Definition of phantom equity

Definition

Phantom equity is a type of compensation award that references equity, but does not entitle the recipient to actual ownership in a company. These awards come under a variety of different monikers, but the key to understanding them is knowing that they are really just cash bonus plans, where the cash amounts are determined by reference to a company’s stock. Phantom equity can have significant value, but may be perceived as less valuable by workers because of the contractual nature of the promises. Phantom equity plans can be set up as purely discretionary bonus plans, which is less attractive than owning a piece of something.

Related terms

More from The Holloway Guide to Equity Compensation

How Equity is Granted › Less common types of equity

Two examples of phantom equity are phantom stock and stock appreciation rights:

Definition A phantom stock award is a type of phantom equity that entitles the recipient to a payment equal to the value of a share of the company’s stock, upon the occurrence of certain events.

Definition Stock appreciation rights (SARs) are a type of phantom equity that gives the recipient the right to receive a payment calculated by reference to the appreciation in the equity of the company.

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The Holloway Guide to Equity Compensation
Joshua Levy, Joe Wallin, and over 35 contributors
Over 3 hours and 300 linked resources
Stock options, RSUs, job offers, and taxes—a detailed reference, including hundreds of resources, explained from the ground up and made to be improved over time.