarter. At the end of the quarter, you would have $3,000 to purchase MSFT stock. No matter what the price of MSFT does during the quarter, you will purchase $3,000 worth of shares for 90% of Fair Market Value. If MSFT shares were trading at $100 / share in the open market, you would buy at $90 / share.

You would end up purchasing 33.33 shares (partial shares are often allowed within ESPP) for $3,000. After the purchase, these shares would be worth $3,333.00 in the open market.


For more information and advice from our Microsoft-focused advisors visit our main Microsoft page, or other pages focused on Microsoft Compensation and Miscellaneous Benefits, or Microsoft 401(k) & Retirement. If you are a Level 67 or higher employee at Microsoft, visit our Microsoft Deferred Compensation Plan page. 






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