Understanding Rsu Tax Rates In California: A Complete Guide

Restricted stock units (RSUs) are a popular form of equity compensation, especially in tech hub California. But RSUs have complex tax implications that many employees don’t fully grasp. When your RSUs vest, how much tax will you owe?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: The tax rate on RSU income in California depends on your total taxable income and ranges from 1% to 13.3%. California also taxes RSUs at ordinary income rates, not capital gains rates. You may owe federal tax up to 37% plus state tax.

How RSUs Are Taxed

RSUs, or Restricted Stock Units, are a form of compensation that companies offer to their employees. When it comes to taxation, RSUs are subject to specific rules and regulations, especially in California.

Understanding the tax rates associated with RSUs is crucial for employees to effectively manage their finances. This complete guide will provide you with all the information you need to know about RSU tax rates in California.

Ordinary Income Taxation

When RSUs vest, they are considered as ordinary income and are subject to ordinary income tax rates. This means that the value of the RSUs at the time of vesting will be taxed as regular income, just like your salary. The tax rate applied will depend on your income bracket.

It’s important to note that RSUs are subject to federal income tax, state income tax, and Social Security and Medicare taxes.

For example, if you are in the 32% tax bracket and your RSUs are valued at $10,000 at the time of vesting, you would owe $3,200 in federal income taxes. Additionally, California’s state income tax rate ranges from 1% to 13.3% depending on your income level, so you would owe an additional amount based on your tax bracket.

Timing of Taxation

The timing of taxation for RSUs is an important aspect to consider. RSUs are typically taxed at the time of vesting, which means you will need to pay taxes on the value of the RSUs when they become yours.

This can sometimes result in a significant tax liability, especially if the value of the RSUs has increased since they were granted.

It’s crucial to plan ahead for the tax implications of RSUs. One strategy to consider is to set aside a portion of the RSUs’ value to cover the tax liability. By doing so, you can avoid any surprises when tax time comes around.

It’s also worth noting that when you eventually sell your RSUs, you may be subject to capital gains tax. The tax rate for capital gains depends on how long you held the RSUs before selling them. If you held the RSUs for less than a year, they will be subject to short-term capital gains tax, which is typically higher than long-term capital gains tax rates.

Understanding how RSUs are taxed is essential for employees who receive this form of compensation. By being aware of the tax rates and timing of taxation, employees can effectively plan and manage their finances.

It is always recommended to consult with a tax professional or financial advisor to ensure you are making informed decisions regarding your RSUs and taxes.

California State Tax Rates on RSU Income

When it comes to RSU (Restricted Stock Unit) income, California has its own unique tax rates that individuals need to be aware of. Understanding these tax rates is crucial for accurately calculating and reporting your income taxes.

In this guide, we will provide you with a complete overview of the tax rates applicable to RSU income in California.

Overview of Brackets

California follows a progressive tax system, which means that the tax rate increases as your income level rises. The state has different tax brackets based on your filing status, ranging from 1% to the highest marginal rate of 13.3%.

It is important to note that these tax brackets apply to all types of income, including RSU income.

Here is a breakdown of California’s tax brackets for the 2021 tax year:

Taxable Income Range Tax Rate
Up to $9,330 1%
$9,331 – $49,923 2%
$49,924 – $254,250 4%
$254,251 – $305,100 6%
$305,101 – $586,740 8%
$586,741 – $1,000,000 9.3%
$1,000,001 – $2,000,000 10.3%
$2,000,001 – $5,000,000 11.3%
Above $5,000,000 13.3%

It is important to remember that these rates are subject to change, and it is always a good idea to consult with a tax professional or refer to the official California Franchise Tax Board website for the most up-to-date information.

Highest Marginal Rate of 13.3%

One key feature of California’s tax system is the highest marginal tax rate of 13.3%. This rate applies to individuals earning above $5,000,000 in taxable income, including RSU income. While this rate is higher compared to many other states, it is important to consider the overall benefits of living in California, such as its robust economy and various lifestyle advantages.

It is worth noting that this highest marginal rate only applies to the portion of your income that falls within this bracket. Income within the lower brackets will be taxed at the respective rates mentioned earlier.

AMT Tax Implications

Another important aspect to consider when it comes to RSU income in California is the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). The AMT is an additional tax calculation that may apply to high-income earners. It is designed to ensure that individuals with substantial income pay a minimum amount of tax regardless of deductions and credits.

RSU income can potentially trigger AMT liability, so it is essential to understand how this additional tax may impact your overall tax liability. Consulting with a tax professional or utilizing resources from the official California Franchise Tax Board website can provide you with more in-depth information on the AMT and its implications.

Understanding the tax rates applicable to RSU income in California is crucial for accurate tax planning and compliance. By staying informed about the tax brackets, highest marginal rates, and AMT implications, you can ensure that you are fulfilling your tax obligations while maximizing your financial well-being.

