Review of Taxation Policy on Gains from Exercise of Share Options, Given Downturn in Startup and Technology Sectors01 Aug 2022
Parliamentary Question by Mr Kwek Hian Chuan Henry:
To ask the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance in view of the current downturn in the startup and technology sectors, whether IRAS will review the taxation policy on gains from the exercise of share options, especially in situations where the value of stock options declines tremendously after the initial assessment of tax due.
Parliamentary Reply by Deputy Prime Minister, and Minister for Finance Mr Lawrence Wong:
Employee Share Options (ESOP) plans awarded or granted to an employee while he is exercising employment in Singapore is part of his employment income here. This is because such ESOP gains are gains derived by reason of his office or employment here. Like other employee benefits, an ESOP is considered part of the employee’s compensation package.
Generally, ESOP gains are taxable in the year in which the ESOP is exercised. The difference between the market price of the shares on the day of exercise of the ESOP and the exercise price paid for the shares, constitutes the employee’s employment income, which is subject to personal income tax. If there is a moratorium imposed on the selling of shares after the ESOP is exercised, the difference between the market price of the shares on the day the moratorium is lifted and the exercise price paid for the shares, constitutes the employee’s employment income, which is subject to personal income tax.
An employee should make an informed decision whether to exercise the ESOP, taking into account tax- and non-tax factors, including the future share price outlook.
After exercising the ESOP, the employee then chooses whether, and when, to sell the shares. If he sells them at a higher price than the exercise price, these incremental gains, which are capital gains, are not taxed. Correspondingly, if he sells the shares at a lower price, the capital losses will not be tax deductible.