Impact of Local Taxes

When it comes to understanding RSU tax rates in California, it’s important to consider the impact of local taxes. Different cities and counties within the state may have their own specific tax rates, which can affect the amount of taxes you owe on your RSU income.

City and County Taxes

One key factor to consider is the local tax rates imposed by the city and county where you live or work. These taxes are in addition to the state and federal taxes you are required to pay. For example, if you reside in San Francisco, you may be subject to additional taxes imposed by the city.

It’s essential to familiarize yourself with the tax rates in your specific location to accurately calculate your RSU tax liability. You can find detailed information on city and county tax rates on the official websites of the respective local governments.

Salary Tax in San Francisco

For individuals living or working in San Francisco, it’s important to consider the unique salary tax that applies to RSU income. San Francisco has its own local tax called the “San Francisco Payroll Expense Tax,” which employers are required to pay on behalf of their employees.

This tax is calculated based on the total payroll expense of the employer, including RSU income. However, the burden of this tax ultimately falls on the employee, as it can be factored into your overall compensation package.

It’s important to note that the San Francisco Payroll Expense Tax has different rates depending on the size of the employer. Smaller businesses may have lower tax rates, while larger companies may be subject to higher rates.

You can find more information on the San Francisco Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector’s official website.

Strategies to Reduce RSU Tax Burden

When it comes to RSU tax rates in California, it’s important to understand that there are strategies you can employ to reduce your tax burden. By taking advantage of these strategies, you can maximize your after-tax income and potentially save a significant amount of money.

Here are three effective approaches:

83(b) Elections

An 83(b) election is a valuable tool that can help you reduce your RSU tax burden. By filing an 83(b) election with the IRS within 30 days of receiving your RSUs, you have the option to pay taxes on the fair market value of the RSUs at the time of grant rather than at the time of vesting.

This can be particularly advantageous if the value of the RSUs is expected to increase over time. However, it’s important to consult with a tax professional before making an 83(b) election to ensure it aligns with your financial goals and circumstances.

Deferred Compensation

Another strategy to consider is deferred compensation. This involves deferring the receipt of your RSU income until a future date, such as retirement. By doing so, you can potentially reduce your current tax liability and take advantage of lower tax rates in the future.

Keep in mind that deferred compensation plans typically have specific rules and limitations, so it’s important to carefully review and understand the terms before committing to this strategy.

Charitable Donations

Donating a portion of your RSU income to a qualified charitable organization is not only a way to give back to the community but can also provide tax benefits. When you donate RSUs to a qualified charity, you may be eligible for a charitable tax deduction based on the fair market value of the donated RSUs.

This can help reduce your overall tax liability while supporting a cause you care about. Remember to consult with a tax advisor to ensure your donations meet the necessary requirements for tax deductions.

By implementing these strategies, you can potentially reduce your RSU tax burden and keep more of your hard-earned income. However, tax laws and regulations can be complex, so it’s always wise to seek advice from a qualified tax professional or financial advisor to ensure you are making informed decisions based on your individual circumstances.

Filing and Compliance Basics

Estimated Taxes and Withholding

When it comes to RSU tax rates in California, understanding estimated taxes and withholding is crucial. Estimated taxes are quarterly payments made to the IRS to cover your tax liability. Since RSU vesting events are taxable, it’s important to estimate your tax liability accurately to avoid any surprises at tax time.

One way to ensure you’re adequately covering your tax liability is through withholding. Withholding is when your employer deducts a portion of your paycheck to cover your tax obligations. It’s important to review your withholdings regularly to make sure they align with your expected tax liability.

For more detailed information on estimated taxes and withholding, you can visit the IRS website for the latest guidelines and forms.

Tax Reporting Requirements

As an RSU recipient in California, you are required to report the income from RSU vesting events on your tax return. The specific tax reporting requirements may vary depending on your individual circumstances, so it’s important to consult with a tax professional or refer to the IRS guidelines.

Typically, RSU vesting income is reported on Form 1099-MISC or Form W-2, depending on whether you are classified as an employee or an independent contractor. It’s important to review these forms carefully and ensure that the information is accurate.

Additionally, if you sell any RSU shares after they vest, you may be subject to capital gains tax. The tax rate for capital gains depends on various factors, including your income level and the length of time you held the shares.

It’s important to keep track of your RSU transactions and consult with a tax professional to determine the appropriate tax reporting requirements.

For more information on tax reporting requirements for RSUs in California, you can refer to the California Franchise Tax Board website or consult with a tax professional.


Understanding how RSUs are taxed is key to proper planning and compliance. In high-tax California, total rates on RSU income can approach 50% or more for top earners. Proper withholding, estimated payments, and strategic elections are essential to avoid penalties. With some planning, you can maximize the value of your equity compensation.

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